You think you've watched soccer before. You might've actually gone to a game or two, to see Toronto's relatively new FC or some other team. But if you haven't seen soccer (make that "football") South American-style, you've had an entirely different experience.
Argentina's soccer fans -- and that category includes pretty much every male Argentino from the age of 6 upwards, and a fair number of las Argentinas, too -- are in a class of their own. They are completely, utterly, certifiably NUTS in their passion for this game. For a wide-eyed inncocent (a.k.a. tourist) attending a game, it's just as entertaining to watch the fans as it is to watch the field.
(The other really entertaining thing was the number of very beautiful men who play soccer. But that`s neither here nor there for the purposes of this story.)
I went to a game yesterday in Avellaneda, a southern suburb of Buenos Aires, to watch Independiente host their bitter rivals Boca Juniors for the third-to-last game in the Argentina’s Primera Division. This is the top level of Argentina’s football league, widely regarded as one of the strongest in the world. It was a do-or-die game for Independiente; five points behind the first-place team Estudiantes, they had only two games remaining after this one to make up the difference. With a win counting for 3 points, a tie for 1, and a loss zero, they stood virtually no chance of coming out on top if they lost this game.
I opted to go with a tour rather than try to arrange it myself; you pay well over the odds for your game ticket this way, but once I got there I was very glad I had. It was in a far-flung suburb that would have been a very expensive taxi ride away, and I don’t think I’d have even been able to find my seat on my own, much less track down a taxi once the game was over to get back to civilization. Seating seemed a little random; our tickets all had row and seat numbers, but our guide waved his hand vaguely at a couple of rows of seats and said, “We’re somewhere around here ... I think.”
With neither rows nor seats labelled, it was difficult to tell, so there was a bit of shuffling around before the game started as football fans came to claim some of the seats we were originally in.
Obviously this wasn’t going to be your average North American soccer game.