WE ENTER BOCA’S stadium ridiculously early. The Bombonera takes about 50,000 people at capacity. Maybe 40,000 here today.
Maradona’s special seat is empty: he and Boca are not friends at the moment. In his role as manager of the Argentina squad, Maradona made some derogatory comments about Boca midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme, who responded by quitting the selection. Riquelme is hugely popular, so there are a lot of bad feelings going around.
7 pm. The players run out of huge, phallic windsocks on to the pitch. Boos for the visitors, Atlético de Tucumán. Hysteria for the home team. The whistle blows.
South American football is a lot slower than in Europe. The players seem to be engaged in the 100m saunter instead of the dash. Tucumán are pretty appalling. Boca should be running rings around their rivals, but they seem to be half asleep.
Neither team is playing particularly well, but at least half of those present deserve Oscar nominations. Have never seen such histrionics. Players throw themselves on the ground if the ball gets within five meters of them, howling and clutching their arms/legs/balls as if they’re about to fall off. Much waving of arms and tortured expressions. When no one gets yellow-carded, they stop the overacting, get up, and start running again.
The Boca chants are awesome. Fans with drums, horns, and huge, huge flags jump up and down in unison. The walls and roof shake.
Halftime. Notice 12 very tall, very thin Scandinavians madly buying up the team’s navy blue and yellow shirts from a shady-looking vendor. Why? Probably because they’re the color of the Swedish flag. In 1906, Boca’s original black-and-white vertical stripes were the prize in a match against another team with the same shirt, and Boca lost. Boca decided to adopt the colors of the flag of the first boat to sail into La Boca’s harbor, and that vessel turned out to be the Swedish freighter Drottning Sofia.
Second half. Will someone please just bloody score? Boca are obviously the better team but they miss every shot. Every time they come close, the Bombonera holds its breath. The walls seem to flex inwards.
About halfway through, something clicks and I start getting interested. Find myself screaming obscenities and making that gigantic “OOOOO” sound with the rest of the Boca fans when the ball bounces off the goal post. Still don’t have a clue about how the offside rule works and couldn’t care less, but am being sucked into the energy of the match.
The game’s up. Three minutes injury time. Everyone diving all over the place like bloody ballet dancers. In the second minute, Boca hit the goalpost yet again. The disappointment is so thick that you can taste it.
We stay locked in our stand for half an hour after the end of the match while the Tucumanos leave, a policy designed to prevent fans from beating seven kinds of shit out of each other. Feels like forever. Want to go home and eat something that isn’t a horrible and overpriced hamburger.
Finally liberated from our concrete prison to find that the Tucumanos have pissed all over the stairs on their way out as a way of saying “thanks for having us.” Pity all people wearing flip-flops. At least no one’s waiting outside to make a disturbance. The heavy police presence probably helps.
Interesting evening, but think I’ll wait until the season heats up before going to another match.
Read about this and nine more of the world’s rowdiest soccer stadiums on Matador Sports.