Boca Juniors Stadium – Insane South American Soccer!
In 2004, I attended a soccer game at Boca Juniors Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, before embarking on a special deep vein thrombosis flight back to Australia. In my infinite wisdom, my brain tricked me to think it was a fantastic idea experiencing such a game from the La Apertura leauge before heading back.
Even though I’m Italian by heritage, I’ve never had a huge interest in soccer, because the soccer gene wasn’t passed onto me – I’m completely uncoordinated, with my best effort in any sport being a two wickets for nine runs bowling effort in the rather Anglo sport of junior cricket. I was on a hat-trick because of this outstanding effort, but eternal glory eluded me that day as the next ball went straight through to the keeper.
After forking-out a bit extra to sort of guarantee I returned alive, a mini-bus arrived in front of my backpackers, full of other Antipodeans willing to subject themselves to the soccer debauchery. Like me, they weren’t sure what to expect. We discussed this whilst dodging the ruthless Buenos Aires drivers, and scoffing-down our respective grilled-chorizo-over-hot-coals sandwiches at an outdoor kiosco just outside the stadium.
The warning signs were ominous as I walked past the team of fully-geared riot police, complete with bullet proof vests, helmets and big leather boots. They looked liked a multiple-cloned military version of the Village People cop character. This was my last chance to escape, but that quickly disappeared after two body searches by the local police before entering the crumbling, 1940s-built Alberto J. Armando Stadium, otherwise known as ‘La Bombonera’ (The Chocolate Box), home of Boca Juniors.
This wasn’t going to be an ordinary game of soccer. Spotting the hooligan helicopter hovering overhead meant this was more than a game of soccer – the chopper ensured there was quick information transfer, enabling riot police to dissipate fights between the opposing teams.
My closest brush with this form of maniacal soccer beforehand occurred when watching an incomprehensible 300-words-a-minute commentary on television, including the characteristic: ‘GGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!’ blood-curdling scream if the ball squeezed through to the back of the net. This commentary was toned down in the SBS version played in Australia on a Sunday afternoon on ‘The World Game’. Based on the large amount of soccer devoted to their television programming, I thought SBS was a cheeky acronym of Silly Bloody Soccer, not the Special Broadcasting Service.
The game between Boca Juniors and the top of the table Estudiantes promised to be a spiteful clash. Boca Juniors was reeling after a two-nil defeat from arch rivals River Plate in the superclasico the week before, leaving them languishing mid-field on the La Apertura ladder. However, this hadn’t subdued the passion of the 44,000-strong crowd that turned-up to see their heroes play.
Once inside, I noticed an empty seat directly above the Club Atlético Boca Juniors (CABJ) sign – it was Diego Maradona’s seat, the great cocaine-snorting soccer genius who single-handedly beat the Socceroos 10 years earlier, during World Cup Qualifying. Maradona’s also the man every English soccer hooligan detests, because of his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal that knocked the Poms out of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Boca Juniors – no Diego Maradona!
I wasn’t lucky enough to have his presence grace the stadium that day, and I can only assume he didn’t feel like making an appearance from his rehab bed. Above Diego’s holy seat was a digital display that extraordinarily didn’t show the score, but countdown to the exact moment when Boca Juniors reached its Centenary.
Before the game even commenced, a dedicated fans risked almost certain death by scaling tall black steel barriers and barbed-wire to place their feverishly hand-painted banners. The wind made their banners flap dangerously, almost causing the completely-bonkers Boca devotees to lose their footing – not that the police were watching anyway.
This banner-placing procedure occurred simultaneously with the preparation of marching tunes by the Boca Band, surrounded by a stormy sea of blue and yellow flags. The band, consisting of at least 10 bass drums and an entire horn section, gathered in regimented fashion, willing to play and die for their beloved team about to take the field. A thunder of drums commenced proceedings, and then, as one, the entire Boca crowd religiously chanted a series of club songs, without resting, punching the air with clenched fists in unison.
It was at this point in time I realized Catholicism is not the official religion of Argentina.
As the referee blew his whistle, a shower of white shredded paper exploded from the Estudiantes section of the crowd and onto the pitch, obscuring any chance the Boca goalkeeper had of distinguishing the ball from yesterday’s news. The Estudiantes faithful lit their red flares and smoke drifted over their unsuspecting fellow supporters, most likely causing a new pandemic of asthma sufferers.
[pullquote]Back in Boca land, constant shouts of ‘Puto’ (Whore) and ‘Mierda’ (Shit) were belted out by the Boca brigade that obviously indicated their team weren’t doing as well as they should be. A barrage of high-pitched whistling pelted the referee whenever his decision displeased these one-eyed supporters.[/pullquote]
I questioned the stability of La Bombonera many times, as the Boca fans jumped up and down and sideways, somehow willing their side to score. The concrete seats, of which I’d developed fresh haemorrhoids from sitting on, had taken a flexible consistency. There was no turning back. I placed my faith in the Argentine structural engineers who passionately designed and built La Bombonera more than 60 years earlier than this game.
At half time, prospecting young Maradonas displayed their impressive ball skills in front of the appreciative crowd, while the Boca Band continued playing their obsessive tunes. The sound of the rhythmic drums had now become addictive, and I was convinced I should smuggle a bass drum for the next rugby game I attended. Then I realised the fun police would confiscate this item if I attempted this great way of generating crowd atmosphere.
It was more of same maniacal chanting, cheering, whistling and singing in the second half. I was filthy that a goal wasn’t scored, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I received a vivid description from an Italian backpacker who was present during a goal –it was almost impossible maintaining footing as fans surged towards the railings. Not a great concern if you’re at ground level inside the stadium, but he wasn’t.
Eventually, the full-time whistle blew, and the Boca Juniors fans were happy they got away with a draw. However, no one moved because the stadium doors were shut, preventing fights between the teams. I sat there for 30 minutes watching the Estudiantes fans pour through tiny portals, leaving behind their burning rubbish. A cold wind swirled around the stadium, picking up cigarette ash and miscellaneous matter and depositing it into my eyes. Finally, after a chaotic exit from the stands, I cast my eyes to the dreary slums of La Boca in the background, reflecting on the complete madness I just witnessed.
More Boca Juniors Stuff
See more crazy soccer stuff at La Historia Del Club Atlético Boca Juniors (The Boca Juniors Athletic Club Story)