Sock her? No, Football.

November 2, 2005

Boca fans watching the Boca vs River game.October 16th — As I approach Cirilo, a non descript San Juan restaurant, I see the sign announcing 24 hour service. Still, not sure if the place is open. All the windows are covered with brown paper and I am afraid I am going to be out of luck for lunch. Then I see it, a lazy scrawl across one of the sheets of paper that reads “Boca Rio 16:25″. I realize not only are they open, they are bracing for a crowd.

This morning as I checked out of my hostel in Mendoza, the owner mentioned that there was a big match this afternoon. Perhaps, the biggest of the year. I glance at my watch. It is, ten of four, and apparently Soyan and I are just in time.

As we enter one waiter greets us, as the other begins to lazily draw the curtains covering the few remaining floor to ceiling windows not already papered over.

We are eating our sandwiches along with a half dozen families when I notice a change. It is as if the dining room itself hits puberty. With sudden and unforeseen urgency the room gets dark as all the lights are extinguished. It gets crowded as groups of teenage boys suddenly begin to out number the families. It is no longer quiet as the television’s volume swells competing with the surging pregame chatter.

Everyone is ordering drinks and waiting for the real spectacle to begin, but in the meantime another game is on. Arsenal is playing Velez. Velez just scored: Gooooooooooooal. Apparently, there are a few fans here, because there is a smattering of applause punctuating the chatter. As heavy trays of food and drink are rushed out of the kitchen, it is time to change the channel. The Boca River game is going to begin.

Wraaaah! The room roars and the applause is deafening as the Boca players stream onto the field. I am clearly among Boca fans. Then there is the pounding techno beat of a sneaker commercial and the crowd returns to their beer and cigarettes. I struggle to count a dozen of over 200 people in the room that are not smoking.

It is the kick off and the game is underway. After a few minutes of play a River player looks crest fallen at a missed head of the ball. There are cheers from the room. In fact, every time a player in white, a River player, takes a spill there are cheers. Taunting your rivals is every bit the obligation of cheering for your own team.

The game unfolds with the choreography of a kung fu film. There is running, diving, kicking and the ball flies from man to man like it is on a string. By US standards “nothing has happened” because the game is scoreless, but the faces in the room reveal an energy, an excitement, a commitment to the struggle that tells a different story. The energy rivals and may well surpass that of a Red Sox versus Yankees game.

We are 11 minutes into the game and the late arrivals are scouring the room for empty chairs. The smoke is thick. A Boca player shoves an opponent from behind causing him to miss his shot. His behavior is lauded with cheering and applause.

32 min into the game the place is standing room only. It is Mother’s day here in Argentina, but mom will have to wait, because football (soccer) is clearly the most important thing on earth. Boca and River are definitely the most important teams.

An injured River player draws jeers. Nothing, not even the coach’s voice escapes ridicule. Ruthless mocking of the opposition seems a minimum requirement for a fan. Even though I have been drawn in to the excitement, I am not really a fan and the smoke is overwhelming. I am just a guy that stumbled in here for lunch and I am tired from getting up early.

At halftime, Soyan and I slip out and head back to our hotel for a nap. This means we’ll miss what promises to be an earthquake of post game activity, either celebration or retribution depending on the outcome. This seems a shame, but were glad for the taste of soccer passion we’ve sampled.

When I next get Internet access, I am curious to learn a little bit more about the game we had been watching. I stumble across an article explaining that I just witnessed one of the greatest football rivalries of all time.

This derby is considered to be one of the most exciting in the world. in 2004, British newspaper The Observer made a list of the 50 sporting things you must do before you die, with Watch Boca Juniors play River Plate in Buenos Aires at the top of the list.

I guess we should have stayed for the second half.