The Guardian/Observer magazine lists seeing a River Plate/Boca Juniors match as the #1 of 50 sporting things to do before you die. The BBC (and others) call it the greatest sporting event in the world.
75,000 young futbol fans mostly between ages 18 and 25, both in control yet out of control is a huge sight and an unworldly sound. This is Argentina, and the team most revered and feared and with the most ardent fans is River Plate. Their rivalry with Boca Juniors, another team from Buenos Aires, is called the most intense in any sport worldwide.
The long and complex chants (and there are many, maybe 20 for River Plate alone) are sometimes shocking. One for example taunts Boca fans that they’re like ‘Bolivians who shit in the street’. Another is unprintable. They’re not social liberals and they don’t compromise.
The team name is in English. Like Boca Juniors. And they have an interesting way of chanting it. It goes like reeeva plate! reeeeva plate! It sounds beautiful and the streets and sky of Buenos Aires were tribal with it before and after the game.
Tonight River Plate are going for blood. It’s the Championship game, against Quilmes, Boca Juniors have been knocked out early, and it’s at home in River Plate.
The streets of Buenos Aires have been crawling with packs of lunatic fans all day
We arrive at the stadium about 3 hours early as advised. The tickets were hard to get, but since we aren’t about to see this again soon, we get good seats.
It’s chaos everywhere. We’re on one of three streets that are packed with fans at huge 300 foot wide line-ups. There are police helicopters overhead
We’re told that at all three entry directions the fans will be ‘processed’ by security in groups of about 1000 at a time. It will take a few hours. We are in a group about mid-wait. It looks like this
That’s the huge River Plate stadium ahead and another crowd coming from another direction in the distance. Many of the fans don’t have tickets and will listen to the game from outside. So maybe 100,000+ people here tonight. Impressive.
There’s another thing: all the fans are River Plate. They have banned competitive fans from games anywhere in Buenos Aires all year due to violence and killings. All fans have to have team ID, a sophisticated plastic card complete with holographic image, and there’s a central data base preventing you from getting multiple team ID’s. We’ve got tourist entry cards, so we’re exempt.
The waiting groups of 1000 are calm for the first couple of hours. They dance and chant quietly. See movie to the left, enlarge first.
We’re frisked at one of the two stations
Just as we’re through the crowd starts loosing it and throwing bottles at security. After we approached the next group we heard a roaring behind us and the crowd had broken through security and everyone started running. Video to the left.
So did we. An escort pointed us at a private entrance, with more security, and we were through quickly. Into the immense stadium. Our seats are perfect
The stadium is too vast to get a picture of the whole thing. Opposite it looks like this
As the sun sets and the game is about to start the crowd goes crazy and dump their red and white cylinder things. Incredible. Video to the left
There are few girls here and fewer kids. But in our more secure seating area a Plate fan has brought his son to the game. He’s a terrific guy and a passionate Argentine, like all of them
The fans have a fairly violent salute they all do in unison when chanting. I’ll use our neighbour to illustrate. Bring the right arm right back
Hold it for a sec, then fire it forward as hard as you can
His son is loving this: his dad brought him. For other things of great importance his mom will take him. Granny will dip strong coffee into sweet bread and teach him to chew when he’s a baby. Grandpa will oversee everything
Whenever there’s a bad call all the hands go up in a desperate wtf?
Somewhere out there a game’s playing
Quilmes can only watch and River Plate kick in a goal every 10 or 15 minutes. They’re getting killed. The stadium is a riotous and massive human happiness exhibit.
It get’s darker at about half-time
With River Plate up 5-0, riot police roll in and form a perimeter
River Plate win, the crowd goes crazier and there’s huge fireworks show
We leave before the crowd. I didn’t want to leave, ever, and I think at the moment the obvious thing I’ll never forget is the singing/chanting. It was from the depths of their soul and never stopped for a minute
But outside it’s pandemonium. The non-ticket fans are trying to get to the stadium. They’re held back by separated lines of riot police. We have no idea how we’re going to get through
There are fires burning ahead and the noise of the crowd is deafening. We move off to the side, and not feeling like there’s a good strategy for getting further in the face of it, we move behind a riot truck along with a bunch of police, who are hiding there. This is not the first time I’ve seen Latin police behave realistically in the face of impossible odds
They don’t like this and tell us forcefully to get away, so we move across to the other side of the street, not having any choice
The crowd is taunting the police. Not 30 seconds after we get to the far wall the police make a decision to bail, and run to the same wall, and the crowd explodes through. It was an amazing sight and sound. I’m concerned we’re going to get trampled but we’re able to hold tight for the few minutes it takes for the wave of fans to rush past. The police are either hiding, or running with them. It’s nuts.
As we move further away there are vendors out cooking carne for the mob
The welcoming smell of burning chorizo.
God I’m hungry I think, but later, we don’t know what’s ahead
Finally we’re through into semi-sanity
And a few hours later we’re home.
There were 300K people on the streets tonight. The atmosphere in the stadium was beyond description. These are Argentines. They went to war against Margaret Thatcher having full knowledge they had zero chance of winning. The country has been eaten alive by corrupt government and in 2002 defaulted massively on their debt. Plenty has gone wrong. But failures don’t define them, tonight does.