A long time ago in a continent not so far away, I was basking in youthful rebellion and wandering the streets of Buenos Aires with a fistful of American dollars and the cocky gait to match. The pretext for my musings was a semester abroad, but the real motive was a “cultural exchange.” The economy had recently tanked, and with a favorable exchange rate, I wanted to cash in on a weak peso and an abundance of milanesa. Oh, and I also loved soccer.
My host-family father or “viejo” was named Oscar and religiously followed Independiente. He spoke painfully of the lost years, the decades of Diablos Rojos dominance when they were the toast of the town. But a young, ugly-as-sin Argentinian had caught my eye – Carlitos Tevez. Riquelme had recently left to warm the Barcelona bench, but at Boca the talent abounded and the stadium shook. What was not to love?
When River and Boca crossed swords in the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, I pinched myself just to be sure. A group of expat friends and I awoke at 3am to head the line at the Bombonera, but we were in for a rude awakening – only “socios” could purchase tickets. And these socios would have photo id cards (carnets). Despite the waving of dollar bills, no tickets were sold. And we were crestfallen.
Boca won the initial match 1-0, but in most unusual circumstances – the AFA had banned opposing fans in an effort to crack down on violence. When the second leg tickets went on sale to the general public at the Monumental stadium, I faced a dilemma – I liked Boca, but how could I see them play live in a crowd of gallinas?
It was so simple – camouflage.
None of my expat friends cared to accompany me for fear of death, injury, hurt feelings, etc. And my Argentine friends? Olvidatelo! Still, I found a scalped ticket on mercadolibre, bought a cheap River jersey, and the night of the match headed towards Belgrano for the ultimate soccer spiritual encounter.
The flares, the flags, the songs…you’ve seen it on youtube before. I lost my voice from uttering so many pre-match Argentina Spanish pejoratives, attempting to fit in. I could only afford a seat in the upper level popular, a standing room only pen where there is only the law of the jungle. And this is not the jungle of Disney Junglebook fame. I followed the waves of running, jumping, and avoiding getting trampled, at times wishing I’d spent my time on the safe streets of Pamplona instead.
The first half ended 0-0. As the second half grew on, self-belief diminished and anger flourished. When River scored deep into the half, the crowd erupted in a pandemonium usually reserved for recently deposed despots. But then came my moment truth, the exact second when I realized I was at heart a true Boca Jrs. fan. And an idiot.
Boca launched an innocuous counter-attack but Carlos Tevez took on and beat two defenders, rifling a shot to the upper angle. Instinctively, I stood up and raised my hands in excitement and adoration. Boca was tied but winning! Boca was going to the final! Instantly, I saw my own death at the hands of a ravenous horde.
That split-second lasted an eternity. I thought of the flags and drums crushing my skulls, the thousands of hands tearing my jersey to threads. By the grace of God, I caught myself before shouting. Still, hundreds of eyes glued themselves to my face. It was as if I had been listening to a Mana song while at a funeral, and abruptly stood up to sing the chrous.
And then, in a moment of death-inspired-brilliance, I unleashed the longest, filthiest, and ludest string of Spanish words to ever grace the ear of man. I became a method actor – and my motivation was salvation. To my relief, others popped up besides me and echoed my feigned sentiments. Soon I led a chorus of boos and hisses, the conducting music man with a briefcase full of money, no trombones, and a worsening nervous tick.
Things finally settled down and, to everyone else’s delight, River scored an equalizer in injury time. After extra-time, the game went to the lottery of penalties. This time, though, I exercised extreme jaw control when Boca advanced after some key Abbondanzieri saves. Watching the thousands of River fans exit the stadium in dead silence created conflicting emotions of pity, contempt, and interest.
No cabs dared patrol the city that late at night after such a big game. I was left to trek the mazey city blocks of Buenos Aires by myself all the way to Scalabrini Ortiz & Corrientes. Still, I pulled my jacket over the jersey and whistled along the way. I was just happy to be alive.
Read more from Elliott at Futfanatico