Adventure at La Bombonera

At the Boca Juniors game

Sunday evening (9 May), I lost my football virginity watching the world famous Boca Juniors (CABJ) lose 2-1 to club Huracán (first win over Boca for Huracán in 30 years) at the infamous Boca Juniors stadium, La Bombonera.

The photo left was taken half an hour before the start of the match; when the game begins, the yellow section will be filled to overflowing with the rowdier and louder “12th player,” the most ardent of Boca’s fans.

I gave on US-style “American football” in utter boredom more than 20 years ago — mainly over the frustration of waiting through three hours to watch at best 30 minutes of actual playing football, instead of standing around discussing one thing or another, and the extended rest breaks. I began watching real football (soccer) when we lived in Europe, a game where two 45 minute halves mean more like 88 minutes of non-stop playing out of the 90. But I had until Sunday only seen it on television, or occasionally watching my granddaughter play on an elementary school team.

One of my friends here, Ricardo Finocchiaro, and his business partner Carlos, have a sports agency representing the interests of a variety of athletes, including a number of football players. My football virginity could not have been in better hands.

if you do not know much about football, or if you don’t know much about the fanaticism, the virtual religiosity of the South American way of football, then I will not be able to in a short space like this provide much background. I will let one example illustrate: When our friends from Slovakia visited here last January, one of the main things they wanted to see, from all the offerings of Buenos Aires and Argentina, was the Boca Juniors stadium, La Bombonera, where we took them for their football pilgrimage.

Being taken to the game by Ricardo and Carlos included, thanks to their extended friendships and business acquaintances in the athletic world, a number of benefits, such as special parking next to the stadium, and treasured seats on the second row directly behind where the players sit. Sitting next to us was Juan Simón, who played for Boca Juniors and was part of the 1990 Argentine World Cup finals team. In the center of the photo, smiling.

Juan Simón, World Cup soccer star

I eventually discovered why having seats in the second row is better than seats in the first row, after a sideline referee made a bad call, and various liquids and objects began flying down from above; the roof covering didn’t quite reach over the first row. Argentine football fans are a continual reminder of what the word “fan” is shortened from.

Although I have watched football on television often, I still did not fully understand the rules, so it was good having Ricardo sitting next to me so I could ask things like, “Why does the referee wave the flag in that direction and not the other?” Or, “Why was that a foul?”

I have seen better matches on television, and Ricardo explained that this game comes at the end of a long series and I was watching exhausted players. But then, I did not want to attend a live match in La Bombonera only to watch the football game. I wanted the Argentine football experience, up close and personal (but not too up close and not too personal, which is why I wanted to tag along with Ricardo and Carlos — we all have seen what can happen in these matches).

Some years ago in Athens, my wife and I happened upon a huge military parade, that including tanks rolling down the boulevard. The most notable impression from that was the all encompassing roar and the vibrations so deep that one’s body throbbed. Well, a match at La Bombonera is something like that: the constant roar of chanting and foot stomping that resonate throughout the entire body.

Boca Juniors vs. Huracan, May 9, 2010

This is what football looks like from the second row.

Thanks to Ricardo and Carlos (in particular to Carlos for doing all the driving) for making this experience possible for me.  Next time — River.


4 replies »

  1. You understand the origins of the word “fan” if you’re from Nebraska … I have an utterly irrational tribal bond to them damn Cornhuskers. I bet Brad can attest to a similar psychology in Texas.

    Soccer’s not so bad live although I don’t think I could shout myself hoarse over it. Just not enough pomp and circumstance for spectacle-loving Americans, like myself. Never been to a match down south, though, but it would seem from your report that the crowd-watching is just as good as the match itself. I’ve found it pretty excruciating to watch on TV, though, although not as bad as baseball.

    They didn’t have soccer around here when I was growing up so I never got to play it, but everyone say it’s a fantastic sport to play. Just not so hot to watch, which is why no matter how many David Beckhams they import, I doubt very much that it will ever really take off in the US.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. I agree that it is not likely to replace the American love affair with gladiator sports. I still don’t really understand the nuances of soccer, although the more I watch it, the more adept I become and seeing both the athletic grace of it and the sheer level of physical stamina involved. These guys are essentially running for 90 minutes, with a short break at half. US footballers are actually moving at all about 1 minute of every 10; the rest of the time they are discussing something, waiting for something to happen or be decided, and then waiting for more stuff to happen.

    It’s funny, but it was “60 Minutes” that put me off NFL football for good. That was my favorite show in TV, and during the NFL season, it was bumped back every Sunday because a 2-hour game lasted 3 or 3 /12 or even 4 hours. I wondered why schedulers didn’t know up front this was going to happen and start these games two hours earlier?

    A fine and wise friend of mine once explained to a European friend of mine the American love affair with gladiator sports. Obviously it is simply an extension of the American love affair with anything violent, especially if its gory. I’ve noticed that. We like sports where there is likely to be a lot of blood, and if deaths can occur (NASCAR) all the better. We are the world’s new Romans.

    • The NFL is terrible. Haven’t watched a game in years. No, I only like amateur gladiator sports.

      Soccer players are tremendous athletes, no question. Football players are also, just in a vastly different ways.

      A friend of mine likes to say that the single most difficult act in sports is to hit a fastball. I don’t know if that’s true but it sounds like it is.

      Somewhere I once read a class theory of American sport. Baseball was originally the sport of the working class who labored in factories and mills. It was pastoral and played on a wide-open field and had no time limits, was not particularly hierarchical, and the whole goal was to get “home”. Whereas football, which originated at the overlord Ivy League schools, was the sport of the capitalist class, with strict time limits, clearly verifiable gains and losses, strictly hierarchical, and very much attached to warlike vocabulary and strategies.

      George Carlin says it much better:

  3. Here’s a trivia titbit. Baseball is the only ball sport where the person scores, not the ball. Which led one of my philosophy professors to do a whole thing on the philosophy of baseball.

    I would enjoy NFL type football more if they actually played more. All the standing around and gabbing or discussing things and turning 4 15-minute quarters into three hours ruins it for me. In soccer, they play full-tilt until it’s over.

    I love Carlin.