Thursday, October 12, 2006

El Superclasico Mio

The Superclasico was last weekend and when River Plate beat Boca Juniors 2-0 in this year’s version it brought back some memories that I thought I would share. In 1994 I was in Buenos Aires and wanted to take in the match. I was a Boca fan, but lived within walking distance of River’s stadium (El Monumental) on the north side of town. This match would be at Boca, south of the city center. When I arrived in BA I was strictly a Boca fan because of Maradona, but Boca was also supposed to be the working man’s team, while River was the team of the rich and wealthy. And that was fine by me. I’d be for Boca.

So a friend (OK, he wasn’t a friend but he was another American who wanted to go) and I got tickets (the cheapest, of course) and headed down to La Bombonera. Argentine friends and associates with I whom I had spoken ahead of the game were incredulous that I was going to go. “It’s dangerous”, they said. “There are crazy people that go there.” Then they all asked what type of ticket I had purchased. “The cheapest” was my inevitable reply. Looks of shock and horror greeted me. “You’ll be with the real crazies! Behind the goal! Don’t bring anything with you! Only a little cash and a copy of your passport. If you try to bring a camera, it’ll be stolen, smashed, or lost.” I was only 21 and still fearless and naïve so I blew them off. “I’ll be fine.” “It’s no big deal.”

Turns out it was a big deal. We took a train down to the main station in the center of town and then transferred to a bus going to the stadium. About a mile from the stadium all traffic stopped and everyone got off the bus and starting walking. Like many other matches around the world, fans were chanting and waving scarves, and it was pretty cool. Then I saw my first tank. I was in Argentina studying the Dirty War and the disappearances and deaths of thousands of civilians that had occurred less than 20 years before. These soldiers did not look very nice to me. There were armored troupe carriers, large tanks with massive turrets, and guys in jeeps with M-16s. Kind of like the bad guys in The A-Team. And soldiers. Loads of soldiers.

So we finally arrived at the stadium (La Bombonera means “chocolate box”) and after a claustrophobic push through the ticket booth, we were inside. Since we had the cheap seats, we could only enter at one spot, and once inside were faced with a long climb up even more claustrophobic concrete tunnels. The tunnels went around and around and up and up. There were guys pissing in the tunnels and urine running down in stream. The urine went around and around and down and down. Finally, we emerged on the terrace. Thank God! The stadium was beautiful (if falling apart) and the crowd was going nuts. It was similar to this but more chaotic:

The terrace kept getting fuller, and fuller, until I was forced to stand sideways to have enough room to remain upright. Every few minutes the wave of men (I saw one woman there the entire match) would tumble forward and everyone would fall as one. During one of these waves, I found myself pinned against a metal rail and just managed to slide under it as the weight of people behind me hit my back. There was no way I could have taken a picture if I had wanted; I could barely breathe. As for the action on the pitch, it was great, except Boca lost. They had been going through a rough patch and River had a great side during that period. Hernan Crespo and Ariel Ortega both scored for River, with Ortega in particular having his way with the Boca defenders. The fact that both of these players are still playing now and have had successful careers makes me happy. Because I saw them when they were young and before they went to Europe. Even though they are wankers. But I digress.

After the match there was plenty of cussing and people pushing towards the exit. The tunnels leading out had changed from stinky tubes to urine-filled luge runs. I saw a guy take a dump right in front of me. Just squatted down at one of the curves on the way down and let it plop. As for my traveling companion, I had no idea where he was. It was impossible to stay together during the match and I had lost him shortly after we arrived on the terrace. Within 10 minutes he was 20 feet away and still being carried by the human tide.

So at this point I was solo. I emerged from the stadium and saw the tanks, armored personnel carriers and German Shepherds. As I headed for the bus stop I realized that was a futile move. The lines stretched for blocks and the busses weren’t moving anyway. So I started walking. I managed to get off the main drag to another street where traffic was moving very slowly. There was a flat-bed 18-wheeler and a bunch of guys had already hopped in the back. It was going my way. North. A guy gave me a hand and I was up and in. They were all Boca fans. Slowly, they realized that there were other cars around them going north that were filled with River fans. The guys in the truck with me started picking up the trash and junk that was in the truck and throwing it down on top of the cars. Most of the stuff was harmless but one guy found a piece of brick and slam-dunked it onto a small red car, cracking its windshield. The River fans in that car got out, ran over to the crumbling sidewalk, picked up pieces of concrete and started throwing pieces of concrete at the guys in the 18-wheeler. And at me. “Shit! I gotta get outta here,” I thought. Just then traffic in our lane began to move and we started to pull away from the concrete-throwing River maniacs. But a few blocks up the road, we stopped again. The Boca maniacs I was with decided that throwing concrete was a good idea. A couple climbed out of the trunk and went to the sidewalk. They managed to jar loose a large chunk of cement and pick it up (many things in Buenos Aires were falling apart in those years). There was a small sedan with River flags on the antennae next to our truck. The Boca maniacs saw it and headed over. “Uh, oh.”

The car was packed with young fans heading home from the match. The two guys carrying the chunk of cement walked over to the car, lifted up the chunk, and slammed it into the windshield. The whole thing collapsed onto the people in the front seat. “That’s it”, I thought, “I’m gone.” I climbed out the truck and took off running for the station. After about 10 minutes I got there and stepped onto a train. The doors closed and I breathed a big sigh of relief.

Later that night I watched the news on television. Apparently, two River fans had been shot and killed during violence after the match. The reporter was interviewing the president of Boca’s Barra Brava, or fan club. When asked about the two dead River fans he replied, “well then, I guess it was a tie. Two-two.” And so went my Superclasico. -Sanford


the idiot said...

Oh my God - great story. Do you think it is still as bad re: violence and disorder at/after matches these days in Argentina?

Your story reminded me of the time when I was in Brazil w an exchange program/soccer team in 1985. We went to Maracana to see a Vasco de Gama/Flamenco match (I don't even know what competition it was for). What I remember was piss - the smell of it and the site of it cascading down from the upper decks. And explosions - the fireworks/small bombs that went off before the match had even started left me deaf for several days. I thought the whole place was gonna collapse. Good times.

boris said...

Wow - what a story! I think this is exactly what people here in the US don't understand about soccer - how passionate people really are - and how far they take their passion (was it your post that showed how Boca was now letting fans get buried on-site!).

The only thing close to that that I've seen was Red Star Belgrade vs. Partizan. Standing room only - barely able to breathe with flares disrupting the match after every goal - insanity. However, it doesn't sound nearly as ruthless as the one you went to. Something about those South Americans.....

The Editor said...

Idiot - I'm sure it was quite similar to the Maracana. The piss...oh, the piss. Good times indeed. Based on what I've read, nothing has improved down there. If anything, it's gotten worse. Certainly in Brazil where people just don't go to matches anymore.

Boris - Partizan/Red Star certainly ranks right up there. Any of these Eastern Euros (Bucharest, Zagreb) get pretty nutty, I would think.