Saturday, June 25, 2011

La Bombonera

If there is a more deliciously named football stadium in the world, I don't know what it is. Seriously: La Bombonera, the nickname for the stadium where Boca Jrs plays its games, refers to the fact that it (apparently) looks like a big box of candies. I myself do not see the bon-bon box resemblance, but nevertheless a trip to the Bombonera is so essential whilst one is in Buenos Aires that it's frequented by tourist buses and endless pic-clicking tourists (e.g., self) even on a chilly off-day during winter (which is what they call the months from June-August here, rather than just referring to them as "summer" and thinking of summer as cold and chilly).

Why the centrality of la B? Primarily it's because the stadium is the site where Boca Jrs play, and at the risk of offending followers of River (or Independiente, or Racing, or various big clubs in Brazil or Chile), I think it's safe to say that Boca is the most successful and most widely supported South American professional soccer team. They've won the Copa Libertadores numerous times, and even more often the Argentine league, and have a following all over the world as few other S Am clubs do.

This is but a tiny selection of the infinite schwag that is available to commemorate a visit to the Boca Jrs shrine that is la Bombonera (and which also includes blue-and-gold mate gourds, blue-and-gold penholders with the base in the style of la Bombonera, and of course all manner of infant clothing to assure hinchada parents that their kids will not embarrass them by not growing up to be socios):

The team is linked inextricably with the working-class dockside district of la Boca, which I'll say more about in a future post, and this gives it a different romance, which I swear is the right word, than its opposite number and eternal rival, River. Boca's romance is downtrodden, underdoggy (though they're certainly not underdogs in soccer terms), with a dose of the colorful (literally, as you'll see) character that the district itself is known for. River's rep is more austere and upper-class (though their supporters are, on average, no more or less wealthy than Boca's), as their nickname "los Millionarios" suggests.

La Boca is famous for having its buildings painted in bright colors, and across the street from la Bombonera is an example reflecting Boca Jrs' blue and gold:

No figure in Boca's history is more beloved than Diego Maradona, whose playing-days visage one can see both in la Bombonera and indeed throughout la Boca, including but by no means limited to this statue here:

So I arrived at the Bombonera mid-afternoon or so to find the site itself pretty well-attended despite it being the off-season and not that pleasant a day (but no rain, which is a blessed relief). I sprung for admission to the Boca Jrs Museum but not the 45min-long stadium tour, esp since admission to the museum allows one to visit a section of the stadium itself, and I am not enough of a fan to want to see every last corner of la B. (I have, actually, seen Boca play in DC against DC United, some years ago, and was impressed by the level of their away support, as well as by the play of Juan Roman Riquelme, who was shortly to be transferred to FC Barcelona.)

The museum was worth the US$8 I paid for admission, but not a penny more. There was a surround-sound and -visual video that was fascinating in its tackiness, as it purported to narrate the experience of a young player from la Boca coming up through the ranks of the club to star in the senior team and score a winning goal, all from a first-person perspective. It was the kind of thing a child of, say, eleven years old would have found thrilling, but I, and the other adults in the theater simply found it tacky and embarrassing.

Getting to see and be in part of the Bombonera itself was easily the best part of the tour. The section of the tribunal where they let you in is where some of the serious socios get to stand, on a sloped terrace without seats (since none of the truly intense hinchas sit for the game anyway). This used to be a standard feature of all football stadia in Europe too, but has since been phased out in the interest of safety and making more money.

The below video gives a perspective of the Bombonera from a fan's point of view, painted blue and gold to reflect Boca Jrs' iconic colors. Note the crush barriers in place to distribute the pressure of the massive crowd and make sure the people down in front aren't trampled to death by the avalanche of people that surges forward when there's a goal.