Boca Juniors and River Plate are perennial favorites to win the Argentine soccer league, and both are from Buenos Aires. La Boca is a neighborhood full of blue collar dock workers, tango dancers, and the colorful corrugated houses which made it famous. River plate is in the opposite and considerably wealthier end of the city. Their rivalry is one of the fiercest in world football. I was excited to learn they’d meet while I was in town.
For two and a half weeks I was reminded that the “Super Classico” is quite possibly the best sporting event in the world (impartial journalists have ranked it at the top), and that it is, in fact, impossible to get tickets. I asked nearly everyone I met if they knew anyone with an “entrada,” and they all responded with a laugh. Tickets were available online - for 700 USD and up - but were unverified, and I was warned about the prevalence of fakes. I couldn't find a way to get reliable tickets at any price.
By game day I was demoralized (and hungover) but I went to the stadium out of a sense of duty. Prospects were looking grim until I asked a hot dog vendor if he knew anyone selling tickets. He didn't say much, but handed his spatula to a friend and led me down the street. He introduced me to a man in a Boca Juniors tracksuit, who spoke quickly and constantly shifted his weight. But he had a warm smile and seemed to know everyone that walked by. I couldn't understand anything he said, but somehow I trusted him.
He wanted 400 for the ticket but I talked him down to 300. I only had 200 on me, which wasn't the bargaining strongarm I'd hoped it would be; he asked his godson to drive me to get cash. It took us over half an hour to hit every ATM within reach of the stadium, and all of them were empty. Suddenly it was kickoff time, and the godson was eager to get into the stadium. We returned empty handed.
In a rush, I offered Mr. Tracksuit 200 bucks and collateral, promising to sort it out after the game. I handed him all of my money and my driver’s license, but was given no ticket. Slightly confused, I followed him toward the stadium, aptly named “La Bombonera.” It was boiling over with the booming chants of the Boca faithful.
The entrance into the stadium itself operates like a subway station. Mr. Tracksuit walked ahead of me, shook some hands and pointed at me. Entrance personnel nodded. He waved his ticket over the magnetic sensor and walked through a turnstile. When he waved me forward, I suddenly realized he had no ticket for me. Someone mumbled something in Spanish, grabbed my empty hand, and held it over the sensor. A second later the bar clicked and gently spun open. I was in.
I've never seen a stadium so full. A crowd stood five deep behind the lower level seats. We could only see a sliver of the field between rows of heads and the cement underbelly of the second level. Mr. Tracksuit was unsatisfied. More handshakes, short conversations, and text messages. We slipped through 2 more security checkpoints, squeezed through some less fortunate crowds, and took our seats on the steps between sections, with a perfect view. Mr. tracksuit turned to me, pointed at himself, smirked, and said in heavy English, “The Best.”
We weren't the only ones that seemed to have been smuggled into the game. The aisles and were full people standing and sitting wherever they could get a view. The stadium was thousands of people over capacity. There is no visitors section, so every person in that arena was passionately Boca. When provoked, the entire crowd jumped and sang in unison. The atmosphere was incomparable. I watched the whole game with Mr. Tracksuit, who would grab my shoulders and shake me every time Boca missed an opportunity. But it remained scoreless until the 85th minute, when Boca scored two in three minutes. The eruption of the crowd gave me goosebumps. It was a fairy tale ending.