Being a huge football fan, South America offers lots of exciting opportunities to engage with the beautiful game – none more so than the chance to see one of the continents great clubs, Boca Juniors, playing in La Bonbonera!

Up until this point in my trip I’d been unable to watch any football as it was between seasons – this was particularly frustrating in Rio where some of the continents most famous clubs play their football. By the time I’d made it to Buenos Aires however, South America’s football leagues were getting fired up ready for the new season and Boca Juniors, arguably Argentina’s most famous team (although as you’d expect that would be a long and heated argument in the right – or wrong – company) were playing at home in the first round of fixtures – which luckily for me fell on my last weekend in the city. This was obviously too big an opportunity to miss and when our hostel advertised a match day package we snapped up tickets.

The price was a little steep at $350 (Pesos) – roughly £60 – but there was a lot of emphasis put on the dangers and difficulties of trying to go alone, and not wanting to miss out we didn’t baulk at that inflated price. La Boca is sketchy at the best of times, so we were quite happy to be going with a guide. The package included a transfer to and from the ground as well as some entertainment before the game. The entertainment turned out to be spending 2 hours in a stupidly overpriced bar, with a 10 minute keepy-upy exhibition. To be fair it was the best display of kick-ups I’ve ever seen live, and I’ve seen some pretty impressive people in the past. It was actually amazing. The over priced beer I could have done without though (the price part of it at any rate).

As we got close to the ground  you could start to feel that familiar match day buzz of a big football match. I love this time before games when everyone’s milling around outside, anticipation and excitement in the air – especially right at the start of a new season. It’s a clean slate, a new start and having learned that Boca had performed terribly the year before, you could feel the nervous excitement building as kick off approached. I’d done what I swore I wouldn’t do and bought a Boca shirt – before hand I’d decided this was a bit naff, a foreigner playing at being a fan for the day – but in the end I wanted a souvenir and I was warming to Boca (plus they wear the right colours for me to get on board; white, blue and yellow COYS). Silvia, a really cool Dutch girl from our hostel I’d been hanging out with also bought some merchandise, so I wasn’t the only wannabe in with the home fans…

When we got our tickets with their $40 (Pesos) face value, everyone started to feel a little bit ripped off – we basically paid $310 (Pesos) for a minibus ride and 10 minutes of kick-ups. But I wasn’t going to let that tar the experience and as we entered the ground I was excited to be on a terrace watching a big game for the first time in years. Standing is definitely my preferred position for watching football and with the Premier League ban on terraces it’s something I’ve really missed. On top of that the atmosphere in the ground was electric and we were still 40 minutes away from kick off.

Something they do in Argentina which I haven’t heard of before is play their reserve matches immediately before their first team games. So we saw the last 10 minutes of Boca Juniors ‘B’ vs Godoy Cruz ‘B’ while we waited for the main event. This seems nice for the players who aren’t in the first team, not sure how good it is for the pitches though! The reserve game ended 1-1 from what I remember and was fairly uneventful, although we did see the Boca goal. Once that game was over the atmosphere really started to crank up with the ground getting busier and busier. We were in the middle tier behind one of the goals. There are three tiers of terracing with the away fans in the top tier, so it’s advisable not to stand too close to the front of the terrace as various objects and liquids tend to rain down on you at certain points in the match. I took up a position about 10 steps down with a good view of the whole pitch, Steve went AWOL and popped up right at the front somewhere… I caught a glimpse of him once but didn’t catch up with him again until the end of the match.

As kick off got closer the ground filled right up and the opposite end to us came alive, ‘La Doce’ or ‘The 12’ (as in 12th man), are the hardcore set of Boca fans who make all the atmosphere. They filled up the middle and bottom tier of the other end and by the time the players walked out it was like a full on carnival; a massive band was blasting out samba style rhythms while the whole end bounced and sang Boca songs. It was an incredible spectacle. Then just before the game started they unfolded the biggest flag I’ve ever seen in my life – it covered both of the bottom two tiers and it was incredible to see it completely unfurled – seemingly alive with all the people bouncing and singing underneath it. I asked our guide and this is a completely fan organised thing, the flag is made and maintained by ‘La Doce’ and has nothing to do with the club. Apparently young lads who want to join get that kind of job as a way in.

The game itself did not go to plan at all. Godoy Cruz, Boca’s opposition are a very good side from Mendoza but traditionally not a big club. They’ve done well in the last few seasons, but at home Boca would have expected to win. As it turned out they got completely turned over – suffering a humiliating 1-4 defeat. It was a strange game. Boca completely dominated possession and for the most part controlled the tempo of the match but they really struggled to open Godoy up. The few times they did, usually after a little bit of creativity from Riquelme, Palermo completely fluffed his lines. You could sense the frustration and as the game went on they got more and more sloppy and Godoy started to capitalise on their mistakes. I would say Godoy probably had 5 maybe 6 chances in the game and scored 4 goals. It was a slightly flattering scorline but Boca only really had themselves to blame – poor defensively and wasteful in attack, I get the feeling it might be another long hard season for them.

What was really impressive to see though was the lack of negativity this performance received from the crowd. Every time they conceded La Doce just got louder. And when there were a few murmurs of discontent, there was a lot of shushing from the rest of the crowd. They seem to pride themselves on supporting their team no matter what and by the end of the game I was a fully signed up Boca fan! I’ve since met a few River and Independiente supporters who’ve tried to win me around, but my heart has already been won I think.