Monday, April 20, 2009

The 12th Player

Originally uploaded by LUCHO :9.

On Saturday between Meatfest 2009 and meeting friends for dinner (I honestly don't think I've ever been *less* hungry before a meal), Ken and I were in our natural habitat: lying on bed and surfing the internets. We'd just heard from another expat friend that he'd scored coveted tickets to the Boca Juniors-River Plate football match at the Bonbonera on Sunday, and Ken had fan-envy. The UK Observer lists this match as the #1 sporting thing you must do before you die and here we were, a short bus ride away from the stadium, sin tickets. So he did what any capitalist-loving American would do: Hit up Craigslist for people selling tickets at exorbitant mark-ups.

A few emails later, Ken received a call from an English-speaking guy (Martin) to tell us that his (non-English-speaking) friend, Uli, had tickets for sale at 500 pesos each. They arranged for an exchange the next morning, wherein Uli would come to our apartment on his motorcycle and give us the tickets and we would give him half a months' rent. I was... suspicious. I agreed to play bad cop and called Martin back to ask him how we'd know the tickets were real. He sounded nice, I guess, and sincere, and he said, "Oh, they're real, don't worry. My friend is a member of the... I don't remember the word in English, but it's the guys who are the fighters, you know, the fan section?" I hung up feeling OK about the transaction, and a few minutes later Martin texted Ken with: "hooligan. thats the word, haha- enjoy-"

I was not reassured.

We'd both read much about the dangers of attending a Boca game; about how the fans were just crazy and that a couple of years ago at this same match some fans were shot. We'd read not to bring more cash than we'd need and to leave our cameras at home. When we mentioned to our porteño friends on Saturday night that we might go, the general reaction was, "Es muy peligroso" ("it's very dangerous").

Later Saturday night Ken emailed Martin to ask him more about the logistics of the game - how we'd get in, etc. The response:

I just talked to Uli and in case you end up not understanding each other tomorrow morning he wanted you to know that if interested (cause some people are obviously not ) he'll be meeting all ticket buyers at a McDonald's in Almirante Brown St. & García Av. ( this is a few blocks away from the stadium) to get everybody inside using his friend's van. I know this might sound scary since you don't know him yet, but that's just why; I'm sure you'll end up really liking him tomorrow when you meet up.

He was right: Giving someone 1000 pesos then meeting him in a McDonald's parking lot to get in his friend's van DID sound scary since we didn't know him yet.

Uli showed up at our apartment at 9 a.m., as promised. Ken gave him 1000 pesos for the tickets which we then learned was a mere SEVENTEEN TIMES the face-value of 30 pesos. He gave Ken advice on what to wear to the game (Boca colours: blue or yellow) and what not to wear: jewelry or anything that looked Richie. Since we we'd spent mucho dinero to go to the game and weren't even sure if the tickets were real, we figured, what the hell, and decided to meet him at McDonald's. On the way to the bus I said to Ken, "Do you think we should have called our parents?" He laughed nervously in response.

We arrived in the parking lot at noon sharp, waited for about an hour, and even tried to call Uli to no avail. Finally, we walked to the stadium.

The first line (well, crowd) we ended up in was for members of the club only, and we made it to the entrance only to find out that we were in the wrong place. We walked another couple of blocks, past a few choripán stands and dudes selling empanadas for 1 peso (about 27¢!) until we found the line for people with tickets only. The crowd there was calm and we passed security without incident. We found our gate and climbed into the stands to learn that the general admission seats were not actually seats - just a bunch of steps that we'd stand on for the game. We crammed in with the other fans and watched the reserve players scrimmage for about an hour until the game started.

The game start was one of the most phenomenal things either of us has ever witnessed. Just before the players came onto the field, people near us were handing out wads of torn newspaper which we would later throw as confetti. In the stands directly across from us was the Jugador No 12 - the fans who are the 12th player (the team has 11 players on the field at any time). It was fandom beyond any that I've ever seen, with giant banners and flags and amazing, contagious chanting and drumming. We didn't bring a camera but there are lots of photos online that capture the energy of this section. Toward the end of halftime blue and yellow balloons were distributed in our section, and as the second half began we released them into the air (and onto the field).

Boca scored in the second half, and the crowd's reaction was indescribable, and that, along with the festivities that opened the game, made the experience well-worth the money we'd spent. Unfortunately, River Plate answered with a quick goal and the game ended in a draw, which might actually have been for the best in terms of our safety walking back to San Telmo to catch our bus.

1 comment:

kfinnefrock said...

wow - that is crazy! It sounds awesome and a little scary :)