Sunday, October 25, 2009

How I Got To See the Boca Juniors Play River Plate for Free

Another beautiful Sunday mostly wasted with fatigue and watching football. But this Sunday was sightly different because of two types of football. The Patriots were playing the Buccaneers in London, but I had to leave that game at half time to watch the Superclasico, Boca Juniors vs. River Plate, in a bar. Boca and River are historically two huge rivals in Argentinian soccer, and have always been the top of the league both in talent and passionate fans. The Superclasico happens but twice a year, and as one of the most desired games to see in the world, tickets are extremely expensive.

I thought about getting tickets, but was quoted $300 ARG, which is way out of my league, so my plan was to just go to a restaurant/bar near my house and watch alone. The two most internationally marketed teams from Argentina, Boca and River always draw a crowd, so even trying to scalp tickets would be pointless. I like Boca, if for no other reason then because my mom once bought me their jersey, and you have to like someone. However, this is tricky because they are kind of like the New York Yankees in that people across the world who know nothing of the sport will know Boca, yet they are the team of the people.

I sat down at a table in front of an elevated 13 inch TV at a pizza shop off of Avenida 9 de Julio and ordered a Coke. Behind me I heard a couple speaking English, and I thought they were American. Typically, I don't bother to speak to people when I hear English. But for one reason or another, I thought what the hell, that I'd rather make a couple friends for the game. It turns out they were from Ireland, so apparently I can't even remember the accent of my people.

After a quick introduction the man told me that they had tickets to the game, $200 pesos a pop, but the subways weren't working so they decided not to go. I quickly told him that the subways were in fact running and that they should get to the stadium as soon as possible or at least sell them in the street. I talked to the waiter to find out how they could get there quickly and explained the situation, so he confirmed that the subways were running.

Suddenly, the boyfriend whose name was Jamie, was interested again in trying. They had two options, either sit at this pizza shop and watch the full game, or get to the stadium as soon as possible and most likely miss the first half, but get to witness one of the best sporting events on earth. The girlfriend had already lost interest and asked me if I wanted to go, but I told her I couldn't afford it. But she knew her boyfriend wanted to go, and graciously gave me her ticket. I was a bit in shock, but I quickly paid the waiter for the half drunken Coke as he smiled happily for me, and Jamie and I were off.

We had to get far uptown and the game was starting as we walked to the subway, which was open. My legs were killing me from the race yesterday, and a sharp pain in my hip shot with every step, but we moved on getting to know each other. We took the D Line to the end and then walked about 15 minutes, following the sound of cheers as River Plate scored. We knew it was River who scored because it was their turf.

The size of the stadium was impressive from the outside as we approached, three times being told to go to a different gate. We had general seats, and couldn't go in wherever we wanted. Ultimately, we had to walk around half the stadium, then climb up a series of steps which for some reason reminded me of going to a game at Shea Stadium when I was 6. The Mets were playing the Pirates, and Barry Bonds hit the game winning home run in the top of the 11th inning, but I never saw it because my mom got bored and made us leave in the 10th. But I mainly remember walking down those ramps for what seemed like hours.

On cue, we arrived at halftime, watching as some fans cooled off in the gates' shade. We picked a spot out on the steps and walked into the Coliseum in Rome. A sold out event, with 3/4 of the stadium in red and white, 1/4 in blue and yellow. We were near the "fan" section, and the drums were blasting proudly, the passionate songs be yelled from every lung. All over us people were handing out newspapers and shredding them up. Jamie's theory was it had something to do with Maradona basically telling the press to go to hell. But I thought it was to create a ticket tape display. It turns out I was right.

Once the players came back on the field everyone released the newspaper at once. It was storm of white shreds that lasted for 5 minutes as the wind blew southward, and everyone was covered in it. Once or twice a thick section which was never shredded would hit you in the head, but that was par for the course. As it all rained down, it reminded me of a scene from "Gladiator," with the rose petals floating down as Russell Crowe enters the arena. This was the Roman Empire, and we were watching gladiators. There is a lot of Italian influence in Argentina, after all.

I may have been impressed with the playing of the game but as soon as the half started people stood up on top of balcony in front of us with maybe a foot of room before death, blocking our view of the goal. It was 1-0 River, and the crowd was livid, wanting more. My attention spanned from glimpses of the field to just watching the crowd, which I found more interesting than the actual game. Tattoos everywhere, shirtless and toothless men screaming obscenities that not only implied the worst of things for the receiver, but also seemed to rhyme. The mostly male crowd bleated out numerous cheers that they no doubt memorized long ago without the aid of a lyric sheet, while I simply tried to blend in by waving my hands around. I'm a Boca fan, but no way would I ever show it there. Otherwise you'd be reading my obituary.

I couldn't see it, but suddenly the crowd went silent except for the Boca section, and Boca players jumped with joy. It was now 1-1, but instead of getting upset, the River fans cheered louder. The stadium shook. And eventually the game ended in a tie, with not much else interesting happening. Jamie and I went to leave but were blocked by a line of riot police. The Boca fans were being let out first, and to prevent a riot River fans had to wait. But in a display of total disrespect and guile, the Boca fans stayed in their place cheering. They knew the longer they stayed, the long we would, but they would still get out first. You had to hand it to them, it was clever.

We stood there waiting to leave for about as long as we'd actually seen the game, with more and more people shouting slurs at the Boca fans and getting less patient with the police, but they had to wait until all of the Boca fans were gone. Once the police moved away it was like a dam broke, and the flow pushed us to the stairs and into the street. Once back in the center I said a goodbye to Jamie and wished him luck. He and his girlfriend have been traveling through South America for a few months and tomorrow leave to try out a year in Sydney, Australia. I'm glad they stayed here another day, which allowed me to get to see one of the most talked about games you can see.

Above: Photos courtesy of Clarin

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