This is one of many (MANY) songs and chants the supporters of Club Atletico Boca Juniors sing during games. They need a lot of songs because they sing non-stop in the build-up to and during the whole game. The songs describe a passion for the club that borders on obsession and a seething hatred for their rivals (in particular River Plate) that makes equivalent European rivalries such as Liverpool-Man Utd or Real-Barca seem tame by comparison. It's the most amazing example of unconditional support of a sports team I've ever seen - no moaning, impatience, frustration or even a rest between songs. And not a prawn sandwich in sight.
Travelling to South America, one of my main aims was to experience the legendary atmosphere at one of the continent’s big football clubs, widely regarded as without equal throughout the world. A combination of bad luck and (I must admit) poor planning however plagued my attempts to catch one of the big games as I travelled through Chile and Argentina. Both of Santiago’s major clubs, Colo Colo and Universidad, were on the road the weekend I arrived in Chile’s capital, while I just missed Universidad’s game in La Serena whilst in that forgetable town. Crossing into Argentina, Boca arrived in Rosario for their tie with the brilliantly named Newell’s Old Boys on the day I was leaving for Iguazu Falls (as they succumbed to a 4-2 defeat, I wasn’t too disappointed to have missed this first experience of my adopted Argentine team).
Missing an away Boca game was one thing, but missing them at home in La Bombonera would have been unforgivable. So I consulted the fixture lists carefully and made sure I arrived in Buenos Aires in plenty of time for the following weekend when they were playing at home against minnows Athletico Tucuman. With limited time in the city and the tricky task of organising transport to and especially from La Boca (not the safest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires), I opted to take one of the tours that bring foreigners to the big games every weekend (bookable through most hostels). Perhaps not the most authentic experience of the Argentine football scene, but the guides did offer interesting background to the city’s football history and rivalries, as well as sorting transport to and from the city centre.
No me importa lo que digan|
Lo que digan lo demas
Yo te sigo a todas partes
cada vez te quiero mas
I don't care what people say|
What the others ever say
I follow you everywhere
And every time I love you more
Boca Juniors are one of the biggest and most popular clubs in Argentina (whose previous players have included none other than Diego Maradona). Formed in the La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires by Italian immigrants, they have traditionally been regarded as the club of the working classes, making their rivalry with the more middle class oriented River Plate all the more fierce. The Superclasico game between the two sides is one of the world’s most intense, thrilling and colourful derbies, occasionally ending in riots between the fans and police. On Sunday afternoon our assorted group of tourists and backpackers were driven to La Boca. Arriving early, we were taken to a local restaurant for a traditional pre-match snack of Quilmes beer and Choripan (a delicious chorizo sausage in a roll), in the hot sunshine of the restaurant garden. As match build-ups go, it wasn’t bad, contrasting with the many freezing days with dodgy fast food I’ve had outside Anfield in Liverpool. La Boca, or certainly the area around the Caminito where we were, is a very attractive neighbourhood, its brightly coloured buildings being one of the most recognisable sights of Buenos Aires.
We soon headed to the stadium, in plenty of time before kick-off to watch the crowd and atmosphere build up (left). Our guide, Josue, was a Boca fanatic and I couldn't help thinking that as tourism jobs go, his was pretty damn good. The stadium is known as La Bombonera or the Chocolate Box. It has a three tier stand covering three sides of the ground (the fourth is smaller with corporate boxes and the like) but is quite tightly curved such that the stands are very close to the pitch and the views are good everywhere. We were supposed to be on the third tier of the "long side", but ended up almost in the corner which offered a great view of the main section of Boca fans on our left. The teams were announced to huge cheers (Boca) or jeers (Athletico) and as they took the pitch, the classic Argentine mass of ticker tape came flying down from the stands, reminiscent for football fans everywhere of the 1978 World Cup.
The main section of Boca's most passionate and vocal fans are in the stand behind the goal, specifically on the second tier (though those on first tier get quite rowdy too). Just as a sight, it's very impressive - numerous banners, blue and yellow draped flags all the way down to the pitch and a line of fans all along the front of the second tier constantly waving flags. But it's the music, the drumming and singing, and the incessant nature of it that's so striking - it's constant from before kickoff to the final whistle. It doesn't stop for goals (not that we had any), near misses, injuries, controversial decisions or substitutions - just a break at half time to rest their voices. It's unlike anything I've seen or heard at a European football game and find it impossible to imagine at an English Premier League game these days. The away fans who had travelled to the capital from Tucuman on the third tier of the opposite stand tried to hold their own, but they were always going to be out sung and out shouted in La Boca’s lair.
The strange aspect of the atmosphere was how unreactive the crowd (or specifically the main section of support) were to events on the field, as if the game was almost a sideshow to the opportunity to profess their love and support for their club. Whether this would have changed had Boca (or indeed Tucuman) taken the lead, I'm not sure. The game itself was entertaining enough, but inevitably almost an anti-climax to the stadium experience. Despite scoring seven goals in their first three games, Boca couldn't find a breakthrough. Athletico defended deep and not even star player Juan Roman Riquelme or the legendary Martin Palermo could produce that telling moment. As time ticked on, the crowd around me grew more anxious and frustrated, but the main section of fans just kept on singing. The closest Boca came was a strike against the crossbar in the closing minutes but it wasn't to be. And while Athletico looked dangerous on the break (or perhaps Boca suspect at the back), the game ended scoreless. Still, not even a goalless draw could put a dampener on an occasion like this.
Football in South America has suffered in recent years as the cream of the continent's talent have headed to the big European leagues in search of fame and fortune. But while the quality on the pitch may not be what it once was, the support and matchday experience is as passionate and exhilarating as ever. While Europe may be benefiting from the talent of South American players, it should also seek inspiration from the colour, noise and spectacle that such committed fans bring to the game. The Observer newspaper ranked the Boca-River Plate Superclasico as No. 1 in its " 50 sporting things you must do before you die" poll. Having experienced the atmosphere at a relatively minor Boca game, I can only imagine the intensity of the great derby match. Reason enough I suppose to one day return to the Republica de la Boca.
check out our Argentina country guide for information, advice, highlights, tours and more.
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