Soccer scene ignites passion in Argentine fans

Fútbol, or soccer as we call it in the United States, is without a doubt Argentina’s most popular sport. Families have supported their various clubs for decades, and the sport is an integral part of the culture and lifestyle of the country.

Though not a day has gone by when I don’t see someone in a fútbol jersey of one of the local teams, I finally got a true feel for the passion this past weekend when I went to see Argentinos Juniors and Quilmes play, my first fútbol match since arriving in Buenos Aires. These are two of the many club teams in Argentina, and each has its loyal following of fans.  While neither of these teams are in the so-called “big five,” the most popular of Argentine club teams, I wouldn’t have realized it based on the fervor and dedication of the fans that surrounded me in the stadium on Friday night.

My friends and I got to the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium early in order to buy tickets.  There were three different areas that we could buy tickets for, and it had been suggested to us that we sit in the general standing area where we could be with all the most passionate fans or “hinchas” who set the energy within the stadium. Two distinct things stood out to me in the ticketing process. First, there was different pricing for general public and “socios,” fans who pay dues to be a club member and had free entry to some seating areas or lower prices.  The second surprise was that the tickets for women were cheaper than tickets for men.  It was very strange to me that I paid less than my guy friends who ended up in the same area I did. Apparently, this is because so few women come to the games, they try to generate more of an incentive with the discounted price.

As we entered the stadium, my heart was filled with the thudding of the drums that set the beat for the chants and songs sang by the hinchas. In the sea of red, the color of the home team, Argentinos Juniors, we made our way to a spot in the standing room. Standing among the fútbol-crazed fans was even more hair-raising than I imagined. It took me a while to let everything sink in as I looked around the stadium that might not have been full but was swelling with the energy of the fans. To the right of where I was sitting was the main area of hinchas, banging their drums and standing on the railings waving the banners and leading the crowd in song. One chant ran into another as everyone sang as they watched the game with intense delight.

Anyone who knows me and my love for sport will be able to understand how all I wanted was to be able to know the songs and sing along with the fans. I joined in the stomping and clapping that continued even when the other team scored the first goal. This was what was most impressive to me, the enthusiasm and passion that did not dwindle even when the team was losing. The only time the crowd sat was during halftime, and even during the second half when they were down 0-2 fans remained standing and stayed until the referee blew the final whistle.

Even though I wasn’t able to experience the feeling of a home team victory, I can only imagine the incredible energy of it. I am so grateful that I was able to see for myself the intensity of the fans even in the face of a loss.

I will admit, however, I did have my reservations about going to a fútbol game because of the problems with fan violence that is often the most emphasized aspect of fútbol in Argentina. Though I admire the passion people have for their teams, I find it difficult to understand why violence has to come of it. Fútbol is truly life or death for many, and it has unfortunately lead to the latter many times throughout history.

Fans pride themselves in being a “barra brava” or an organized supporter, many of whom have reputations for hooliganism.  The most notorious of fans are those who support the Boca Juniors. Their fans refer to themselves as “la 12” or the 12th man (fútbol is played with 11 on the field) because when teams come to play at Boca’s stadium they not only have to focus on playing the actual team but also the fans who are known for their brutal intensity.

The fanaticism of the Boca Juniors hinchas is controversial. The fans are so ferocious that the opposing fans are not allowed to attend games at Boca’s stadium because of how dangerous it can be. In the most recent “superclasico,” the match played between arch rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate, a fan pepper sprayed the opposing players, resulting in an early end to the game because several players were unable to return to the game due to burns all over their body, including their eyes.

While I admire the passion and love for fútbol, this is where I draw the line.  Fanaticism should not interfere with the sport and no matter the rivalry there should be a level of respect among all who appreciate the game.  Aside from the few cases of overly intense fans, I still admire the passion of the fans who do respect the game. I think USC football fans could even take a note from the Argentine fútbol fans the next time they consider leaving the game early or sitting during a third down play.

Alana Victor is a senior majoring in international relations and print and digital  journalism. The column “Troy  Meets World” runs every Wednesday.