Having received the very generous offer from my boss to attend an asado (a traditional Argentinian barbeque) at his house, this seemed too good an opportunity to miss and so it proved. Made to feel very welcome throughout, my poor Spanish was happily overlooked as we all chatted away in English between mouthfuls of sizzling meats and sips of locally produced red wine on the sun-drenched patio.
A football fanatic, one of my chief objectives of relocating to Buenos Aires – aside from sifting through the ubiquity of Marias to find the Maria, of course – was to go to a Super Clásico. City derbies don’t come any more intense than the rivalry between River Plate and Boca Juniors. Imagine my delight, then, when my boss produced a ticket for me at his asado. Although very English and politely measured in my gratitude to him on the surface, inside I was a riot of emotions.
Shortly afterwards we walked to the famous El Monumental, where Argentina were crowned World Cup champions in 1978. Inside the stadium the atmosphere reached fever pitch as red and white streamers draped the singing/bouncing/wildly gesticulating River fans and fireworks deafened us from overhead. All that said, somehow something was missing from the scene. Where were the Boca fans?
This all relates back to June 2013 in fact, and the top-flight encounter between Estudiantes and Lanus. Following sustained violence around the stadium in La Plata which culminated in the death of a visiting supporter, the match was abandoned at half-time. By no means a rare example of domestic football violence, for Argentina’s national football body this was the last straw. In drastic response, the AFA ruled that no supporters of any professional division football club could attend away games. Now ingrained into football here after more than four years, this new norm is accepted and its explanation reserved only for foreigners these days. That’s the impression I got anyway from the bemusement of my neighbour one along in the rickety wooden seats when I asked.
A game that had sparks of brilliance but cynicism throughout had both these parts on perfect display just prior to half-time when league leaders Boca edged ahead. A horrendously misjudged high tackle closer to a decapitation led to Fernandéz meeting his fate in red card form, before Cardona beautifully floated the ball into the top right corner from the resulting free kick. The hosts did not relent after the break however and got their reward through club legend Ponzio’s wonderstrike, after goalscorer Cardona had not long since received his marching orders for an inopportune elblow.
Heading into the final quarter of the game, all the momentum was with River and there was clearly going to be a winner. Duly as expected, the winner came – but in blue and yellow. Just five minutes after Ponzio had restored disorder in the stands, Boca’s Nández drilled in low and hard after a cross from the left, before wheeling away to the sound of silence. Twenty minutes and much game management later, Boca had extended their winning streak to eight matches. My taxi driver from Friday needn’t have worried after all.
Trudging home from the stadium in Núñez in reflective quietness, River fans now had to deal with the reality that they would have no more say in whether bitter rivals Boca win the Superliga or not (each of the 28 teams in the league plays each other only once per season, with home and away games alternating accordingly). Baptised by fire to River, the process irreversible whilst living in Argentina of course, this reality was also now my problem.
I had started the day off as a fan in the temporary form of Spanish verb ‘to be’ (Estar) purely out of courtesy for my boss’ beloved club. Yet in this shared moment of gloomy despair in the Sunday dusk I had decidedly graduated to its permanent counterpart form (Ser) and there was no going back. Soy River, estoy trudging…