Passion can grip, paralyze and even kill. Believe it or not, this is even true in the world of sports, particularly soccer. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and many of its fanatics treat it as a matter of life or death. To take it to the very extreme, one just has to look at the example of the Colombian national football team at the 1994 World Cup that was held in the United States. Having beaten Argentina by a dominant score of 5-0 in the qualifying round, the Colombians were declared by Pele and many other experts as the favorites to hoist the trophy in America. The national media as well as the entire world had great expectations of the squad. In a game against the hosts, Andres Escobar, a Colombian defender scored an own goal that eventually led to the team’s premature elimination from the tournament. A few days after their return home, Escobar was shot dead in a Bogota bar.
There is no better example of the passion soccer creates, however, than what is seen in Argentina between Club Atlético Boca Juniors and Club Atlético River Plate. The match between Boca and River is known all over the world and the continent, simply as the Superclásico. The rivalry is considered nearly worldwide as the fiercest in the sport. To put it in terms of American sports, think of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but multiplied by 100. The match is number one on the list of, “50 Sporting Things You Must Do Before You Die,” compiled by the British
tabloid, The Observer.
The animosity between coaching staffs and players is easily noticeable. In the week leading up to the game, players from both teams will traditionally comment on the other team’s scandals or internal problems. There have been incidents on the field between players. It is also considered a surprise bordering on a miracle when both teams finish the game without suffering red cards. The passion and animosity surrounding the contest, however, is most deeply felt among and between the fan bases. When River travels to Boca and vice versa, the Argentine police forces close off a street that is set up entirely so fans from the visiting teams can access the stadium safely and without any incidents. Constant battles between each team’s barrabrava, the Latin American counterpart to European hooligans, have forced this preventive measure. There have been incidents in the past in which supporters from both teams have died in fights between the fan bases.
The moment one enters the stadium, that person enters a different world. The color, the music and the overall atmosphere is impressive. Both supporters groups arrive early and start singing the team’s songs and chants hours before the match begins. When the squads take the field, the noise brought forth by the fan bases is overwhelming. Having been witness to this matchup in early 2004, I can confirm that I have never seen anything like it.
Since Boca Juniors holds the overall advantage in victories, the Xeneizes, as Boca’s fan base is known, have taken to calling the Millonarios, River’s fan base, and River itself, as their sons. The games are almost always held on Sunday afternoons, so on Monday and throughout the week, following a victory by either team, Buenos Aires is inundated with posters and banners put up by fans of the victorious team, taunting their opponents and celebrating the win.
During the game itself, other than singing in support of the teams, the fan bases also sing insulting songs about the other team. Songs ranging from insulting the other’s mother to expressing a desire of burning the rival’s stadium fill the vast repertoire displayed by the supporting groups. The atmosphere surrounding the game itself is extremely tense. If one or both teams are not doing well in the league, as is the case before this tournament’s game, a victory over the other is thought of as a way to salvage a season, treating a victory over the archrival as if it were the same as winning the championship. An added incentive is simply bragging rights. Fans from each team have close friends and family members who support the other team, meaning a victory will grant them the privilege to flaunt their superiority in the others’ faces.
Boca Juniors and River Plate will face each other for the 327th time in their rich history this upcoming Tuesday when they take the field at River’s Estadio Monumental. The two teams have suffered through a mediocre campaign, which could only be salvaged by a victory in the Superclásico, giving the contest an extra layer of with passion, emotion and tension. As a faithful and passionate Boca Juniors fan, I can definitely say that I will be watching and supporting my team. At the same time I recommend that anyone who calls him or herself a soccer fan should watch the game, because it is an event that is bigger than life itself for everyone who is fortunate enough to be a part of it.