We all have dreams, plans, bucket lists and after watching the Argentina ‘78 World Cup on television at a young age; South America was my number one place to visit before it was too late.
My brother was in on the trip of a lifetime and the planning started two years ago. We eventually settled on Argentina and Chile, cue the outcry from some family members you’re not going to Brazil – it can wait…
The plan was to see some football, soak in the cities’ vibes and luckily for me a bit of cycling. We opted for March as it is still their summer and two weeks would suffice. The fixtures came out and the planning started on how to get tickets. There are numerous clubs in Buenos Aires with Boca Juniors and their rivals River Plate being the most famous.
We realised quite early that getting tickets for either of these clubs is a challenge and extremely expensive. Boca were home to Tigre on the Saturday, and due to the demand for tickets you usually have to go through legitimate companies to secure tickets ranging from £134 – £200. However, they do provide beer and transport but you still wonder how they justify the price.
We decided to leave it until we got there and take our chances. We visited Huracan on the Saturday morning to try and obtain tickets for their match the following day against rivals San Lorenzo. We had to join to become Socios (members) and show our passports, which we’d left at the apartment, meaning that game was off the agenda. So we had a quick Quilmes and headed for La Boca.
In desperation I contacted the tour companies for Boca tickets but they had sold out. I was now regretting the fact that I hadn’t bitten the bullet and paid up. As luck would have it, I went to an ATM to take out enough money in case I came across a ticket, there was a guy in a Boca shirt and I asked him if he knew of tickets?
“Follow me,” he replied as we caught bus no 29 straight to La Boca, passing the impressive Alberto J. Armando (La Bombonera) to our right.
Our friend Santiago (he was Italian) knew everyone and the walk to the bar to meet our ticket guy took a while. The whole area was a sea of blue and yellow with couples dancing to the Tango in bar doorways. Shops were selling all kinds of Boca merchandise, there was a great vibe about the place – although we were warned to avoid at night! I must add that I never felt threatened or intimidated during any of the games I attended.
We were lead into a bar where Santiago’s friend quoted me a price of 2500 Argentinean pesos which I knew equated to approximately £100; I bit his hand off and agreed the price. He went on his way to get the ticket, that turned out to be a membership card. What happens is the fans are all members and they sell on their cards for inflated prices to foreigners who want to attend their games.
We waited a while having another beer, this time an Imperial that was smoother than Quilmes, not as nice but served in a glass similar to a jam jar. Santiago told us “Don’t worry the wheels turn slowly in S America.”
Our man came back, we sorted the money out by paying a guy who put it through his computer – it seemed legitimate? We were given our card and away we went towards the ground passing kids playing street football and as we got near to the ground the security checks started – six in all.
The police presence was high despite away fans having been banned in Argentina for a number of years due to violence leading to deaths amongst supporters. You could argue that it has sanitised the atmosphere, but it hasn’t and I suppose it’s testament to the ban that so many young people attend the matches.
When I got to the sixth check the guy said to me ‘passport’. I despaired and thought ‘oh no’ at the last hurdle – there was a standoff, I then muttered the word hotel, he grinned and signalled me through. He knew I was a foreigner (people from abroad are called foreigners not tourists in South America).
I was through, I took a couple of photos and sprinted for the entrance, climbed the stairs and came out in the middle tier and what a sight, a proper old school of a ground, steep steps, no seats, fans crammed, steep stands with floodlights above the roofless stands and barbed wire fences – reminded of me of Stamford Bridge in the 80’s.
The singing was loud, all of the ground in unison with all ages joining in, there were some kids above me and it was great seeing these boys, I suppose their highlight of the week joining in and singing with passion, and no half & half scarfs in site. What tickled me most was kids clinging on to the fences but tied to them with jumpers and jackets in case they fell – proper old school.
To be honest the game wasn’t the best, Carlos Tevez was up front for Boca, Tigre seemed to huff and puff, also due to a platform sticking out from the tier I couldn’t see the goal, but I was happy to be there soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the sight of the locals loving every minute of it.
The opposite end was the main section of the barra bravas – the stand has the 12th man emblem on the terrace, also the away dressing room is situated underneath so the barra bravas go there a couple of hours before kickoff to sing and jump to create fear in the away teams mind. The match finished 2-1 to Boca.
We walked for a while and eventually caught a taxi back to San Telmo where we once again enjoyed a few cold Quilmes bottles. For any football fan that has had enough of the sanitised game in Britain, in the words of Jake Burns – Go For it.