We changed our flights, sped round the south of Argentina at the speed of light and managed to get to Buenos Aires in time for the weekend and the footy - River Plate playing Olimpio on the Saturday night, a lad in our hostel was going with a girl from Buenos Aires and we were in. Excellent. We walked through the cobbled streets of San Telmo, past the old men in berets with handlebar moustaches sipping red wine on the Plaza and took the bus up to El Monumental, home of Los Millonerios, aka River Plate.
As we walked up 90 mins before kickoff, the air was already full of the crack and boom of fireworks, the police poised on their horses, but not too many fans about to tell the truth. This wasn't a big game and with the Boca River derby only a week away, people were saving their energies. So us men paid our 10 pesos (2quid/400 yen), the ladies their 5 and we were off into the "Populare" end of El Monumental, the peoples end where apparently under no circumstances should you show any sign of wealth or of being a tourist. Ooh er. After 5 body searches and the confiscation of my lighter (only me, everyone else got frisked once, bloody typical) we got in, greeted by the irresistible rhythm of the drums from inside the ground and the 4ft baton toting policemen on the perimeter. Up the stairs we went (lambs to the slaughter? I was beginning to wonder), greeted by a man with blood covered hands crouched over another in a pool of his own blood, not the best of omens.
And then we were in, "Vamos Vamos Vamos Millonarios, Vamos Vamos Vamos River Plate", the singing and the music never stopped for a second, people hanging very precariously off every available ledge, the pitch just visible through the ganja fog. Not that it mattered. The players came on, not many noticed, the game went on, not many watched. As a pretty dismal, scrappy display of footy unfolded on the pitch below (surprising as River are one of the top teams in one of the top leagues of South America), the band played on and the crowd sang on, oblivious to what was happening down below them. Nobody cared. They were there to sing, dance and taunt Boca ahead of next weeks derby, and the footy going on right now wasn't going to spoil that for them.
Highlight of the game was a penalty given near half time - River protested, the ball was put on the spot, but then oh no, the refs changed his mind, No penalty, a corner. Eh? Whats going on? The Olimpio players come crowding round the ref, they want their penalty and then poof! Its back on again, a penalty. I've never seen a more ridiculous display of refereeing and people aren't happy. Momentarily. Then its back to singing and dancing again.
River Plate lost 2-0, but I've never seen anyone so happy in defeat -half an hour after its all ended, they're still there singing their hearts out with no sign of budging. We on the other hand squeeze past the tear gas gun toting cops in riot gear and head out for a night of steak and tango. Vamos Millonarios!
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