The melting pot of people that call Argentina home tend to have a great discrepancy between all of the religions that are practiced in the country. The country itself has been a tolerant religious safe-haven for decades prior to this point, but in general they are less confined to just one religion, unlike other nations within South America. Of course the country does have a large Catholic influence from it's Spanish and Italian ancestors, but those beliefs are largely only practiced during the Easter and Christmas holidays. The reason I bring this up is because there is one belief that all Argentinians are devout to, and it is something much less acknowledged in the United States. It varies slightly from household to neighborhood and city to province, but it is a major part of the culture for Argentina. It's name is fútbol.
For those of you who are less exposed to Spanish and the rest of the world, the world fútbol actually refers to soccer. A sport that is considered less popular within the US, except for when the FIFA World Cup comes around every 4 years, it is recognized as one of the best things in society for Argentina. Knowing this, I knew that I would have to make it to some game before leaving the continent and I finally had the chance to do so this past Wednesday.
With more than 20 teams throughout Argentina and countless more throughout all of South America, it's easy to get lost in the mix of teams and loyalties. My host family and many others in Buenos Aires are fans of River Plate, a team with a rich history of winning as they play just 15 minutes from our house at "El Monumental". The stadium is a classic Argentinian temple for fútbol, and on nights when the team has home games, I can hear the fans cheering from miles away.
River Plate has a long withstanding rivalry with another team from Buenos Aires called the Boca Juniors. The rivalry dates back to the 1940s, and the games between the two clubs are dubbed as "El Superclasico". I mentioned the Superclasico in a previous post when the two teams played back in the beginning of October, as everyone tunes in to watch them outplay each other. The Boca Juniors are sometimes said to be the "bad guys" of the rivalry and their fans are said to be no better, hence why my host family said we should be River fans and nothing else.
On Wednesday (10/22) my friend John and I went to El Monumental to try and find cheap tickets for the game. Of course we were bombarded by scalpers all trying to rip us off, but eventually we struck a deal with one of them. The thing about tickets for River and Boca is that they have members, or "socios" and these people get first picking at the tickets for each game. Obviously the best games usually have the highest amount of actually members there, but the socios can also decline to accept the tickets and have them be sold to people who are not members. It is basically like having season tickets, but for life because fútbol seems to never stop down here. With that, we got out cheap tickets and headed to the stadium later that night for the 9:30pm game versus Libertad, a Paraguayan team.
Of course everything leading up to actually entering the stadium was as Argentine as it gets.. nothing short of a shitshow. River fans are very passionate about their team, so anything that gets in the way of them seeing the game is essentially the enemy. And on Wednesday that "enemy" was the police trying to keep order throughout the area outside of the stadium. Everyone had to go through several lines of security before entering the stadium, and the evidently impatient Argentines were fed up with it so they did the only thing that they know how to do: riot. In all seriousness, nothing terrible happened, everyone was just anxious to get inside the stadium. So the lines of federal police with shields only needed to be called upon one time to settle the rowdy crowd.
The most interesting part of the whole process to actually get into the stadium was the fact that everyone was fingerprinted before being allowed to enter the stadium. The funny part was realizing that I've dealt with less security for international flights within South America, as the security for the game was very intense (almost felt like I was back home in The States!) after finally making it into the stadium and to our section, we finally could enjoy the game.
The best thing about the game, aside from the fact that River beat Libertad 2-0, was the fans that surrounded us. In all my years of being a sports fan, I've never seen a more passionate grouping of people in my entire life. These people live and breath for their team and it definitely makes for great entertainment. Not only did we make new friends, learn new Spanish words (some of which I definitely cannot repeat), and see a crowd of 40,000 River fans sing songs and chant for their favorite team for 2 hours, we also experienced one of the greatest parts of Argentinian and South American culture.
And the second best thing about the game would have to have been the excitement and celebration after River scored those two goals against Libertad. It seemed like it was equivalent to when a team wins the Super Bowl in the US or even the World Cup. Everyone gets ecstatic and it is something I will never forget.
As I wrote this, I'm currently sitting on a bus going from Montevideo, Uruguay to Punta del Este, Uruguay. It's my third weekend in a row of traveling which is actually getting a bit exhausting but I am enjoying it at the same time. All my experiences in Uruguay will be posted after I return to Buenos Aires on Sunday night, so stay tuned. And for those of you who are counting down.. my long anticipated (and dreaded) return to the US is just 19 days away. Yes, I am excited to finally see my friends and family, but I will absolutely miss everything about Argentina and South America. In the meantime, be great and talk to you soon.
"And I remember thinking "Maybe I could just stay here. Maybe this is exactly where I'm supposed to be." — Unknown