Two hours after descending the steps of the plane for my first visit to Argentina I, along with my travel buddy and local friends, were thrust into the cauldron of passion which is the home stadium of local giants River Plate. El Monumental, as it is known by local fans, is one of the largest stadiums in Argentina with a capacity of 76,609. We were to witness the match between the local team and title contenders Estudiantes. If Estudiantes were victorious they'd go on to capture the national title so the atmosphere was on a knife's edge. This was especially evident with taunts from opposing fans which included a host of household Argentinan profanities and occasionally spitting down from terraces, which I was honoured enough to be on the receiving end of.
With brow now clear of spittle, I made my way to my seat. If ever you go to an Argentine match, don't expect the seat printed on your ticket. It's custom for attendees to claim seats on a first come, first serve basis. With the barra bravas group, Los Borrachos del Tablon (The Drunkards of the Stand), in full swing getting the crowd going with drumming and song before kick-off, the atmosphere already seemed to be infectuously festive. As the match commenced everyone upped and stood on their seats with initial sporadic waves of vociferous chanting. Everybody from those who resembled your mother, uncle, grandfather to young grandchildren were willing participants in song and dance. The first goal brought a deafening silence- but to those supporters of the opposing team who had just scored. Within one lonesome section high above the field, a cadence of wild euphoria erupted. For Estudiantes and their fans the coveted Primera Division title was within a hair's breadth of their reach.
The match wasn't about to get any better for River who just before the half-time interval conceded a second. It wasn't long into the second half when Estudiantes, surely, struck the deciding blow, but this was also to be my first magical experience of my South American travels. After going three goals and one man down, the home supporters burst into song which lasted without pause for 15 mins. The song was a display of solidarity and immense commitment behind their team even though things were going horribly wrong on the pitch.
The words were as follows:
Ole, ole, ole
Ole Ole Ole Ola
Ohhhh, yo te quiero
(We love you)
No me importe nada
(It doesn't matter)
Te vengo alentar
(We will keep cheering)
This defined my initial interactions with Argentine people. Intensely passionate, and unrelentlessly so. Yes, at times a bit overly aggressive for many people's liking, but it's because when they feel, it is with every single fibre of their being. It's also their unashamed display of this passion which spoke to me. In a world where we so often live behind airbrushed facades, it's refreshing to immerse oneself in a culture that puts their instinctive voice first.
The game ended with River Plate losing 4-0, but to me they were triumphant in support. With one of the biggest supporter conglomerates in Argentina, a visit to El Monumental should certainly be on every travelling explorer's list, if not to enjoy the football, then certainly to get a close up taste of that Latin American passion that courses deep through every local attendee.