Boca and River.
Love, death and adventure in the City of Football

*Area Interdisciplinaria de Estudios del Deporte (SEUBE, UBA)
Director of EFDeportes.com (Argentina)
**Departament of Geography.
University of Texas, Austin (U.S.A.)
Tulio Guterman*
Chris Gaffney**



  Click on the photo

    This work is the product of impressions gained at the 'superclasico' between Boca and River, Sunday, March 11, 2002. It brings together two reflexive and diverse visions of the phenomenon: one of an American visiting Buenos Aires and one of an Argentine native to Buenos Aires.
    We have chosen to focus this work in two essential themes. First, the spectacle of football as something essentially original and organic, only possible in this time and space, with unique relationships and constitutive elements. Second, we are looking at the use of space both inside and outside the stadium. Related to this is the struggle to reaffirm and recreate identities in a limited and predetermined territory - in the stands. A subtheme of this last idea is our perception of the occupation of space and its relationship to the different catregories of fans that occupy the stadium.

http://www.efdeportes.com/ Revista Digital - Buenos Aires - Año 8 - N° 47 - Abril de 2002

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texto en español

Pathway to the Bombonera

    It is the sixth fixture of the Argentine football championship. Boca and River are set to play in the Bombonera. Everything indicates that this is not just a game of football. The whole country, and beyond, are watching the spectacle and its proceedings.

    The game is in a devalued Argentina, where the peso is no longer equal to the dollar; an Argentina of middle class protests in the streets, of economic distress, chronic unemployment, disappearing savings accounts, and a new breed of exiles. It is an Argentina that hurts its people. A country of indignation, marginalization, lies, and indifference.

    More, the game is in 'La Boca'. A neighborhood of the working class, in the south, next to the Riachuelo (the southern border of the capitol district) in the City of Football.

    This spectacle has been scheduled to take place in an Argentina that has seen a dramatic rise in violence in and around the stadiums: dead and wounded, battles with mounted police, conflicts between armed groups, with a timid government that now more than ever says one thing and does another. One day they declare that they want to suspend football, and the next that they want to assure its continuance. It is clear however, that apart from talking about suspending games, football is clearly a priority of the entire local government. They have assured that the "ball will not stop" by whatever means possible. For example, Duhalde, as the fifth president in ten days, and a few days after announcing the 'pesofication' of savings, gathered together all of the directors of the AFA (Argentine Football Association) in order to "bring everyone to the same side" to ensure the fluid start of the league.

    This work is the product of impressions gained at the 'superclasico' between Boca and River, Sunday, March 11, 2002. It brings together two reflexive and diverse visions of the phenomenon: one of an American visiting Buenos Aires and one of an Argentine native to Buenos Aires.

    We understand the game of football as an essentially complex phenomenon, overdetermined by social, cultural, economic, geographic, historical, and political conditions. As such, we have chosen to focus this work in two essential themes. First, the spectacle of football as something essentially original and organic, only possible in this time and space, with unique relationships and constitutive elements. Second, we are looking at the use of space both inside and outside the stadium. Related to this is the struggle to reaffirm and recreate identities in a limited and predetermined territory - in the stands. A subtheme of this last idea is our perception of the occupation of space and its relationship to the different catregories of fans that occupy the stadium.

The seal of authenticity

    There are games of football everywhere, practically every day of the year. The presence of football in world media is nearly overwhelming. Much more so in a year like this when we 'celebrate' a World Cup. There are clásicos and derbys in many countries (Barcelona - Real Madrid in Spain, A.C. Milan - Inter Milan in Italy, Celtic - Rangers in Scotland, Nacional- Peñarol in Uruguay) and in many sports (Yankees - Red Sox in baseball, Celtics - Lakers in basketball). They represent the most expected encounters of every season; they elevate and stimulate passions in cities, regions, and countries.

    In the case of Celtic - Rangers the game signifies a conflict beteween catholics and protestants. In the case of Yankees - Red Sox, a clash between cities. But when Boca and River play, it isn't very easy to tell what is going on. It is a clash of identites, a city fighting itself, a battle for territory, the fight for the league title, and for bragging rights until the next game. But it is much more than this….

    Boca and River have two scheduled games each year; one in River's Monumental Stadium and the other in Boca's Bombonera. This superclásico is in the Bombonera, the only stadium of its kind. The experience begins well before arrival at the stadium. At various points around the staidium are souviner stands, open grills selling sausage, and thousands of yellow and blue clad fans buzzing with anticipation. In the distance one can hear the songs of the stadium.

    It is here, outside the stadium, that the adventure begins. The sensation is emotional and exciting. Upon hearing the songs of the stadium, smelling the food, and seeing the colors, the heart races and one walks faster because there is the sensation that one is about to participate in a historical event that lies somewhere between a festival and a ritual. It is neither one nor the other. You are there to participate in a historical drama: individual, collective and continuous. It is a 'dramafiesta' where the participants expend their collecive bodily energy over several hours, which translates into an incredible spectacle.

    The spectacle is, of course, 'disneyfied' by the newspapers, the radio, and television. They offer an incomplete, idealized and santized vision of the proceedings. These devices saturate the daily lives of Argentinians. These mediatized visions of the event are carried to the stadium and incorporated in the conception, production, and dissemination of the proccedings.

    It is clear that without the public there is no game. And this is not a self-selected public. Nearly everyone in Buenos Aires has had a stadium experience, beginning from childhood. This means that everyone knows the signs and symbols of place. They know how to act and relate to others, for better or worse. They know, from a very young are, when to enter, shout, sing, sit, stand, and leave. The stadium experience is a common experience in Buenos Aires, which gives us quite a bit of information about the protagonists. The stadium experience is common throuhgout the world, but in Buenos Aires what happens within and around the stadium is much more than a pastime or an object of consumption. It consitutes an integral part of the local culture, from the president (who is labeled a thief in the local grafitti) to those who sleep on the street.

    In Argentine football there are no spectators. Every person is an integral part of the spectacle. Their colective actions are the final result of the game, not the game itself.

    The experience of the stands requires that every person ('hincha') integrate their own body into the larger body of the crowd (called the 'hinchada'). Along with the deposition of the body into the colletive, there is the creation of the collective mind. It is absurd to yell whatever you want in the crowd, for you will not be heard above the collective. In order to participate fully, one must put his voice with everyone else. This signifies that you are thinking the same thing, unifying yourself behind the symbols (verbal, gestures, colors, and flags) of the crowd. This has the effect of helping the individual to transcend their indiviudal nature, to abandon their reality at the gates of the stadium in order to enter into a historical body. To a point, this is true in every stadium event in the world. However in Argentina, the experience of the staium is much more emotional, much less spontaneous, and much stronger. The expereince of the stadium, and in particular the experience of the popular sections, is something which can tell us quite a lot about the culture of the country and the lives of the Argentines.

    In the popular stands all of the fans are standing shoulder to shoulder. They arrive two hours before the game and leave a half hour after the final whistle. They are there for almost five hours jumping and singing. The leaders of the hinchadas stand balanced on the crush barriers looking at their own stand, hardly ever looking at the game. The songs rarely have anything to do with what is happening in the game. The 12 (hincha of Boca Juniors) encourage their team in the same way if their team is losing, and their songs are even more insistent if they lose the game.

    At the end of this superclásico, which ended with a 3-0 victory for River, the hincha of Boca stayed for more than half an hour after the game singing as if they had won. This signifies a territorial marking, reclaming that which River had taken on the pitch. Boca had to reclaim their territory with sound and color what River had taken with ninety minutes of football. Football thus represents a struggle for spatial occupancy, which is reflected by the showing of colors, the wearing of shirts, the filling of space with sound, and the identification of self with the rest of the crowd. This serves to identify the self with the territory of the stadium. This identification extends past the boundaries of the stadium. We see colors of distinct shirts and without reading the crests (or the sponosors), we know which team it is. During the nationwide protests of the last months the protesters (who bang pots and pans) have dressed intentionally in the shirt of their team or in the white and blue of the Argentine national team. It is like the cloak and sword of medieveal knights or the war paint of native americans and celtic warriors.

    For quite some time in Argentina, the shirts have constituted an integral part of the wages of the hincha. To show off the latest model of shirt is to gain status within the group. These shirts are changed every six months and cost upwards of sixty dollars. To wear the colors is not trivial, it is an investment in the team. Furthermore, it is an indentification of self within a larger social context. And much like the current economic crisis in which the savings of the depositors has flown to the banks of the north (especially American and Spanish banks), the dollars paid for the shirts are going into the accounts of Nike and Adidas. Another point of interest in the Boca River battle is the recent changing of sponsorsihp of both teams. In the Apertura, both teams were sponosred by Quilmes, one of Argentina's leading beer producers. In the superclásico of the Clasura, Boca's shirt carried Pepsi, and River's Budweiser.

    The hincha marks territory with flags. Along with grafitti, drawings and posters, these flags claim territory in the neighborhoods of the city. For teams with large followings such as River and Boca, we can see flags demarcating the same barrio for opposing teams. These barrios generally lie somewhere between the stadiums of the two teams and are contested space within the city. However, in the barrio of Boca the colors are exclusively blue and yellow.

    Before the game begins, there is nothing going on on the field. The lines of the contest are drawn, the sacred space demarcated, the field is green and empty. Everything is happening in the stands. There is no show on the field, no dancing women, no music streams from the public address system. Furthermore, there is no scoreboard, no television to distract the fans from the spectacle of themselves. The first we hear about the game is from the 'Voice of the Stadium' (an ironic adulation) which announces the starting lineups of the teams. The cheers and vitriol for the players signify love and hate, necessary opposites in a game of two halves. The player most lauded by one set of fans is the one most vilified by the other. For example, Ortega is an idol of the River hincha, 'failure' scream the Boca fans.

    The hinca also occupies space with their collective cires, singing in unison. When there is a pause in the rhythm of the music, it is considered a sign of weakness which is appropriated by the rival hincha who uses the opportunity to demonstrate their superiority. For example, 'River Plei"... (River) "Puuuutos!" (Boca) "River Plei".... "Puuuutos!".

What do you see when you look at me?

    Many traditional intellectuals have affirmed that the hinchadas are amorphous masses constructed of individuals who lose their identity and capacity for individual action both inside and outside the stadium. The fans congeal to be an enormous collection of organisms in which the individual cannot be differentiated. This amorpohus mass confronts and conflicts with rival groups.

    The media consider the hincha in its most idealized form. They treat them as if they go to support their team in a philanthropic manner, go to games smiling, happy to be a spectator of the football party. This idealized spectator is a happy consumer, who enjoys the game in a healthy manner with family and friends. They collect souviners and talk about the game at work the next day (this really is an idealized verison in a country with 20 percent unemployment). If their team happens to lose they suffer, but it is not something that affects them for too long. There is always the next game. If there is violence, it comes from the undesirable sectors of society, people we don't know, or don't want to.

    The essence of the information the media relates is what happens in and around the teams: who scores, who received cards, substitutions, formations, positions, individual performance charts. They also give the total gate reciepts (never the actual number of spectators), evaluate the referee, the coach, etc. They examine the minutia of the sport as if it was the totality of the spectacle. This serves to distract the reader from the reality of the spectacle, from the importance of the event. It might aid in understanding the actual run of play, but it is an interpretation of the event that lacks vision and perspective.

    From another perspective we can consider the stadium as a place where people orientate and organize themselves in a very precise manner, following a complex logical pattern which has been constructed over generations. 2

    Along with this, we can assume that there are perceptable heirarchies in the organization of fans within the stadium. The hinchadas occupy differentiatied and opposite sections, not only inside the stadium but in the surrounding cityscape. They have different ways of approaching and leaving the stadium, entering and exiting the stands. Outside of the stadium there are closed streets and alleys, police barriers, and securtiy points. The police frisk everyone who passes through their points of control, in a vague attempt to prohibit individuals from entering with weapons or other dangerous items. The police attempt to control time and space outside of the stadium. Their presence is palpable and controlling. Once inside, however, the police have little say in the construction and use of time and space.

    The photo of the sector which the River Plate fans occupy was taken one hour before the start of the game. In the photo we can see very little differentiation between the fans. They are dressed in varied colors and are only recognizable as opposing fans by the absence of the blue and yellow of Boca. We can see some flags in the center of the stand that demarcate the nerve center of the fan group. These banners run the length of the entire stand and have their opposite form in the Boca stand.

    In the upper stand are afficionados of sport, socios of the club and followers of the club's fortune. They too are highly organized (much more so than the police). As we can see in the following photo, the upper stand changed its aspect - from heterogeneous colors to the white and red of River. This synchrozined organizaztion is not the work of a moment, but of days and weeks of planning. It is done by professoinals, who know full well that they are the spectacle, not what happens on the field of play.

    A particular aspect of Argentine football is to throw paper and tape. Normally the tape is thrown at the beginning of the game, as we can see in the image. The tape and paper have several effects. One is that it obscures the view of the spectators, occupying visual space and extending the physical space of the hinhada. Secondly, is that it claims part of the sacred space of the field for the fans. The players and referees have to make their way through the cascading paper to the field of play. It is impossible to clean all of the paper and tape away before the start of the game, thus the hincha claims the field as his own, further diminishing the role of the players in the spectacle. During this game Boca threw all of their papers at the beginning of the first half. River threw theirs at the beginnning of the second half, further demarcating the necessary opposition of the two groups of fans.

    In the middle sections, from the center to the periphery, are the most dedicated and unconditional fans. They are also the most organized. The song by which they identify themselves is 'I follow you everywhere, and everytime I love you more'. They organize themselves to go to away games throughout the country, continent, and world, and empty their pockets to do so. They are addicts for whom there is nothing worse than a Sunday without football.

    The center of this section is occupied by the barrabrava, the group which leads the rhythm, the group which forms the heart of the spectacle. They are fanatics, professional crusaders, paid by the club's directors, players, and coaches. They receive trips, tickets, housing, materials, information, and money. They are the ones who confront the rival groups, and on occasion the police, in hand to hand combat, with sticks, clubs, and pistols.

    These goups have a specialized division of labor which are in accordance with the internal heirarchy of the group or the particular abilites of the individual. They function in a similar manner to civil society with promotions, demotions, prizes and punishments. Individuals compete to rise within the group. The division of labor also has to do with the relative levels of education and other social resources: marganized groups and the youth are given the dangerous work of fighting, stealing banners, or confronting the police. The leaders of the group are those who deal directly with players, referees, directors, coaches and the police.

    The organization of the barrabrava is clearly visible during the event, and both groups, the 12 of Boca and the Drunks of Tablón of River, made their appearance moments before the teams entered the field. Previous to their entrance, both stands appeared to be completely full and had been for some hours. The people who had arrived early to sing, jump and shout had to move aside to allow space for the barrabravas to enter. In both stands there appeared a vertical opening which was immediately occupied by cascading hinchas. The noise of the stadium increased to a deafening pitch, and the spectacle began in earnest.

    Within the explicit rules of the barrabrava are rituals and codes of entering and becoming a permanent manber. These can be painful rites, such as tatooing one's body, or engaging in combat with a rival group. Individuals receive merit in combat, by showing courage, resiting the impulse to run in battle, and stealing banners. The punishments for poor behavior are potentially extreme, but more frequently take the form of not receiving tickets to a game (which are then sold at profit in the street) or being left on the side of the highway in transit to an away match. 3

    The members of the barrabrava come from all sectors of society and are not very distant from the internal funcitons of the club. Many are employees of the club or are low level functionaries in the provincial or national government. They are functionaries in the prebendary political system that characterizes Argentina and in many cases are financed by wealthy individuals and men in power. They use the same systems of organization to lend their support to the major political parties of the country.

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