Great Argentinian soccer players throughout the world

By Leonardo Moran 16, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies
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Leo said his favorite Boca player is Tevez: "He’s like a machine. He’s relentless."

My family sits, wearing blue and gold garments, around the TV. We all watch intently from our roosts, and listen to the commentator’s voice. It sounds like a whistling kettle boiling on the stove, escalating as the players get closer to the goal. His voice gets louder and louder, picking up momentum, until in a feat of superhuman agility, a player kicks the ball toward the goal. A stadium with 60,000 people, and packed TV rooms across the globe, fall silent. The world stops breathing for a moment; inhaling, gathering energy that will explode in cheers. "Goooal!" the commentator shouts in a sustained pitch, and we all join in harmony. Waves of happiness and relief roar through my body, and the lingering ripples tingle my senses.

Watching a Boca game with my family is a cultural experience. There are the men, who know about soccer, making expert-sounding comments about what team traded who, and which team has a good chance of winning the cup. Then there are the women: My mom casts "voodoo spells" on the other team’s player as he prepares to kick a dangerous penalty shot, and my grandma makes insightful comments like "Didn’t that player get a haircut?" or "Look! That coach looks like Uncle Ricardo." They sip mate, a typical Argentine tea which is drunk from a gourd through a special straw, and nibble empanadas, a baked dough shell filled with meat.

The Boca tradition

Our family has enough color to make a movie called "My Big Fat Boca Game." The important part is that we’re celebrating together as a family and enjoying each other’s presence. It’s not all about winning, but it does help if our team, Club Atlético Boca Jrs (the Athletic Club of Boca Juniors), triumphs. And if they do lose, it’s OK because it’s the referee’s fault.

Boca is more than just a soccer team, it’s a tradition passed down through the generations. I, myself, was spoon-fed the word "Boca" as a baby; I was too little to know about soccer, but I knew that I was for Boca. The team gets its name from a beautiful Argentinean city on the "boca" (mouth) of the Rio de la Plata, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The city’s houses are painted in bright colors that bring the buildings to life and its people are humble and warm. I’ve never lived there, or seen the team play in person, but I grew up listening to them on the radio, and watching them on TV. Although a majority of Boca fans aren’t from that neighborhood they still proudly proclaim, "Yo soy de Boca" (I am from Boca).

Now that I play soccer at a competitive level, and watch more games than I used to, I have affirmed my belief that, as my cousin Diego would say, "Boca está en otro planeta" (Boca is on its own planet). The most recent example of why I love Boca was the final against Santos, a Brazilian team, earlier this year. The Copa Libertadores (Liberators Cup) championship was decided over two games. Boca won the first in an awesome game 2-0, but the second match was my confirmation to the Boca religion. It was played in Brazil, and this final had added importance because people still remember when the great Argentinian player, Maradona, and the great Brazilian, Pele, used to play for Boca and Santos. The stands were full of people, hoping for Santos to play it’s best.

Boca’s first goal was scored by Tevez, assisted by Bataglia in a beautiful pattern of lateral passing. 1-0. Then Alex, an enormous Santos player, took a long shot that found its way into the net. The game being tied, Santos began using desperate measures. And so the fouls began: shirts were grabbed, hair was pulled, elbows were thrown and shins were kicked. Yet Boca kept its cool, and Delgado caught the goalie off his guard, making a mid-field shot that gloriously rolled into the goal. Two goals later it was 4-1. Frustration led to more fouls from Santos, and in the added time at the end of the game, a deserved penalty was called. One of my favorite players, Schiave, a defender, took the penalty and scored. 5-1. Once again Santos was beaten, and Boca won the cup. Boca truly played on another level that day—they were on another planet.

Behind every great soccer team lies a great group of fans. Boca’s fans are so important, that they count as a twelfth player in addition to the regulation 11 players—"La doce" (The 12th). Although there are millions of soccer fans around the world, all with their own rituals, nobody can top Argentinians, especially the ones from Boca. There are enough chants to fill thousands of pages, and each time there is a game, more chants are spontaneously invented. Oftentimes, a group of friends will start singing a catchy rhyme, and within minutes, all the fans will join them in an almost rehearsed harmony. Yet the trademark of the Boca fans is stretching enormous flags over the bleachers. They cover entire sections of the stands, and if they impair the view of the people beneath, it’s OK because they have become part of the flag, making it come alive with movement. Being a Boca fan is also a cardiovascular activity. Everybody jumps up and down for extensive periods of time, sitting only when their muscles give way. It beats Tae Bo any day!

It’s funny how sometimes just belonging to "La doce" can lead to friendships and instant bonding that would normally not arise. On arrival at the airport to pick up my grandparents, we accidentally parked our car in a reserved spot. As we were coming back to the car with the baggage, I saw a parking enforcer about to give us a ticket. I said something in Spanish under my breath, and he recognized my accent as Argentinian, while I recognized a pin on his hat as the Boca emblem. We confirmed our belonging to the same "cuadra" (team), and rather than giving us a ticket, he gave us his e-mail address.

On the fateful day that Boca would play Santos for the Copa Libertadores, my mom had made plans to visit a friend of hers near Santa Barbara, and I had to go along. I was depressed because I knew I would never make it back in time to watch the game at home, and despite promises from my cousin to call with frequent game updates, I felt like less of a Boca fan. We arrived at the friend’s house and found out he didn’t have cable. In a desperate attempt to find out where I could watch the game, I asked if there was an Argentinian restaurant nearby. He said, "No, the only Argentinians in this whole city are myself and the lady across the street." The lady across the street?

My mom went outside and saw an older lady watering her garden, and approached her speaking Spanish. They instantly connected, and the crucial question was asked: "Do you have the Boca game on?" She answered yes, and cordially invited us, complete strangers, into her house to watch the game. She and her husband treated us like family, because after all, we were part of the Boca ring of trust. I hadn’t eaten in hours, but the game was much more important than my appetite; after all, there would only be one chance to see the game, and plenty of other opportunities to eat. Although I missed my family’s presence and my grandparents’ food, I felt almost in touch with them, and all of the Boca fans out there, through the TV, and through our team’s victory.

Being an Argentinian and a Boca fan is like belonging to a mafia. There are three levels of acceptance: The first is if you like soccer. If you play soccer, you must think like me, so you’re accepted by me. Secondly, if you like soccer and are from Argentina, we must think alike and we share a common language and culture. A friendship is sure to ensue. Thirdly, if you like soccer, are Argentinian and are from Boca, you get a hug and friendship is instantaneous. And that’s just the way it is.