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February 15th 2010
Published: March 12th 2010
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Si quieren ver fiesta, vengan a La 12
Porque esta es la hinchada mas loca que hay
Con bombo y trompeta, todas sus banderas todos
Los Borrachos se quieren matar.
Vamos los Xeneizes, vamos a ganar
Esta es tu hinchada que te va a alentar
Vamos los Xeneizes, no podes perder
Porque a Los Barrachos los vamos a correr

If you want to see real celebration, come to see La 12 (Boca supporters)
Because it is the only and craziest supporter group of all
With flags and bass-drums and trumpets
All of the Borrachos (River Plate supporters) want to kill themselves
Come on the Xeneizes (Boca players/supporters) we are going to win
These are your fans that cheer you up
Come on the Xeneizes you can't lose
Because we are going to chase Los Borrachos

This is one of many (MANY) songs and chants the supporters of Club Athletico de Boca Juniors sing during games. They need a lot of songs because they sing non-stop in the buildup and during the whole game. The songs describe a passion for the club that borders on obsession and a hatred for their rivals (in particular River Plate) that makes Liverpool-Man Utd or Real-Barca rivalries seem tame. 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.

One of my main objectives in travelling to South America was to see some football games and experience the legendary atmosphere which is incomparable to other regions. While planning the trip, I was struggling to get excited about South America but this was one thing I was desperate to see. Up until now I'd had no luck catching a game. In Chile, I arrived in Santiago for the first weekend of the season but both Universidad de Chile (my preferred team) and Colo Colo were playing away. I just missed Universidad's game in La Serena (even a football game couldn't keep me in that town an extra two days). Then in Argentina, I specifically took a long detour on my way from Salta to Iguazu, far south to Rosario, to see Boca playing away to Newell's Old Boys. The website I was consulting said it was a Friday game, so I booked a non-refundable ticket to Iguazu on Saturday. Typically, as soon as I arrived in Rosario, I found out the game was on Saturday, due to kick-off just as I was leaving which meant I missed the game and had two quite boring days to kill in Rosario. As it happened, Boca suffered a bad defeat (4-2) so perhaps not the best first game to see.

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 everytime I love you more

Missing an away Boca game was one thing, but seeing them at home in La Bombonera was essential. So I made sure I arrived in Buenos Aires in plenty of time for a weekend they were playing at home (against Athletico Tucuman). There are several companies who organise trips to football games in Buenos Aires which can be booked through hostels. Bring herded around in a tour group to a football game isn't perhaps the most authentic experience but getting to and especially from La Boca (not the safest neighbourhood) was going to be tricky so it was worth paying the inflated price and booking a tour, which I did as soon as I arrived in Buenos Aires.

On Sunday afternoon we were driven to La Boca while the guide gave some background on the team and its supporters. On arriving we went to a local restaurant for some beers and Choripan (chorizo sausage in a roll, delicious) in the sun while waiting for the game. So far, so perfect (and much better than the hot dogs they sell at Anfield). La Boca, or certaintly the area around the Caminito where we were, is an attractive neighbourhood, with brightly coloured buildings and a great atmosphere. After a bit of a wait, we headed to the stadium with a guide (in groups depending on our colour-coded wrist bands and where we were sitting). Josue, our guide, was a seriously committed fan and I couldn't help thinking that as tourism jobs go, his was pretty damn good. There was to be no nice ticket as a souvenir however - we were given season tickets of some locals (credit card like) to pass through the gates. I was Camila de Vaux for the day, which considering I hadn't shaved for a week wasn't altogether convincing. Still, we got through without problems and made our way to Section H.

Pasan los anos, jugadoes y tambien camponatos
Pero el sentimiento nunca va a terminar
Y vamos Boca, no podemos perder
Y vamos Boca, que tenes que ganar
Daria la vida por un campeonata y una vuelta mas

Time goes by, players come and go, and championships too
But my passion will not end
And come on Boca, we can't lose
And come on Boca, you have to win
I would give up my life for the championship

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. It was still a good spec though and a great position to view the main section of Boca fans on our left. We arrived about an hour before kickoff, so had plenty of time to watch the crowd and atmosphere build up. 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.

The main section of Boca's serious fans (their ultras if you like) are in the stand behind the goal, specifically on the second tier (though the first tier is quite passionate and 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 breathtaking - 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 I find it impossible to imagine at a Premiership game. To be fair the Athletico Tucuman supporters (on the third tier of the opposite stand) tried tp hold their own, though they were obviously not in the Boca supporters league. Again, it's hard to imagine the fans of someone like Bolton travelling away to a stadium and making such a spectacle.

Quiero quemar el Gallinero
Que se meuran los Cuervos y la Guardia Imperial
Vamos Xeneizes con heuvos vaya al frente
Te lo pide la gente, no para de alentar

I want to burn the Gallinero (River Plate stadium)
May the Cuervos (San Lorenzo supporters) die and the Guardia Imperial (Racing supporters) too
Come on Xeneizes boldly go forward
The people are asking for it, we don't stop cheering

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 occasion. Whether this would have changed had Boca (or indeed Tucuman) taken the lead, I'm not sure. It felt like watching a game in a pub when the sound is muted and you're listening to music instead - watching the game, but somehow removed from it. And while European, and particularly English, football supporters could learn a lot from their South American counterparts, I'm not sure I'd like the Kop to lose that intimate connection to what's happening on the pitch.

The game itself was entertaining enough, but I guess inevitably almost an anti-climax to the stadium experience. Despite both scoring and shipping 7 goals in their first three games, Boca couldn't find a breakthrough. Athletico defended deep and even Riquelme and the legendary Martin Palermo couldn't 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. Athletico looked dangerous on the break, or perhaps Boca looked suspect at the back - ex-Liverpool defender Gabiel Palletta was suspended, but they were kept out and the game ended scoreless. Still, not even a goalless draw could put a dampener on an occasion like this.

Porque sera que te sigo a todas partes campeon
Porque sera que no se vivir sin vos
Carnival toda la
El Xeneize es la pasion
Si no te veo, se me parte el corazon

Why is it that I follow you everywhere, my champion
Why is is that I can't live without you
The carnival of life
The Xeneize is my passion
If I don't see you, my heart breaks up

As for the rest of my time in the capital, Buenos Aires is a very classy city, easily the most impressive big city/town I have visited in South America and far superior to Santiago. It's a city of long and broad avenues and boulevards, impressive European-style architecture (particularly on Avenida de Mayo where I was staying) and some very interesting neighbourhoods. I was staying in a great hostel (the Estoril) near the centre, which was a good base for exploring the downtown and San Telmo, the bohemian district to the south. On Saturday I had dinner in the plaza in San Telmo (the nearby Indian restaurant was closed) where there was a free tango show. You travel 13,000km but there's no escaping "Strictly" on a Saturday night! It was quite impressive though and a classic Buenos Aires experience. On Monday I took a metro north to Palermo, a neighbourhood of parks, restaurants and expensive shops. While it's a pleasant area to relax or live in, there's little of real interest to see there - middle class areas are always so much duller than working class ones. Buenos Aires is a city you could spend weeks exploring and enjoying so hopefully I'll be back for a longer stay some day.

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