Before Argentina, I never gave soccer a second thought. I knew the game took skill, as most sports do, but to me it was a dull event, hardly a goal ever scored and hardly a thing to watch except the constant back and forth down the field and rules I didn’t care to understand. That was before Argentina.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never been to an event of any sport at which I’ve seen such spirited fans. Maybe it’s because even when I asked students from Knox, ¨Are soccer games in the U.S.A. this hardcore?¨ they said not at all. Maybe it was hearing the nonstop chanting and seeing the amount of police officers dividing the fans of each team that made me realize; this is serious business.
From hereon, it shall be referred to as fútbol. The shape of the mouth while forming the deep vowel sounds of ¨fuuut-bollll¨ lends itself more to more emotional screaming, chanting, and general linguistic beauty than the staccato apathy of ¨soccer.¨
On Sunday, October 4, the Knox-Buenos Aires family attended a fútbol game of the Boca Juniors, a team in La Boca, a neighborhood in Buenos Aires that is known by day for its colorful artisans and by night for the danger of its streets. Living roughly 10 blocks from this neighborhood, I have heard the shouts and the screaming on game nights before, but I now firmly hold the belief that you can never know what it is like until you see it.
We were told to bring nothing with us, so that we had nothing that could be stolen. A photocopy of an I.D., a small bit of money, and our keys. Most of us were too worried to bring our cameras. After concerned looks on the faces of many of our host mothers after telling them we were going to ¨una cancha de la Boca,¨ I suspect some of us thought we were going to get stabbed. Had we lost, who knows what might have happened. Luckily, though, Boca Juniors won 3-2 against Velez, and as the majority of the fans in the stadium were for Boca, we were most often safe in the crowd.
There is one section of the stands in the Boca Juniors stadium (and perhaps one like it at most stadiums) reserved for hundreds of die-hard fans. This section, directly behind one of the goals, is complete with a well-rehearsed percussion section and a slew of chants they are ready to repeat, without lessening volume, for hours on end. Glance at these seats after a goal or a good save, and you can see the entire level of the stadium bouncing up and down in unison. You almost wonder how even concrete can bear that weight. All their right fists pump into the air in unison, solidarity, love.
I didn’t know the rules, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know the chants, but it didn’t matter. The impassioned fans were enough to bring me into that world. I ended up screaming, hitting things around me, hugging people in the event of a goal. There is a sense of community amongst these fans that is stronger than any I’ve felt before. And the opposition between opposing team’s fans is also more dangerous.
Fans in the stands at fútbol games are not allowed to mix. There is a section specifically for fans of the visiting team, and it is the only place they are allowed to sit. The name ¨Juniors¨ makes it sound endearing. Cute, even. The hoards of police and attack dogs surrounding the outside of the stadium were not as adorable. When the game eventually ended, we noticed a dozen or so officers surrounding the Velez fans, and when we asked why, we were told that they were not allowed to leave until the Boca Juniors fans were gone, blocks away, to ensure no (or at least, less) violence.
Shortly thereafter, we rushed out of the stadium to our buses, the spirit of a win strong in the air, people walking out into the streets pumping their fists and chanting, in a Spanish version, ¨Boca is my life, my heart, my passion…not even death will separate us.¨