A brief history
If you know anything about football you’ll have an idea about rivalries in countries across the world. Celtic v Rangers, mega. Barca v Real, classic. Man Utd v Liverpool, insane. Boca Juniors v River Plate though? DEADLY.
In Argentina, well it is life or death, literally. These hardly fought teams over the years have battled so much on and OFF the field that recent games have prohibited the attendance of away fans in the Argentinian 1st League. Why? There has been that much violence and trouble with both sets of supporters, that it has resulted in people being killed. Let that sink in for a second. A football game with so much passion that people are dying? I’m from England where the country is no stranger to football hooliganism. But deaths? It was always quite rare even during the heyday of hooliganism in the UK.
The exhibition match
Despite the bans in the League there is an exhibition match played every summer, that apparently both teams are allowed fans to attend at a neutral ground. The location (2015) was Mar Del La Plata, a rich seaside town five hours south of Buenos Aires. Tickets were sold out, but I had to go. There was no way I wasn’t going when I heard it was on. I was Boca Juniors all the way, mainly because it was the first time I’d heard of as a kid. If there are any Boro fans reading this, it was also because of the once thought of ‘wondered’ Carlos Maranelli too. I sure he was the real deal and we signed him from Boca Juniors. I was certainly wrong on that part of him being the real deal.
No ticket but going for it
Giving it was high season and the game itself, EVERYTHING in terms of accommodation was booked out. Luckily, I decided only to bring a small bag with me with the essentials to the game. I’d travelled down with an American guy who was keen for the experience as much as me. After getting there, and a few moments of diddling about, we decided to head straight to the game and see if we could get in through the gates. It was more difficult than I thought, but honestly I knew I’d get in somehow. I had been through similar scenarios, and there is always a way. Firstly, I had to convince the police who were barricading the outside area in sections, just let me closer to the entry points. First, a women officer seemed adamant not to let me through, only for me to insist I was getting tickets from a friend. A little white lie doesn’t hurt. We were let through despite my Spanish negotiating skills being terrible.
Being the hustler
Reaching the outskirts of the stadium, it was like a war was about to happen. There were police helicopters hovering above the stadium, riot squads everywhere; this was real. I had been warned about lots of fake ticket offerings prior to the game so I was hesitant at some offers and decided to turn down a couple. Some were obviously fake as they looked like they had just been printed from a Word document! I was willing to pay maximum 600 ARG Pesos, so around 50US Dollars. It was Boca V River, and despite the tickets going for a lot less, I knew it maybe once in a lifetime to see these teams collide. This was more than just football.
‘Little did I know what his plan was at first, although it soon become clearly obvious’
One guy approached us he suggested that we would pay him 600 pesos each once he got us inside the ground. Little did I know what his plan was at first, although it soon became clearly obvious. I recall glancing at several nods from the our guy to the young security man at the gates, almost an acknowledgement of one another. More brave than a cunning plan, our guy decided to make a whole commotion to distract certain security guards but then force us in during the whole chaos. He pushed people into others, pushed us into the gates and when everyone else crooked enough looked to do the same, the whole situation got out of control. It was so obvious what they were trying to do. Obviously the security guards had been paid off to an extent to allow this, although there were some honest guards tried to keep control of things. We just went with it and it worked. We didn’t have tickets in the end, we just snuck in which was crazy to think for such a big, policed and high profile game.
“Amigo, todos bien?”
Now it was time to find somewhere to actually see this epic football game. The stadium had a walking area that sloped into the standing area where all the Boca fans stood. That was our place. After a few attempts walking around, we seen a gap that was our entry. A larger than life shall we say, Boca fan was letting people through this gap between fans. I shouted “Amigo, todos bien?” He knew we were tourists, despite me now having my Boca jersey on. He shouted “20 Pesos!” We stuttered but then he laughed and waved for us to come in. We were behind the goal, centre with Boca fans who were constantly partying, jumping and singing. It was practically standing and there were way more fans in the ground than the legal capacity the stadium held.
Be careful what you wish for
We were in the first half still as we’d missed the kick off. To be honest we could barely see anything it was just a pandemonium of blue and yellow colours. Then, I remember saying to my fellow backpacker “Imagine if Boca score, this will go off!” Guess what happened next? Around 8-9 seconds later, the ball was in the back of the net!!! GOOOOOALLLLLLLL!!! The place erupted! People piled forward the standing area, huge flags were flopping around, people falling onto each other and Boca fans going mental! This meant everything to these fans. Such a passionate derby of a game, such a battle between both. You could see it in fans eyes despite the game only being an exhibition match.
The Boca fans were too involved in there own party atmosphere that reaction times can be slow. There was several red cards and the reaction was almost as if they expected this to happen, it wasn’t a surprise or something new. Compared to games across in England that I’m use to, this was strange. A red card would signal the start of constant booing and cursing from fans from then on. Here, no-one gave a shit!
‘…the underdog had won it’
After 90 odd minutes of football, banter, cheers, red cards and a whole lot of chaos, Boca held out for the 1-0 victory. A huge result for their fans and bragging rights. River were undoubtedly a better team on paper and based on past league standings, but Boca, the underdog had won it. Viva La Boca! I was so into it, I remember how passionate I’d get at the Boro games back home. Loved it. The fans partied all night and despite us waiting for nearly three hours to vacate the premises, the night couldn’t be soured. I had just watched Boca v River. Incredible scenes.