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.
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.
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.