In Buenos Aires, football is more than a sport. It’s an experience that concentrates locals’ defining characteristics: passion, intensity, loyalty, friendship and camaraderie. And when a match gets underway on “la cancha” – the pitch – an equally impressive spectacle begins up in the stands.
There, the flags, tickertape, drums, whistles, applause, and the sea of arms moving in time with supporters’ chants and songs create an incredible, unparalleled atmosphere. Many of the songs speak of love for the team, but others express the glory of a win, the euphoria of a last-minute goal, the pain of defeat or anger at a referee’s decision.
Everyone in Buenos Aires has a team. It's something as crucial as having a name, surname and a national ID number. When asked, “De qué cuadro sos?” (What team do you support?), there has to be an answer. Many make the choice based on the neighbourhood where they live, others based on family tradition, but a choice has to be made, and the choice is for life.
Buenos Aires is the city with most football stadiums in the world. It’s probably the city with the most improvised pitches for amateur games too, and international sensations such as Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi can trace their origins back to the street game, commonly known as “picado” locally, played on spontaneously assembled pitches in squares and parks throughout the city.
For visitors lucky enough to be in Buenos Aires at the right time, the biggest event of the soccer calendar is the “superclásico”, the intense derby fought by archrivals Boca Juniors and River Plate, Argentina’s two most popular teams. These two teams clash at least twice a year, and the second the referee blows the whistle for kick-off, Buenos Aires comes to a halt, while inside the stadium, the stands begin to vibrate to the rhythm of the ball.
For football (soccer) fans, no trip to Buenos Aires is complete without visiting the Bombonera stadium, or Estadio Alberto J. Armando as it’s officially called, home to Maradona’s beloved Boca Juniors. The stadium is on the route of the city’s tourist bus, and just a stone’s throw from the famous Caminito in La Boca. The stadium’s museum, the Museo de la Pasión Boquense, is open daily 10.00am-6.00pm.
If the Boca Jrs stadium isn’t enough for you, you can also head north to Nuñez to visit the Estadio Monumental (Av. Figueroa Alcorta 7597, Nuñez), home of Boca’s arch rivals, River Plate.
There are many other clubs you can visit. Football is by far the most popular espectator sport in Argentina, and many of the country's top flight teams are based in Buenos Aires. As well as Boca Juniors and River Plate, major teams include San Lorenzo (Pope Francis's favourite team), Veléz Sarsfield, Argentinos Juniors (Diego Maradona's first club), and All Boys. Racing Club and Independiente are based in Avellaneda, just to the south of the city limits.
Live matches are a major attraction in BA and many tour operators sell tickets.
Check out the graffiti: Close to the stadiums, you’ll find walls adorned with graffiti and murals in the colours of the local team. The city’s clubs have a close relationship with their neighbourhoods and the sight of their colours in the streets creates a strong sense of belonging.
Walk the streets: on match days, the sea of supporters making its way to the stadium brings traffic to a halt. Grandparents, children, parents with their kids, groups of friends or brothers and sisters all move in the same direction. It’s worth stopping to study people’s faces to see how each person experiences the ritual that’s about to begin.
Eat choripán: These ubiquitous sausage sandwiches, so named due to the combination of the words for sausage (chorizo) and bread (pan), are the staple match day snack, and you’re bound to be able to pick on up from an improvised grill near the stadium. At some stadiums, they’re also sold inside the ground at half-time.
Learn a song: Buenos Aires’ hinchas, as football supporters are called, are ingeniously creative, and they often rework chart topping songs of the moment to reflect their loyalty to their team and create hits in the stadiums. Learn the revised lyrics of these popular tunes and sing with all your heart!
Scream “gol”!: the stands explode when the ball crosses the goal line. Inflate your lungs and below, “gol!” like it’s your last breath of life, stretching the “o” as long as you can to release all the pent up tension of a nerve-wracking game. “Gooooooooooool!“ You might also want to hug the person nearest to you, whether you know them or not!