Posted by David
Portenos (Aregentines living in the port city of Buenos Aires) are passionate about five things: Politics (they have 80% participation in elections), Beef, Tango, Mate (a hot herbal drink pronounced MA-TAY), and Futbol (the game we North Americans call soccer). We have experienced all of these passions here in Buenos Aires, but going to see a futbol game was something I’ll never forget.
I was a little surprised when we were told that, under no circumstances, should we consider going to a futbol game in Buenos Aires on our own. And even though a bleacher seat may cost the equivalent of $7.00 USD, and a Porteno might pay even $50.00 for a good reserved seat, we should happily shell out double this amount to get ourselves safely there and back. I know that games in the U.K can get crazy and sometimes violent, but this is Buenos Aires for Gods sake, what could possibly happen? My very sensible alter ego, Amy, decided that we should listen to this sound advice. Once again, she was right.
We bought tickets through a hotel concierge near our apartment. It was a whole package deal. You get transportation to and from the game, tickets, and a personal escort that stays and watches the game with you. You arrive an hour before the rest of the fans and leave half an hour after the rest of the fans have left the stadium.
So on the day of the game, we walked over to the hotel and waited for the bus. A young guy named Santiago met us there and got us in a van with a bunch of other gringos headed for the futbol game. We were going to see San Lorenzo and Colon play a very important game for San Lorenzo, the favored team. We were told it was wisest to cheer for San Lorenzo. I was also wearing a hat for another popular Argentinian soccer team called the Boca Juniors and was emphatically told to remove the hat prior to arriving at the stadium.
I joked with Santiago that he forgot to bring us our flack jackets and billy- clubs. He chuckled gratuitously, which made me a little nervous. We were guided to our seats and watched a warm-up match between two junior teams. The stadium started filling up and we were seated in the expensive grandstand seats with an overhang protecting us from the sun. It was about 90 degrees that day. Behind one goal line there were bleacher seats filled with shirtless, die hard fans with lots of percussive type instruments, and behind the other goal line were the seats for the visiting team (Colon). They had about 100 sad-looking people hoping for an upset. Across the field from us were more grandstand seats filled with fans that didn’t mind sitting in the direct sun but were not rabid enough to sit in the bleachers.
The game started at 4PM and luckily there was a nice guy sitting next to me who helped us understand which team was which, who some of the players were, and some of the subtleties of the game including a translation of the fan’s chants and colorful expletives shouted at the refs and the other team, and the proper way to flail one’s arms.
The game was great. The girls stayed engaged almost the whole time. The fans were super rowdy and there was more standing up and sitting down than there is at a synagogue on Yom Kippur.
About halfway through the second period, it was still 0-0, a line referee threw a flag and called off-sides but only half the players, including San Lorenzo’s goalie, saw the flag. Colon, kicked the ball into San Lorenzo’s goal during this quasi penalty period and the head referee decided to count the goal. 1-0 Colon. The stadium erupted in anger. The ref’s mother was maligned, his masculinity was questioned, and his life was threatened. Shortly afterwards, San Lorenzo scored but it was now 1-1 with only a few minutes left to play. The game ended in a tie and the fans were in an uproar. They were screaming, “Nobody leaves the stadium,” and the referees were afraid to exit the field. The police, dressed in riot gear, surrounded the refs who did not dare make the move into the locker rooms. As soon as they would take a step, fans began throwing things at them. Finally, they made a mad dash into the locker room but the fans wouldn’t relent.
A huge group of fans gathered around the area where the refs and players would need to exit the stadium. The police tried to disperse the crowd but nobody would leave. We started to hear what we thought were firecrackers. It turned out that it was tear gas. Before we knew it, the gas had drifted up to our area, the civilized seats, and before we could get out of the way, it was in our eyes and throats. We were tearing and coughing and trying to get out of the stadium. There was confusion and the kids were scared. The teacher chaperoning the group of 15 high school exchange students from Manhattan told his kids to go, no come back, no go. Finally, we got out of the stands and Santiago found us along with the rest of the group that came from the hotel. We were all a bit shaken up but also excited by the madness.
We visited the Colleseum in Rome and learned how the Emperor used the gladiator events as a distraction for the public so they wouldn’t have to worry about their economic woes. The guy sitting next to me told me that Cristina’s (that’s President Cristina Kirchner) popularity improved when she recently mandated that all soccer games be shown on free T.V., no pay-per view needed. Was this supposed to help people forget about the 30% inflation going on here? (the official inflation rate was last reported to be 9.7%).
It was a short ride home from the game and we were able to relax in the van. We asked Santi if this sort of thing was typical. He said, “I wouldn’t say it’s typical. Maybe if you went to a really important game you would expect something like this but this was supposed to be a safe game.”