I made it to a live fútbol match (that’s soccer for all you US readers). Argentines are very into their domestic fútbol teams. Buenos Aires has two leading teams, and people in the city—and around the country—feel very strongly about whichever one they support. I think the divide is similar to Yankees and Mets fans. The rivalry between River Plate and Boca Juniors has an interesting history that was summed up nicely by Buzzfeed. Even the US Embassy here weighed in (in Spanish) before the 2013 match.
This is the first time I have not stood out in a crowd while wearing my bright red jacket. River’s official team color is actually an even brighter red. Before the match, two other students from my Spanish school and I practiced making the “Vamos River” gesture.
The experience was not over the top crazy, although the rules about what you can bring into the stadium are. No one told me in advance that I could not bring in lipstick. I tried hiding it in my shoe (too big) and my bra (they pat down every person), and ended up rolling it inside my money in my wallet, which worked. I still do not understand what threat lipstick poses.*
The Monumental (River’s stadium) holds about 65,000 people. There’s open seating, and some people choose to sit in the barbed wire section. This is where fans from visiting teams used to sit. However, after a policeman shot and killed a visiting-team fan before a match (at another stadium) in June 2013, no visiting-team fans have been allowed into Argentina’s stadiums, except during international matches.
The only time the crowd really went crazy was when River scored its only goal. If you have ever watched an international fútbol match, you probably have seen the crowd reaction to a goal: a lot of jumping, screaming, and singing. River scored late in the first half. Just a few minutes later, Temperley tied the game and then came back from the half-time break much stronger.
We could feel the energy in the stadium decrease more and more as the game went on. Everyone (at least all of the River fans) assumed River would win, so a tie was pretty awful for them and the stadium was pretty quiet when the game ended. I cannot image what it would have been like if River had lost.
One difference in fan behavior from the US is that here, whistles are used to mock the opposing team. Fans whistled insanely loudly when the other team stopped a shot on their goal, when they scored a goal, and even when a player was injured and left the game.
River’s barra brava (non-literal translation: super fans or hooligans, depending upon who you ask) are the Los Borrachos del Tablón (The Drunks of the Stands) with their own sordid history. The LBDT includes a drum corps, which led the crowd in various cheers and songs during almost every minute of the game. (You can see the LBDT section across the field to the left, where there are banners and ribbons covering the upper deck.) I only picked up the very simple, “Vamos, vamos, vamos River.”
I was often distracted by the airplanes flying very close to the stadium to land at the small airport not far away. If you watch this short video, you can hear the fans singing one of the many team songs.
Between Colombia’s success in Copa America while I was there, Argentina’s appearance in the final, and now this game, I have watched more fútbol in the past few weeks than in the past few years combined. I am not becoming an avid fan, but my appreciation of the game definitely has increased.
* I later learned that the police controlling entry to the stadium can confiscate any item they think could pose a threat to the players. Lipstick could be a dangerous projectile.