“Finally” I thought as my friend Franco invited me to watch a soccer match with him. I had been waiting for the opportunity to watch a soccer match ever since I had first arrived in Buenos Aires and the upcoming match between the visiting Godoy Cruz and the local San Lorenzo (a team that has recently risen in prominence due to the fact that it now boasts a pope, Pope Francis, among its many fans) was the perfect game for me to get my first taste of Argentine soccer.
Futbol, as the sport is known here in Argentina was first introduced into the country by European immigrants at the turn of the 19th century and has since solidified itself as the nation’s most popular sport as well as one of the nation’s most powerful institutions—one that at times rivals (and some would argue thrives over) religion and politics.
Aware of the rumors regarding the “futbol fever” that runs wild in the hearts of the Argentinean people, I thought myself fully prepared for the world I was about to encounter—little did I know how much of an understatement these rumors were.
“Regular” soccer fans in Argentina are referred to as hinchas (i.e. Pope Francis is a hincha of San Lorenzo). The term hincha however does not apply to all soccer fans, the most passionate of fans belong to a select group of people known as the barra brava. Members of a team’s barra brava are aggressive, wild, but above all they are loyal. These are the men and women who pour their hearts and souls into every match, the fans who cry when their team loses and also shed tears when their team wins, the hinchas who didn’t chose to become futbol fans but where instead born into a rich tradition. Each team’s barra brava has their own set of chants and songs, but they all claim one thing—the colors they wear are colors that run deep within their veins.
It is easy to see the passion of the barra brava as one walks the streets of Buenos Aires where flags, banners, stickers, and soccer jerseys have a militant omnipresence in the city, but to feel the passion of the barra brava one needs to enter the proverbial “belly of the beast” and join the fans in their habitat—the cancha (the Argentinean name for both the soccer pitch and the stadium where the sport is played).
My first steps into the cancha of San Lorenzo were taken lightly, unable to settle down into my surrounding my body was lifted by the buzz that hummed around the stadium. A wave of red and blue undulated as San Lorenzo fan wearing their team colors jumped up and down waiting for the action to begin. A handful of Godoy fans stood proud on the visitor’s side—their presence drowned by the voices of the San Lorenzo fans. I wondered why they even bothered to show up.
I squeezed past a group of teenaged girls who dressed in their San Lorenzo gear stood pretty at the edge of the bleachers. Resting in my seat I finally allowed the fervor of the event take over me. “I wish I knew the songs the fans were chanting” I thought—I wanted to sing along too.
Chants and cheers erupted from the barra brava as the home team took to the pitch. In the eyes of these fans, the local San Lorenzo might as well have been the best team in the world. Collectively the fans took a breath waiting for the ball to start moving. Their lungs filled with air prepared for the musical odyssey they would soon embark in.
“¡Vamos! ¡Vamos! ¡San Lore!” the barra brava chanted as they urged the home team to march on in their battle against the visitors from Godoy.
The first half of the game was filled with multiple goal attempts from the visiting Godoy—the match told by the San Lorenzo crowd however as a different one. Every San Lorenzo possession, pass, and punt was celebrated by the barra brava. Godoy’s better ball handling skills were ignored.
The air was thick with joy, but as masses usually are, San Lorenzo’s barra brava was fickle and their chants quickly became replaced with loud obscenities aimed at the game’s referee when he red-carded a San Lorenzo player. The local team was down a man and the fans weren’t happy about it.
Godoy was the first to put a goal on the scoreboard—quietly they celebrated their goal, the small victory was not worth celebrating in front of the vicious home crowd.
Forty-five minutes passed, the home crowd continued chanting—even after it started to rain. Unprotected from the elements, the barra brava gained momentum as the slow and cool drops of the autumn sky water fell on their foreheads. A restroom break at the half-time was provided the event’s only moment of silence—minutes later the barra was back, rested and refueled.
The second half started with a moment of redemption. The uneven pitch was once again balanced as the referee took out his red card for the second time in the match—this time it was a Godoy player whose hands had been crimson-stained.
Ten men versus ten men—not the norm, but at least balance was restored.
The score was still one-zero—Godoy was winning. The San Lorenzo crowd wanted a goal. I wanted a goal.
The play started with a rebellious shoe. San Lorenzo’s ten men saw action against Godoy’s nine—one was busy trying to fetch his shoe. Like a bum on the streets Godoy’s #27 limped along the pitch chasing after his boot, which had come loose in the previous play—San Lorenzo’s #5 saw an opportunity. The boot flew across the pitch far from the action.
The distraction was a dirty one, but as the Godoy player reunited with his shoe, San Lorenzo celebrated their only goal in the game—“always tie your shoes” a lesson Godoy’s #27 might have benefited from.
Their mouths wide-open, San Lorenzo’s barra celebrates their team’s goal as an endless string of o’s burst from their mouths. “¡Gooooooooooooool!” I cheered too—their victory, was my victory too.
The rain continued to pour. Small splishes and splashes exploded under the heels of the player’s sprints. Water would not stop them.
A muffled voice spoke on the stadium’s speaker system reminding the local fans that they had to wait until the visitors exited the stadium before they could leave—a regulation set in place to keep the barra from continuing the on-field action in the streets.
The game was over—a tie, one-one.
Slightly soaked and fully satisfied I watched as the San Lorenzo cancha emptied. The barra continued singing from afar—their songs echoed in the distance and I still wanted to sing.