Y la vuelta vamo' a dar
But after watching and hearing La Doce, the famed and feared hinchada of Boca Juniors from a seat in the platea (the seats) a few weeks ago, I knew I had to experience it up close.
Naturally, it was something I wouldn’t do alone, but luckily two visitors – two petite, blond American girls were willing to ignore the sensible advice they too had heard.
On Sunday Boca was playing Independiente in the stadium of el Rojo. It was to be decisive, because Boca could clinch the league championship with one game remaining in the season.
We arrived in Avellaneda – the town just south of the capital where both Independiente and their archrival, the beleaguered Racing Club play in adjacent stadiums. The walk from the train station was lined with police in riot gear who, at one intersection, held us up as they let fans of el Rojo head towards their separate entrance.
After being patted down on three separate occasions, we entered the stadium and climbed the bleachers. It was an hour to kick off, and the tribuna was already filled to standing-room capacity.
We pushed our way to a spot in the aisle, and there we stood for the next three hours, pressed against and jostled by strangers who, in the end, reacted to our presence with bemusement and graciousness.
Thirty minutes before kick off, the chants began, interspersed with taunts and insults to the hinchada of Independiente – a swarm of red who returned the songs and puteadas with equal passion.
Ten minutes to kick off, a guy standing next to us turned and shouted to us: “The songs are easy to learn.” He was already hoarse.
And as the teams took the field, I could feel the concrete bleachers vibrate from ten thousand pairs of feet, and the voices of those who surrounded me overwhelmed my ears with a song that hasn’t yet left my head: Boca, mi buen amigo / esta campaña volveremos a estar contigo... (Boca, my good friend, / this campaign we will again be with you).
When Boca scored its two goals, we were caught in an avalanche of bodies rushing towards the field. As I was picked up and pushed forward, I saw the drink vendor go head over heels, his upended tray showering us with Coke.
After their victory (2-0), the Boca players gathered at the goal in front of the tribuna and joined the fans in celebrating their second consecutive league championship. Pato Abbondanzieri, the goalkeeper, scaled the thirty-foot fence and sat on top of it, bookended by fans, and sang, shouted, and pumped his fists (see picture).
There is simply no equivalent in the States to this outpouring of passion and semi-controlled chaos. It is a spectacle that is horrifying and beautiful all at once, and to be in the middle of it – fully aware of the many things that could go wrong – produced both a sense of individual insignificance and a delirious illusion of belonging completely to something epic.