Sorry NCAA, NFL, and your team here sportsfans, there just isn’t a comparison.
Yesterday I went to my first Argentine futbol (soccer) game, and miraculously, I came back alive and unharmed.
The game was a “classic” between two rivals, Racing and Independiente. I followed a group of three zealous Racing fans, donned in “celeste” blue, to the Juan Domingo Peron Stadium. Buenos Aires has two designated routes for this event, one for Racing fans and the other for the Independientes. This attempts to prevent a clash between blue and red.
Key word: attempts.
En route to the stadium, our Subte was filled with celeste-blue and beer-fisted fans. The car was rocking in sync to the many Racing “canciones” — team hymns loaded with new “bad words” to learn. Fans clanged onto walls, handrails, and anything metallic to inform the entire Subte network that a game was about to take place.
From the Subte, we took a train, and from the train, we had about another ten blocks. On the walk from the train, a car crammed with Independiente fans passed by, and everyone on the street threw up their arms, yelled, cussed, and flicked them off — it was really entertaining.
Aside from the people, it was apparent that we were in Racing territory. Graffiti marked the boundary for its fanatics, and celeste blue flags whipped ferociously in the wind on every corner. As we got closer to the stadium, I could hear the canciones I learned on the train, only this time, in one collective voice of about 40,000 people booming ahead. I was walking toward the belly of a monster.
Honestly, I was a bit terrified. “Do people die at these games?,” I asked Leo as I stepped over a puddle of red liquid (blood or paint?).
He just smiled.
We passed rows of police on horseback, police with crowd-control shields, and police with many weapons I had never seen before. At least they’re prepared.
At the security checkpoint in front of the stadium, a woman police officer “patted me down” (more like, affectionately groped). Upon looking in my purse, she was suspicious of my chapstick. Apparently it could be used as a weapon or thrown at a futbol player. One of her well-armed colleagues stopped her from seizing my felonious chapstick and said, “come on, she’s just an American.”
I’ll take that.
Walking into the stadium was shocking. I looked up at the giant light fixtures that were swaying under the balconies. The stadium was literally rocking from the flag-waving, stomping, and jumping multitude of über enthusiasts.
Chombi, one of the Racing Club fans I accompanied, stuck a flag into my hand and said, “Do you know how to wave a bandera? Good. Do it.”
An hour before the game, the crowd sang, danced, and shredded newspapers (to be thrown). I supposed this could be somewhat compared to tailgating, but they don’t have cars or beer. Alcohol isn’t allowed in the stadium, and with good reason. The testosterone and adrenaline are so high, I can’t imagine what it would be like with alcohol stirred in. However, I did catch a whiff of a few puffs of…
Smoke. Twenty minutes before the game, the stadium was one giant cloud. I could not see in front of my face, and everyone around me covered their eyes and mouth to breathe. I never saw where or how the smoke bomb started, but for 20 minutes, we stood in a dense cloud, cheering, and waiting for the game.
When the fog cleared, the players were on the field. The grass was covered with confetti, toilet paper, shredded newspaper, and possibly, chapstick. We waited another 20 minutes for a crew equipped with leaf blowers to clear the field.
The tiny red section reserved for Independiente fans looked pathetic in a sea of writhing blue. In any other circumstance, however, their cheers would have been quite impressive. Here, their screams and drums were reduced to a whisper.
I don’t have so much to say about the game itself, I was more preoccupied with the people around me. Little boys cussing with their dads. Vendors balancing trays of coke while trying not to fall down alarmingly vertical slopes of stairs. Thousands of people reciting the same words in unison. It was powerful, and a little intoxicating.
I thought, if only human beings could rally around a global crisis with the same vivacious fervor, the world’s problems would be much smaller, if not nonexistent.
Racing Club won 2-0, and the final goal ended with louder cheers and displays of affection. Fans hugged everyone in their row, and some leaped across the aisle to give bone-crushing hugs to their neighbors. Ecstatic is an understatement.
While I’m not an avid sportsfan, I am the dueña de una pasión (owner of a passion). Sandoval says in the Argentine film “Secretos de Sus Ojos” that a person can change their identity, their look, and their name — but they cannot change their passion. Racing Club taught me to pursue mine with great enthusiasm, even if it means losing my chapstick.