Boca Juniors

Buenos Aires – a world capital of football

If ever a world capital of football had to be chosen, Buenos Aires would certainly fit the bill. Nowhere else on this planet will you find a larger number of football clubs and grounds packed into a single city.

It is indeed a very large city – the population of Greater Bs As (as it’s abbreviated) is around 13 million. Without doubt, it is the colourful spectacle, the sound of the drums and horns, the passionate chants and overall buzz on the stands, the flares and fireworks, the confetti showers and ticker-tape receptions, along with the usually massive, often crumbling stadia hardly seen in Europe anymore, that make a football trip to the Southern hemisphere unforgettable.

I even dare to say that the passion of the Argentinian supporters is unrivalled ­– certainly different from traditional British support, continental Ultra activities or the lunacy encountered at some Eastern European derby games. It is perhaps a good mix of all these ingredients.

Argentina juniorsOne thing, however, that is certain is the fact that in Argentina your club affiliation and family ties rank well above politics, religion or social class. It’s not uncommon to see entire families of three or even four generations attending a match together. Going to watch football is very much a family affair these days.

Unless you decide to travel outside the football season, you will find plenty of games to choose from year-round. Matchdays of all leagues spread across the entire week as almost every top division game will be on TV at one of the many football channels. October/November (spring) and April/May (autumn) are good times for a visit with generally fine and pleasant weather and, more importantly, international competitions such as Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana on as well, i.e. more games for you to pick.

While the city is not short of stunning football grounds, it can take some considerable time to travel between any two of them to reach your destination. The good news is that plenty of grounds are near one of the three major railway lines heading north, south, and west from the three centrally located stations (Retiro, Constitución, Once).

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River PlateNeighbourhoods range from affluent (River Plate) to rather dodgy (San Lorenzo). Popular areas to stay are the districts of Palermo (middle class to upmarket hotels and restaurants) and San Telmo (for a more old town vibe with plenty of cheap hostales and budget eateries).

Virtually every club comes with at least one group known as the barra brava (loosely translated as ‘wild mob’).  Their influence in club politics can be enormous, and the chairmen would certainly consult them before making a major. One general piece of advice I would like to share is to respect them and their territory. They usually place themselves on the terraces behind the goal, with their core group often arriving late (like five to ten minutes into the game), marching in with flags, drums and trumpets, and being greeted with applause by the supporters already present, who would join in to their chants.

You will notice a lot of people drinking before the game. Big plastic Coke bottles are often shared between friends, containing a mix of Fernet Branca and cola. Chilled beers are readily available from street vendors, bottle shops, and at train stations.

Foodwise, aside from all quality levels of beef being offered at sit-down restaurants, there are two standard items of street food available at every other corner and inside football grounds: panchos (hot dogs) and hamburguesas (you’ve guessed it already). However, the king of stadium food is the ubiqutous choripán, consisting of a hearty sausage (chori, short for chorizo) in a bread roll (pan). Forget about putting ketchup or mustard on it: It’s got to be chimichurri you’ll eat it with, a tangy green sauce made of an assortment of herbs.

This is an edited version of a feature that first appeared in Football Weekends magazine, an English-langugage magazine profiling football breaks across Europe and further afield.

European subscriptions are available – visit www.footballweekends.co.uk for details.

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