Kristen Pettit is a book editor — actually, she's our book editor — and took a trip to Buenos Aires last week, where she witnessed the glory of a La Boca soccer game. Her amusing report from the front lines is after the jump.
I was on vacation in Buenos Aires, having dinner with a local friend, when the topic, as it tends to in Argentina, turned to the national obsession — fútbol. I channeled my inner Tony Bourdain, expressed a deeply enlightened embarrassment at my own country's indifference to the sport played and loved by rest of the world, and professed a deep despair that I, myself, had never attended a live soccer match. I had said the magic words.
Before I could ask, "What part of the cow is this again?" my host offered two seats to watch River Plate take on La Boca — an extremely hot ticket and the Argentine equivalent of a Yankees/Red Sox playoff game. (Rich and stylish River Plate, nicknamed Los Millonarios, are the Yankees in this equation. Poorer, smaller stadium-having, but deeply loved La Boca, the Red Sox.)
Drunk on Malbec and the iron coursing through my bloodstream (courtesy of the copious, widely available quantities of red meat), I eagerly accepted the invitation.
"You'll love it," our host told us, his eyes alight. "Just don't wear any jewelry. Or carry a bag. Or say anything that will make anyone angry. Or make eye contact. And don't, for any reason, stray out of our sight."
My initial hesitance gave way to a typical New Yorker's swagger. I'd spent four years living in the Bronx and had watched at least one of those aforementioned Boston/New York brawls from the bleacher seats in the Yankees' outfield. For God's sake, I could handle a little soccer. How different could it be? It turned out — very.
You think you know what it means to be a sports fan, but you have no idea. Fútbol fans are hardest working fans in the world — and there are at least five things you need to know in order to blend into (and survive) the melee. Here, the Ugly American's guide to attending a foreign soccer game, and attending it well.
1. Release your inner glee clubber. Fútbol fans don't just cheer, they sing. They sing entire songs in unison. And their repertoire is vast and varied.
From philosophical anthems—"I Am River, and River Is Me" and "Boca Does Not Exist." To racist and profane little ditties—"Bolivians!" (Translation: you're poorer and darker than us) and "Your Mother Is a Whore." To tongue-in-cheek dirges— "A Moment of Silence for Boca (Who Are Dying)." There is a song composed for just about every game development. You will be expected to take part in the chorus, so be sure to warm up your vocal chords. Your fellow attendants will be watching you carefully.
2. Manage your fear of fire. Despite laws prohibiting such items, and proclamations in the press decrying their dangers pre-game, flares will be set off in the densely packed stands. You will dodge sparks while your eyes tear from the brightly colored smoke. You need not panic about it. We're all in this together.
3. Cheer like a madman (even when you have no allegiance to either team). When River scored its first goal of the game, the 300-pound fan in front of me turned, stuck his face three inches from mine, pumped his fists wildly into the air and screamed like Jamie Lee Curtis on a particularly bad night of babysitting. Do not be stunned into silence. Do not smile in amusement. There is no Switzerland in the stands. You are advised to mirror the gestures of the fan before you precisely—or be considered an enemy combatant. (For your fate for this offense, see point 5.)
4. Every once in a while, be sure to look up. When the tide turns decisively for the home team, opposing fans like to rip shit up. Literally. Watch out for falling seats which have been dismantled and tossed by frustrated Boca fans—onto the River Plate crowd below.
5. Settle in for a long post-game social. In a nod to fair play, the home team's fans wait for the opposition's supporters to clear the stands after the game. Specifically, they are given a 40-minute head start. Any Boca fans found loitering around the area after that, I was told, could lawfully be captured and made into chorizo, which is sold at the subsequent match.
That chorizo, consequently, is as delicious as the sweet taste of victory. ¡Vamos, vamos, River Plate!