Mendoza’s Malvinas Argentinas Stadium is one of the prides of the region. It hosts domestic and international football and since last winter it is now one of the venues of the Southern Hemispehere Rugby Championship.
The Football Experience
I’m not going to lie, having never seen a live football match in South America I was feeling a tad apprehensive. Luckily though, we had a fantastic guide for the day, Marcelo, to channel us through the chaos, share top footie knowledge and heighten the match day experience.
Every football match in Europe I’ve ever been to has more or less followed the same process of: drink beer, get to match, watch match, go home, drink beer. Even though Marcelo greeted us at the Park gates with a can of lager, I could tell from the beginning this was going to be a different experience to home as he handed us a wad of shredded newspaper. After a moment of bemusement we learnt it’s essential to have some shredded paper to throw for when the team enters on their first match of the season. Walking through the park to the stadium the relative tranquillity started to fade as we got closer to the pounding of drums in the distance. These are the infamous `hinchas` (fans) as they begin their intimidating march towards the stadium.
There are two important sectors within the masses, one carrying an enormous banner (which we were later to be engulfed in) and the other being the band, essential to lead the crowd in the chants which fill the stadium for the entire ninety minutes. Once confined inside the stadium, there is electricity in the air enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Shredded newspaper in hand, we greeted the players by launching it in their general direction and the view is blotted out for a moment by the thousands of pieces of paper which fill the air.
The match itself was fantastic; the `hinchas’ terrace almost becomes a single organism which swells to follow the tempo of every changing moment of the match. Our guide Marcelo was on hand at all times, when he wasn’t singing louder than most of the people around us, to answer any questions. Then, before you know it, the match is over and your view is completely obscured as the enormous banner comes down. The singing reaches a crescendo, as deafening as any rock concert, before the banner is passed back and vision is restored.
The experience of being in the ‘poplar’ seats at a football match is an essential Argentine experience. And I can proudly say that now I know at least 20 insults in Spanish.
Marcelo is a guide for ‘Futbol en Mendoza’ taking tourists and foreigners to matches with a local bi-lingual guide, a welcome beer and discount food and beers after the match. (261) 642 8382 or http://www.facebook.com/vivienmza
The Rugby Experience
Having been to an international game of rugby before, in a sparsely filled Olympic Stadium in Rome on a day of freezing February snow, my expectation for the Pumas v the Springboks weren’t too high. Much to my surprise they were surpassed by a huge margin. Having previously experienced a football match at the Malvinas Stadium, I didn’t believe that the atmosphere would be able to match what had been such a unique experience, or so I thought.
There was a tangible excitement in the air. Mendoza had hosted an international rugby match before but this was something entirely different, Four Nations rugby. After a fairly lacklustre performance in their first game in South Africa, the Pumas were bound to come out fighting in front of a packed stadium of expectant home fans.
As the Springboks emerged from the tunnel, accompanied by incandescent yellow and green smoke, they were met by what could only be described as a smattering of polite applause. The noise which greeted the subsequent entrance of the Pumas almost lifted me off my feet. Those who had come to the ground easily matched the decibels of the football fans.
From the outset the Pumas displayed the greater discipline and attacking prowess, much to the delight of the crowd. Once again to match the `hinchas` at the football, the masses of rugby aficionados kept the noise levels high and the cheers carried on but contrary to football it was a bit more civilised with no swearing and racist songs. Although the shouts during the penalties seemed a bit uncivilised for Rugby.
Even though the Pumas eventually only drew with the Springboks, there was a rapturous standing ovation for the Pumas once the whistle blew for full time, and rightly so. They played beyond expectations, and the atmosphere throughout and after the game was testament to that. If international rugby is like that all the time then I’m definitely going to have to make sure that I go again.
By Will Fry
Published in the December 2012/January 2013 edition of Wine Republic