Saturday 10th June 2017
Announcing itself in a celebration of brightly coloured buildings, the neighbourhood of La Boca boasts an identity of tradition and cultural diversity. Arriving on foot, you find yourself in the heart of the district with almost no warning or expectation. It’s early Saturday afternoon, the street markets are bustling and dancers exhibiting the famous Argentine Tango begin their matinee performances in the cafes and bars. The most striking thing to note upon first visit, is the closeness of it all. Sidling between market stalls and up stairways into crowded shops, most of the tourist orientated merchandise is packed into two or three colourful, picturesque streets.
In this sense La Boca appears a typical tourist trap. Tango dancers with a wardrobe of costume lure passers by into posing for photos, plastic effigies of Pope Francis are wheeled out on street corners and a man who looks vaguely like Diego Maradona bounces a ball in a fake Argentina strip. But it is only natural for the people of the area to monetise what has become such an identifiable corner of Buenos Aires. It has much to say for itself, but what brought me here was the stadium which peaks behind the aged rooftops, La Bombanera, the home of Boca Juniors.
Museo de la Pasión Boquense is the title of the tour and museum package sold at the stadium. This includes a guided tour around the ground and access to an exhibition of items and interactive media which tell the story of Club Atletico Boca Juniors. I came as a football fan, to get a better perspective of the club and say I’d been to visit the stadium, but the experience provided a deeper understanding of the roots of the club and the signifcance it holds for the people who surround their lives with it.
For many in Argentina, football is treated as a way of life. This holds true for Boca fans, moreso than many. It’s the reason their rivalry with city counterparts River Plate, ‘el Superclásico’ is considered one of the most intense and dangerous in the world, it’s the reason their homes, businesses and lamposts within the stadium vicinity are painted in blue and yellow club colours, and it’s the reason the team are known and revered across world football today.
Ticket purchased, and with half an hour until the guided stadium tour began, there was time for a quick peruse of the museum beforehand. Drawing my attention was a dome shaped room with the appearance of a football displaying 360° video inside. It documented the journey of a young local playing in the shadow of the stadium who grows up to play for the first team. All filmed within the immediate vicinity of the ground, with the viewer placed as the subject of the story, it communicates the passion and desire that the club effects on it’s community from a young age.
The other exhibit which piqued my interest, was a large model of the traditional homes which overlook the docks only a few streets away from the stadium. It was poignant that football had no visible mention or suggestion here. It stands as homage to the people, industry and diversity which led to the formation of the club. Set against a dark night sky, small video projections lend life to the windows. Within them Tango dancers, a family eating dinner, people drinking in a bar. A snapshot of life before Boca Juniors. With large influx of European immigrants the dockland area was one of many borrowed influences. Specifically it were immigrants from Genoa who set about the foundation of a football club, hence the nickname ‘Xeneizes’ (Genoese) a nod to the clubs original founders.
Time arrived for the tour to begin. In a large group numbering around 40 people we were led from the museum through a concourse and into the lowest rows of seating in the ‘flat’ stand. The most recent notable upgrade, this stand was built in 1996 and consists mainly of VIP seating. In stark contrast to the other three surrounding sides of the stadium, which are cast in concrete and form a continous wrap around the pitchside, it stands alone, a vertical tower block-like presence unique to La Bombanera. Despite it’s comparitively low profile and unorthodox structure, it’s proximity to the pitch enhances the atmosphere within the stadium. Venturing up to the top a rather nausea-inducing experience for those with a dislike for heights.
As the only English-speaking couple in a group of that size, we’d resigned ourselves to picking up on odd words during the tour in broken Spanish. However during the introduction the tour guide, Sabrina, asked around for anyone who would like it conducted in a different language. For the remainder of the tour she continued following us up with a one on one English synopsis after every meeting point, of which we were hugely appreciative.
The next stop was the terracing behind the goal, as the lowest tier in the stadium, these tickets are the cheapest to obtain. It is also the section in which the most devoted fans can be found on a matchday, filling the air with noise and putting on a display of streamers, flags and banners synonymous with the legendary La Bombanera atmosphere. The steps closest to the playing surface actually lie around 2-3 feet below pitch level, meaning that the view here is one of the most restricted in the stadium in terms of actually watching the football. The view is further obscured by the tall chicken-wire fence which seperates the spectators from the players, when a goal is scored a mass rush towards the fence can be expected, with an ambitious few even scaling it as if attempting escape! No doubt a rather intimidating experience for those on the pitch.
The tour was rounded off with a visit to the home dressing room, press area and a celebratory room with statues of club legends, amongst them Martin Palermo, Juan Román Riquelme and Diego Maradona. Funds for these were raised by fan contributions and testament is paid to each one in the form of their name inscribed on the plinth on which the statue stands. It shows the extent to which these players inspired the fan-base, that people were willing to donate money to have them immortalised in bronze. The tour ended on exiting this room, however no pressure was applied to for us leave the stadium. The opposing end of terracing left free to reign for photo opportunities, or sit and eat lunch with a view as we decided.
On leaving La Bombanera we headed back towards the throng of markets at the dock. Fresh from the Boca experience, I couldn’t resist a replica retro shirt. The collared Nike design of season 1997/98, worn by Diego Maradona in his last season at the club, one of many on display with local vendors. On a concrete square, separated from the world by rusting blue and yellow fencing, young locals are involved in a heated kick about. Perhaps one of them may become a future Boca star…