The River – Boca derby is a must see for many tourists. I chose something more downmarket; Platense – La Ferrere, the third division final at Platense’s home ground. I didn’t exactly pick it; I arrived to visit my mate here in Buenos Aires and he immediately sought out another ticket and informed me that in the superstitious world of football I was a good omen – especially as I’d arrived wearing brown: Platense colours. I find him jogging around the furniture in his small flat. We meet his friends in a cafe and all around me fingers are drumming on knees, knees are wobbling nervously, people appear to be in physical pain from the tension.
It turns out that in Platense’s 100 year history they started, and remained, in the first division until in 1999 they fell into the second against River. Then, in 2002, Cordoba knocked them into the third. If Platense win today they move back up to the second division. They’ve been trying for four years.
Back at the cafe, the opposition fans pass by in a coach, suddenly the place explodes; everyone’s up and banging on the side of the bus and shouting or ‘singing’: “Dale Calamar!, Dale, Dale Calamar!”. I find out that the calamar (squid) mascot comes from a likeness the team has with squids-in-their-own-ink when it rains at the home ground. The grass makes way to the clay underneath and the team become coloured in their own colours. Finally we form a queue at the stadium held back by the ‘tortugas ninjas’ (riot police) – the tension is a tastable sensation.
“People appear to be in physical pain from the tension”
We take up positions behind the goal, long banners are unfurled and spread across the crowd, flags are flying and the fans are a homogenous one-ness, like a giant raucous entity.
Kick-off. The match seems to have little impact on the fans, you can barely see it from under all the flags, armpits and elbows. The fans keep up a continuous ‘song’ amazingly to the accompaniment of a four piece brass band and a drummer in the middle of all this surging chaos. Suddenly Platense score and the entire crowd – the raucous entity – squashes itself into a two foot space by the fence. It’s utter mayhem. This goal leads to an even more intense continued chant and song until La Ferrere score and suddenly it’s very quiet at our end and the other end explodes.
Shortly into the second half Platense score their second and we’re stage diving off the top steps and the crowd starts climbing the fence – seven meters vertical with razor wire half way up and a horizontal section of barbed wire at the top; child’s play.
“the manager is being whirled around in the air”
The second half passes in a burr of noise and surging bodies and then the whistle goes and the place goes absolutely bazerk. The riot squad move in on the other side of the fence. It looks like it’s going to come down under the weight of bodies. There’s a breach and the pitch is over run and the manager is being whirled around in the air, people are lying in prostrate star shapes on the pitch. Grown men are crying. The team’s now in it’s underwear and climbing all over the goal posts – must be thirty on the cross bar. The net is torn down and dissected and dissappears into a thousand pockets. Pitch turns into a jumping up and down festival; pure jubilation – the opposing fans have long since been shuffled quickly out the back.
Eventually the pitch simply can’t contain all this excitement and the crowd moves out to the streets. The fans have take over a bridge across a fourteen lane highway. It’s covered in flags and banners and human beings all dressed in brown singing “Dale Marrón!” and “Dale, dale campeón!”. A breakaway mob has stopped the traffic. It tails back for miles amongst multicoloured smoke bombs. The entire crowd, about fifteen thousand marches home indifferent to traffic. At the stadium clubhouse the ‘dancing’ continues. Great fat tattooed fans swinging their shirts whilst kids wave flags. Dogs are forced to dance on their back legs. Little two year old Mikayla’s got pizza in her hair. Kids belt plastic bottles, and men ‘drum’ on tables with glass bottles. Well, at least those tables that aren’t being danced upon. It’s very much a family affair, but like nothing I ever did with my family.