The British influence in Buenos Aires is apparent in a lot of ways, from the English architecture of picturesque neighborhoods like Belgrano “R”, to the still-festering political resentment over the Falkands, and in the world of sports. The Brits are the reason that some soccer teams in Buenos Aires have names like “River Plate”, “All Boys” and “Newell’s”, and they’re also to thank for another staple of the Argentine sporting scene: polo.
We picked up tickets for the Easter weekend Copa de Naciones match at the Palermo Polo Grounds: Argentina vs. England. Putting on our smashing-best clothes (jeans mostly without holes and t-shirts only slightly wrinkled), we went out to hob-nob with the jet-set. Or at least, sit down with a beer and leer silently at the beautiful people.
I had never seen polo before, and was skeptical of its entertainment factor. In my mind, it would be respectable gentlemen wearing top hats and monocles, lightly tapping balls from atop their horses, and saying “Jolly Good” a lot. But it turned out to be a fast-paced and exciting sport. It’s played four-a-side, and the skill of these guys, maneuvering their horses and whacking a little ball backwards while galloping at full speed is nothing short of impressive. There was also a good amount of body-checking, which is even cooler when you consider that they’re horse bodies.
The crowd wasn’t as huge as I expected for a grand-sounding event like the “Cup of Nations”, but still enthusiastic. It helped that Argentina whupped the English, 13-8. Overall, we had a great time, and recommend that you take advantage should you have the chance to check out a match.
Going to a soccer match in a city filled to the brim with quality teams shouldn’t be a difficult task. But finding a ticket for one of the top two clubs, River Plate and Boca Juniors, can be a miserable affair. We’ve already written about our frustrating experience at a Boca Juniors match, and now continue with the much better time we had at San Lorenzo.
April 16th: San Lorenzo 1 – 1 Lanús
Informed by the experience of getting Boca tickets, I showed up to the San Lorenzo office on Avenida de Mayo plenty early and fully pessimistic. But I needn’t have worried. The line was small, and I soon found myself deep in conversation with the guy ahead of me. A lifelong San Lorenzo fan, he took me under his wing, explaining the history of the club and insisting we sit next to him and his son (whom he wanted me to speak English with). The tickets, in the seated section, nineteen rows up and directly in the middle of the field, were 90 pesos — exactly four times cheaper than what we had paid for the “popular” section in the Bombonera. Incredible.
Again, such a difference from Boca Juniors, where we had no taste of the pre-match atmosphere. There, we’d been part of a tourist group kept separate from “normal” fans, deposited in a garage for crap-tastic pizza and beer, then brought to our seats 90 minutes before the game even started.
We were blessedly on our own for the San Lorenzo match, and in fact didn’t see any other tourists the entire day. Arriving at the team’s Nuevo Gasómetro stadium in Flores, we went straight to the club restaurant which was packed with fans clad in red and blue — hoping to blend in, I bought a ball cap, and we sat down for a US-style meal of hamburgers and Coca-Cola. As is the case throughout Argentina, no alcohol is sold during or before games. Given the already-fiery state of the fans, that’s probably a good thing.
Bellies full, we entered the stadium and found our seats next to the guy I’d met the day before. His kid was way too shy to speak English with us, but we all had a good time. Sitting with real fans in the seated section (the platea) was sooooo much better than with a bunch of fellow tourists in the fan curve (the popular). At Boca, I’d spent the match listening to an Australian brag about running with the bulls in Pamplona. Here, we were with a porteño explaining the lyrics of the songs that the hinchadas were singing, introducing the various players (the team’s best man has the awesome nick-name of Pipi), and telling us about the stadium.
The Stadium & Atmosphere
If I had a complaint about our trip to San Lorenzo, it would be that the stadium is too new, and wasn’t filled to capacity. And it’s found in a nasty area of Buenos Aires. San Lorenzo plays in Flores, but identifies itself strongly with the more central neighborhood of Bodeo. The team’s old stadium, the Gasómetro, was located there until 1979 when it was forced to close by the military dictatorship. A true shame — the old stadium had a capacity of 75,000, tons of history and was known as “The Wembeley of Buenos Aires”. A grass-roots movement is currently advocating the club’s return to Bodeo, under the Law of Historical Reparations: an attempt to rectify some of the wrongs perpetrated upon the city’s people by the military junta.
We wish them luck! The club deserves to play in its own neighborhood. Although the Nuevo Gasómetro wasn’t completely full during the early afternoon game we attended, the fan curve definitely was. And it was every bit as wild as Boca Juniors’. From the Platea, we had a great view of the hinchadas, who filled the stadium with their songs, swaying, jumping, confetti and flags. One fat guy, who our friend referred to as El Gordo Ventilador danced and swung his shirt in a circle over his head for the whole 90 minutes. An impressive display of stamina — he features prominently in our video, below.
The game was great, as well, though the fans were disappointed to see San Lorenzo’s 1-0 lead disappear shortly before the end. Still, I’ll not soon forget the collective insanity which gripped the stadium after that first goal. Pipi has been struggling with injury this season, and only entered the game in the second half. Almost immediately upon touching the pitch, he assisted on the goal … the crowd went nuts. I looked over worriedly at our new friend, who’d ripped his shirt off and was screaming at the top of his lungs, red-faced.
… our trip to San Lorenzo was leagues more fun than Boca. This has mainly to do with the fact that we had booked one of the tourist-oriented packages for Boca Juniors, so it’s not an entirely fair comparison. If it had been possible to buy normal tickets to Boca, we would certainly have had a much better time — but the point is that it wasn’t possible.
At San Lorenzo, we were a real part of the scene. We paid about US $20 for incredible seats in the middle of the field and had the opportunity to meet lifelong fans. So many people only consider River Plate or Boca as options when they’re visiting Buenos Aires, but it definitely pays to broaden the selection. Besides San Lorenzo, you could go to a match at Huracán, whose art-deco stadium is supposed to be incredible, or Racing Club in Avellaneda, known for the fierce loyalty of its hinchada.
We're Jürgen and Mike, from Germany and the USA. Born wanderers, we love traveling and learning about new cultures, so we've decided to see the world... slowly. Always being tourists would get lame, but eternal newcomers? We can live with that. So, our plan is to move to an interesting new city, once every three months. About 91 days.