As well as being Goal.com’s South American correspondent and following intently the latest Maradona, Riquelme or Veron inspired crisis - and there are plenty - I have harboured another, more dangerous and self-destructive passion since arriving in Buenos Aires almost one year ago.
This forbidden love forces me to lead a double life, break appointments and explain bizarre behaviours that come and go with a minute’s notice. Some people I meet think I’m crazy and need help; others share my addiction and indulge me in frenzied conversation.
But enough is enough, it is time to come clean; I am a supporter and socio of Racing Club, Argentina’s most long-suffering and passionate group of fans, and it is because of this I found myself in the Bombonera on Saturday six storeys up in a concrete cage, screaming along with my fellow La Academia fanatics and outnumbered 10 to 1 by Bosteros.
An unpleasant sight if you're in the opposition stand...
Round 2 - Away To Boca Juniors:
My day in La Boca starts inhospitably early in Buenos Aires terms - 11:30 in the morning my lift to the stadium arrives, which given the fact that the average weekend evening comes to an end at about 6am leaves precious few hours for such luxuries as sleep or rest. But I am up and about, and I jump into the car where Luciano, Juancito and Nico are waiting and stifling a couple of yawns.
Three of us managed to swoop on the Vvsitor’s packs which guarantee entry to every away game of the season, although as Juan was too late he had the joy of queuing outside the La Academia stadium at 4am on the Friday along with 500 others to get a ticket - in total there will be about 4,000 away fans in the stadium, out of a total Boca crowd of 40,000. Fair to say there are a few nerves as we make our way down to the ground, less to do with the game than with being set upon by Boca fans on being identified as the enemy!
After a few twists and turns around the potholed streets of La Boca and handing over our pesos to the man with a cloth who will make sure the car is still there on returning, we made it into the stadium roughly an hour before kick off nice and peacefully. A far cry from the last trip to the Bombonera, when after some delays we ended up arriving at the side of the ‘Guardia Imperial’, Racing’s own drum banging hooligan mob. An absolute nightmare as security personnel all but strip-searched us that time thinking us related to the unpleasant men in the barra - and on top they ‘asked’ us for a sip of a bottle of coke and I’m sure we never got it back.
Places taken on the impossibly steep away terraces, after a tortuous climb of at least four flights of stairs (it will be worse on the way down when some bright spark floods the bathroom), we wait for the show to start. Juan Roman Riquelme gets the home fans going before kick-off, parading himself around in celebration of the $5 million bonanza he has guaranteed himself over the next four years, before a deafening sound goes up announcing the arrival of the Boca players. Cheers and firecrackers from three corners of the ground, whistles and boos from our little section, of course.
Despair and Joy In the Bombonera
With that the game finally starts, and almost immediately the away fans are fearing the worst. Ex-Boca player Matias Cahais seemed to completely forget he was no longer a Bostero, leaving Lucas Viatri completely unmarked to open the scoring just 10 minutes in, and the Racing end fearing a humiliation in the worst possible place. One thing about Racing fans however; call it passion, call it madness or straight up masochism, but they know how to support a losing side. All the old favourites for Boca came out, mostly revolving around three simple themes: poor hygiene standards in and around the stadium, the idea that most inhabitants of La Boca come from Bolivia or Paraguay and the fans’ wish to set fire to the entire neighbourhood. ‘Give Racism the Red Card’ is still a few years off this side of the Atlantic I fear.
Despite the early setback ‘La Academia’ looked equal to Boca in the opening exchanges, with lanky Colombian number 10 Giovanni Moreno showing some crowd pleasing touches in his first Racing game. 'Dale Negro!' and 'Vamos Colombiano!' were the touching encouragements the 24-year-old received from the stands, and it was Gio drawing a foul which led to the equaliser.
The first free kick was repelled, but Claudio Bieler’s deflected cross-shot found Claudio Yacob lurking at the back post, and the club captain bundled it in to send the away stand in raptures. Screaming GOOOOL at the top of our lungs (no, it really isn’t just Argentine commentators who do that), the Racing fans hugged anyone and anything within easy grabbing distance - and who cares if the goal was clearly offside? Half-time saw the teams go in at 1-1, and in the terraces opinion was divided. Nico and I felt a draw would be very nice thank you and saw no more goals in the second. Luciano however in his best psychic impression ‘had a feeling’- it was to finish 2-1 for La Academia.
All Hail The Argentine Nostradamus
I will never doubt the boy again, as Racing made good on his premonition just minutes after the break. A deflected shot fell in the Boca area to Clemente Rodriguez, who inexplicably left the ball behind while trying to shepherd it away. In came the Paraguayan express train Marcos Caceres, and the right-back almost broke the net smashing home off the underside of the bar.
The rest of the game was torture - although Boca didn’t look like scoring an equaliser neither did Racing manage to put the game beyond doubt. The familiar suffering and stomach ache to Racing fans is actually worse when winning, at least when losing you can pretty much forget the match altogether and just create a spectacle.
The final whistle finally brought an explosion of joy and relief from the stands, made sweeter by the fact Boca fans were locked in the stadium until we felt like stopping the gloating. The nerves and fear of before the game evaporated as every Racing fan filed out banging on the home enclosure suffering below and singing the wildly overoptimistic ditty: 'You have to finish champion, this is your year... vamos La Acade, vamos La Acade!' A song I didn’t stop reciting, to the annoyance and pain of my non-fanatic friends, until well into the next day.
Season update: Two games, two wins, six points. San Lorenzo up next at home in another Clasico- bring it on!!