Fanatic Fútbol Fans

River Plate

Decked out in my red soccer-ball glasses with a season pass in hand, I walked with jittery anticipation into a completely unexpected experience in the walls of El hall del Monumento, home of an Argentine team known as River Plate. We passed three security checkpoints with fingerprint scanning, being patted down and searched and displaying our passes (to massive and intimidating bouncers, might I add!). As we entered through, a cameraman and his producer beckoned to me, gesturing to slip my glasses down from where it was holding my hair; startled, I did so with an uncertain smile. I think I was on national television.

Vendors shouting “Coca! Coooooooocaaaaaaaa! Bebida Coca!” wandered the aisles, while others rumbled, “Panchoooooos! Panchos!” - not a far cry from the bellow of “Hot dogs! Get your hot dogs!” one might hear at a ball game in Fenway Park. Crowds of red and white slowly began pouring into the stadium, and onto the bleachers for the fans of the Home team, River Plate (of which we were also ‘cheering’ for - our ticketing agent/advisor, Juan warned us, “If you cheer for the other team, then all our lives are at risk. That happens...I don’t know you.”). Small, albeit LOUD groups of Racing Club fans, donned in blue, filled their sections, squeezed and compact compared to the spaces allotted to home-team fans, of the stadium. “Tenemos que ganar!” they said. “We have to win.”

The game had hardly started before the reality of Argentine football hit me: 1) Football is life, and 2) The real entertainment lies not on the field, but on the bleachers. Fans screamed Spanish swears (Juan gladly translated) at the opposing team’s fans; many of the curses seemed to heavily refer to the mothers of fans. ‘Gangs’, the rowdy bunches from both teams, entered the stadium crying and howling at the tops of their lungs, with drums and whistles (and also one chicken suit). Not so coincidentally, the two gangs were seated at directly opposite sides of the stadium, as far apart from each other as possible. Though separated by barbed-wire fences, about two meters of space and several policemen, members of the gangs still gave the ever so pleasant “finger” and obscene gestures were abound.

The game seemed to pause every few minutes, for the medical golf cart to slowly roll onto the field, collect its passenger and tumble back. Half-time came quickly with the scores still tied 0 - 0. As the second half resumed, the game took a turn for the (well, I can’t say 'unexpected' seeing as I truly knew nothing about the dynamics of Argentine football teams before this match) exciting. Racing Club scored, a sly kick straight past River’s keeper, Barovero and deep into the goal. The drama that ensued after though, was no comparison to the shock of the score. Fans of both teams screamed and yelled, infuriating the others to no end. Racing Club’s fans sang and cheered, while River Plate swore and cursed and shook their fists; this time, however, it was directed not only at Racing’s fans, but also at their own team’s coach, the president of Club Atlético River Plate and the referee. Apparently, everyone was to blame.

“Luna! Luna! Luna!” River’s fans chanted, begging for the coach to put a crowd-favorite striker, Luna onto the field. Cheers for Luna slowly turned into angry shouts against River’s coach, Passarella. The fans demanded he be fired (“He’s done. After this game, he’s done,” said Juan) and be replaced with his predecessor, Ramón Díaz. With the score of 1 - 0 in Racing Club’s favor, the match itself, on the field, ended as silently and lackluster as it had started, though the crowds were absolutely mad with passion! Racing’s gang left the stadium first, as a safety precaution, and we were all left to wait and process the absolute mayhem that had just ensued for the past ninety minutes.

We sauntered down the stairs, a little giggling here, a little small talk there, when we heard three gun fires ring. Commotion and chaos arose as the crowds turned around and fled back to the stadium. A good while later, we tried once more to exit the stadium. In the lobby of the stadium was a large group of River Plate fans, furious, stomping their feet, roaring and clapping. Encircling the rioters was a police brigade that stood, finally organized.

“I don’t care about the sexual orientation of my son,” Juan conclusively interjected, his tone suddenly serious. “Only that he is a fan of River Plate.”