April 2, 2020
This is a guest blog written by our traveler David about the ultimate football bucket list experience: Celebrating the Championship win in La Bombonera on the final round of the season.
One of Argentina’s most famous clubs Boca Juniors was undoubtedly one of the main reasons we had made our way to South America. The Xeneizes are Argentina’s most successful team with 68* titles. Internationally their 22 titles mean they’re the third most successful club team in the world. Most importantly though, they have utterly bonkers fans, a brilliantly odd ground and one of the best kits in world football. Some of the finest players in the history of the game have graced the pitch of La Bombonera in the Azul y Oro from Maradona to Rattin, from Riquelme to Battaglia. There’s a big argument to say Boca are the biggest club outside of Europe and with over 206,000 members significantly more than Barcelona’s 170,000 as an example.
Due to the number of members, Boca tickets are very hard to come by. You will almost certainly have to buy through an agent and we used Home Fans. We got an Uber down to La Birreria a Craft Beer bar in San Telmo to meet Pata, Killian and David who would be our guides for the day. Tickets cost around £120 but included a couple of beers, a burger and a guide for the evening, Killian. After banging back a couple of California Kölsch and having a frankly lovely burger we made our way to the ground with Killian and three Croat lads. On the way to the stadium there was already Boca supporters passed out drunk, we all did the decent thing and bought bucket hats. Getting into the ground was interesting, three barriers to pass through, passports checked, tickets checked, a full search and when past the barriers people were just sat outside their houses. Odd doesn’t come close, but strangley well organised, no pushing, no jostling, just patience to get in the ground.
When we got into the ground it was packed, over an hour from kickoff. Oh, and I forgot to mention that River Plate were one point ahead of Boca in the league and this was the last match. Needless to say the place was bouncing. Throw into the mix they were playing Gimnasia who are managed by someone you might have heard of, Maradona. I’ll be honest with you, we then saw the more bizarre pre-matches I’ve ever seen. Forty minutes before a match that could well decided the destination of the title and the opposition manager is being paraded around the pitch for half an hour. Diego kissed the turf, was given a plaque, was given a shirt, was kissed on the lips by Carlos Tevez, had more of a walk around, waved and kissed the pitch again. Maradon, Maradon, Maradon echoed around the Chocolate Box.
What followed was one of the worst matches we had in South America was the worst view. Problematic? God no, it was perfect. The whole stadium would rise as one to bellow out songs to inspire their team, it was utterly relentless. We were opposite the Barra Brava but honestly you couldn’t tell. Around 20 minutes into the game a roar rippled along the steep stands, Tucuman who River were playing had taken the lead. The crowd at our end of the stadium surged forward, being near the front you have to be on your toes. Any chance that’s miss and any goal and you’re off. Down the terrace. Not alert and you could lose your ankles. It’s bonkers. Quarter of an hour later River had equalised, the ground was downbeat for 3/4 minutes before starting again. I’ll be honest with you, absolutely nothing was happening in this game. Not that I could see it.
Much like the first half, the second ebbed and flowed with half chances coming Boca’s way without ever looking like scoring. The introduction of Ramon Abila changed the game (from what I could see), Boca become more direct, hitting the big number 9 with players like Tevez and Villa buzzing around him. After 72 minutes Abila prodded a ball to Tevez who struck it well enough down the middle of the goal and through the hands of Broun into the roof of the net. On your toes boys, it’s surge time. The place exploded, I’ve never seen anything like it. The 18 foot fence was being scaled left, right and centre, shirts were off, cuddling, chanting, bawling, the lot. Utterly insane. There were 18 minutes for Tucuman and Boca to hold on. Gimnasia had one more chance, it was a free header, ten yards out, nodded wide. Did River have any more chances? I think so, but as supporters round me checked their phones the goals column didn’t update. After 5 minutes injury time the referee blew.
What happened next was what can only be described as a health and safety nightmare, fireworks booming to the right of us, ash and bits of metal falling on us, the floodlights flashing on and off, carnage on the terracing, sweat pouring off every single person but, it was astonishing. Men crying next to us, this was retribution for the Libertadores final defeat in Madrid. Boca were 69 (hense the * earlier in the blog) not out, Campeones de Argentina. An hour of celebrations followed, the place was bouncing. We decided to slip off back to La Birreria for a celebratory drink. The walk back took about 20 minutes and saw street fireworks and explosions, plenty of car horns being tooted, flags raised and lots, and lots of drunk men. It was Day 2 in Argentina, and I’d already had my best footballing experience ever.
This is a guest blog written by our traveler David. Have you traveled with us and would you also like to write a blog about your experience? Please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org