We decided that it was necessary for us, being in the home country of Maradona, to go to a fútbol game. Leery of large public gatherings, we signed up for a tour to see a local team, “River Plate”, play against “Newell’s Old Boys”. I had never heard of either team, but have since learned that River Plate (or River) is the most successful professional team in Argentina.
Here are the helpful tips from the website of the company that organizes the excursions…
– Dress simply, bring a camera and some extra cash
– River Plate Team Colors: Red and White
– Arch Nemesis Team Colors: Blue and Yellow (Do NOT wear for the love of all that is holy)
– Leave your credit cards, passports and anything of value at your hotel.
The email confirmation also mentions that “for the time being”, the opposing team fans are not permitted to attend any games. So we will be among River fans only.
The van picked us up a couple of hours before kick-off and we travelled with other tourists to the Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti, River’s home field. Turns out that it is holy ground because it was at this very location that the Argentine national team beat Netherlands to win the 1978 World Cup. We need to tread lightly here.
The van stopped nearly a kilometer from the stadium, and we were told again to leave valuables, and anything that could be considered a projectile or weapon, on the bus. This included Heidi’s collapsible brolly, and the pencil I use to take notes.
The security at the stadium was absolutely unbelievable. We were very early for the game so we moved through quickly, but there were at least 10 separate inspections by stadium personnel and police. This included a police “pat-down” with separate female officers for the, relatively few, women who were going to the game. Each checkpoint spanned the width of the road going to the stadium, which had been closed for the evening. So at some checkpoints we passed through a row off more than 20 officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed in this area, but believe me it was impressive.
On the walk in, our guide told us that the security, and the ban on opposing fans, are the result of fútbol hooliganism, culminating in a violent confrontation and death of a fan at a game last year (not River). The ban might be lifted after the World Cup this year.
The stadium itself is huge (accommodating more than 60K fans), but like much of Buenos Aires, it has seen better days. It is a far cry from the slick stadium operations in North America, but it is functional. Well, mostly. The scoreboard remained dark for the whole game, as it has no sponsor. The only way to know who’s winning is to watch. The game continues until the ref blows his whistle. No one seems to mind.
While waiting for the game, we were treated to a military band honouring veterans and families of the Malvinas War (it was Malvinas Day). Before the game, the referees and players posed for pictures behind a banner reading: Las Malvinas son Argentinas.
Then Los Borrachos del Tablon arrived. This is the name of the barra brava for River. Each team has a barra brava, which seems to be an extreme fan club, leading the crowd in songs and chants for the entire game, but also “organizing” the sale of club merchandise around and in the stadium, and requiring payment from the team and the players to continue their support. These are also the hooligans that are now banned from attending opposing team stadiums.
Occupying the end zones normally occupied by opposing fans, and segregated by high-barbed wire fences from the rest of the crowd, Los Borrachos numbered in the thousands and put on a pretty impressive show. The drumming and singing never stopped, and at key points in the game they threw ridiculous amounts of ripped paper in the air, turning their end of the stadium into a snow-globe. Most everyone in the stadium knew the songs and chants, and enthusiastically followed Los Borrachos’ lead starting before opening kick-off until after the ref blew his whistle. The chanting continued for as long as there were River players on the field.
River won 1:0
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