Buenos Aires: where football is life
Part 2 – River Plate vs. Boca Juniors, El Superclasico
Angelo Palmeri from Buenos Aires
In 2004 ‘The Observer’ listed the 50 sporting things you should do before you die.
Going to watch the ‘Superclasico’, the River-Boca (or Boca-River) derby, was in the first spot.
Gavin Hamilton described the event as such:
”The rivalry between Boca and River Plate is the most intense in Argentine football and, perhaps, in the whole of Latin America: the game is a riot of colour, noise and energy.”
And sometimes the riot could be literal, as both ‘hinchadas’ (groups of supporters) and ‘barras bravas’ (ultras groups, the one for River are ‘Los Borrachos del Tablon’, the drunkards of the leaderboard) are very hot and do not restrain from physical contact if needed.
In June 2011, when River was relegated for the first time in his 110 years of history, supporters’ unrests outside the stadium led the AFA (the Argentina FA) to compel River to play the season after behind closed doors.
Fearing further unrests, the Argentine law enforcement forbid the visiting fans (Boca) to enter the stadium ‘Monumental’ on the 6th of October: allegedly there was an oversale of tickets to the ‘Boquenses’ that led to security concerns over their presence in the stadium.
Getting to the stadium it’s an experience itself.
Our driver leaves us about a kilometer away from the entrance, meaning that we have to mingle with River fans to reach the gates.
It would normally take ten minutes to walk through the Avenida Presidente Figueroa Alcorta’s last kilometer, instead it took us about half an hour before reaching the stadium turnstiles: in order to avoid gatecrashers, security had set-up two checkpoints every 300mt circa. You need to show your ticket to make it through each checkpoint: if you cannot produce one, you have to step back.
The Avenida Alcorta is so crowded that it looks more of a small lane than a large avenue.
At each checkpoint the critical mass gathers waiting to be let through. People are let through the filtering fences at intervals of five to ten minutes, only women and children are let through side channels by the security staff.
There are obviously no Boca fans around and our driver suggested not to show off too much our video equipment, let alone the fact we are foreigners. However no unpleasant episode happened and we must admit we felt safe most of the times.
Reaching the turnstiles once past the last checkpoint and the River Museum adjacent to the Monumental, it is obviously a relief.
The River Plate’s home was named after Antonio Vespucio Liberti only in 1986: Liberti was River’s president in the 30′s and the one who bought the land where the stadium was built under his rule. Originally baptized as ‘Monumental’ (1938) – now the stadium’s nickname – it was built with three main stands and it was horseshoe-shaped (open towards the La Plata river). The fourth stand was built in the 50′s thanks to the revenue (ten million pesos) generated by the sale of forward Omar Sivori to Juventus.
Once in you realize Hamilton’s words are true: ‘a riot of colour, noise and energy’
The colour and noise are immediate: there are banners and flags everywhere and fans are already singing before the kick-off. The energy increases as soon as River gets on the pitch for the warm-up. Obviously it’s negative energy the one that welcomes Boca as a broadside of whistles in unison salutes the guests: they will have to play 90 minutes plus injury time in a totally hostile ‘cancha’ (pitch) with no support. ‘Contra todo y todos’, against everything and everyone will title the next day the sport section (‘Deportivo’) of the national paper ‘El Clarin’.
In this unreal atmosphere, Carlos Bianchi and his men managed to pull out a 1-0 win thanks to Emmanuel Gigliotti’s goal in first half (22′). A poacher’s goal for the former Novara striker (7 caps and 1 goal in Italy) who returned to Argentina at the end of 2011.
The silence following Gigliotti’s netting is as much striking as the noise that follows to push River to level. At the end of the game, while Boca players celebrate amid the pitch, the River ‘hinchadas’ will not stop singing the club’s name.
On the pitch with Boca ‘camiseta’ there were other acquaintances of European football: the eternal Juan Roman Riquelme (Barcelona and Villareal) and Fernando Gago (Real Madrid, Roma and Valencia). Among River players, European experiences for Jonathan Maidana (Metalist Kharkiv, Ukraine) Cristian Ledesma (Hamburger SV, Germany) and the Colombian Teofilo Gutierrez (Trabzonspor, Turkey).
River’s coach is an old acquaintance of Italian Serie A, Ramon Angel Diaz: former Napoli, Avellino, Fiorentina and Inter. He won the ‘scudetto’ with the ‘nerazzurri’ in 1988-89.
Also the club’s president, Daniel Alberto Passarella, has had several spells in Italy: Fiorentina (4 seasons) Inter (2). He is now running for a second term as elections for the club president will take place soon and account for the many electoral banners inside the stadium.
Carlos Bianchi himself played and coached in France (Stade de Reims, PSG and Strasbourg) and had a one-season spell at AS Roma (1996-97).
During the interval you cannot help thinking that in this stadium, Passarella rose the FIFA World Cup for the first time for Argentina in 1978: past and present are always running after each other in Buenos Aires.
‘Sitio Riverplatense’: more pictures from the River ‘hinchadas’ on the stands
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