Friday, November 19, 2010

El Superclásico y el fútbol argentino

Up in the near vertical stands of La Bombonera to welcome Boca Juniors onto the field

According to the Observer newspaper it's one of the fifty must do sporting things before you die, while the Sun newspaper calls it 'the most intensive sporting event in the world'. It's the derby of all footballing derbies. Boca Juniors versus River Plate - El Superclásico.

Let's face it, footy is massive in Argentina, and the day of el Superclásico is huge beyond all things huge; it has to be written about. Clásico means derby in Spanish, and in Buenos Aires it is used to describe a match between any of the five Grandes, Independiente, San Lorenzo, Racing Club, Boca Juniors and River Plate. With an estimated 70% of the population supporting either Boca or River, when these two giants meet the super ís added for well, self explanatory reasons.

Whether you like football or not, witnessing the way Argentine fans behave inside stadiums is a uniquely South American experience and one that aides in the understanding of society here in general.

Fans of San Lorenzo
The overwhelming noise, explosions, fireworks, paper throwing, beating drums, blaring trumpets and chants could easily describe any one of the city's several daily protests when marchers block streets to make as much racket as possible. (All be it rather musical and sometimes quite pleasant on the ear racket).

Because in Argentina, loudness is loud. Whether you're stuck in traffic or taking part in a typical Argentine debate, (where everyone tends to speak at the same time), it's the loudest of the loud who wins. Up in the stands, where you actually still stand and don't have to mess around with a seat, it is no different. Fans will even scream loudly when their team concedes a goal in an attempt to out-sing their opponents and save face.

As noisy as the adjective loud is though, the word just doesn't cut it when describing the stadium experience, especially when it comes to el Superclásico. The first match was in 1908 and the fixture has been one full of spine-tingling, no holds barred, decibelic explosive entertainment on the more than 300 occasions they have met since. Boca's home stadium La Bombonera even physically vibrates when packed to the brim.

The chanting and drumming is conducted by the clubs' barras bravas. These are the hardcore groups of fans, who in Europe are often banned from stadiums due to their violent and hooliganistic reputations. In Argentina however, (get ready for your jaw to drop) these fans (hooligans) are not only part of the clubs, they are financed by them.

Boca's famed barra brava La 12
Argentine football clubs are non-profit making organisations whose members democratically elect presidents to run them. The president needs support and so does the club, and it is the barras bravas who can provide that. In return they are issued tickets, their travel expenses to stadiums are taken care of, they play a role in new signings and they even receive a percentage of the revenue from players sold. These guys have access, and that means power.

When it came to the World Cup this year, the top barras bravas travelled on the same plane as Diego Maradona and the national squad. Back in 2006 in Germany, it is even rumoured that the leaders of River Plate's barra brava known as Los Borrachos del Tablón  (The drunks from the Plank) stayed in the house of Martin Demichellis, an Argentine defender who plays for Bayern Munich in Germany.   

This Tuesday though they were back in River's stadium, La Monumental, for el Superclásico and received their usual welcome as they marched into the stands rallied on as always by the rest of the stadium singing 'Here comes the drunks of the plank'.

Both River and Boca were formed in the working class neighbourhood of La Boca in the first few years of the twentieth century. River then moved to the affluent northern neighbourhood of Núñez in 1923 where they adopted the nickname Los Millonarios (The Millionaires).

Boca fans however, refer to their rivals as gallinas (chickens), while River's guys use the insult bosteros (manure collectors) to describe Boca supporters, in reference to the stinky River Chuelo in the neighbourhood of La Boca.

Nowadays, the clubs go head to head once per national championship. The season is divided into two and the championships are known as torneos. La Apertura (the opener) lasts from August until December, and La Clausura (the closer) from February to June. Both River and Boca had miserable and somewhat embarrassing starts to this year's Apertura and neither has a chance of finishing top. In fact, with the torneo only lasting 19 games, it's more likely Argentina will go veggie than see one of them crowned champion.

But el Superclásico is el Superclásicio and the league postions meant little as the stupendous importance of the match got the fans riled up and raving to go, as desperate as always to defeat their rival. It was River's fans who went hell-crazy this time with their beloved team defeating a lacklustre Boca one goal to nil to take home the bragging rights of the all important head to head known simply in Argentina as el Superclásico.
    

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