My favorite sports venue? Whenever I want to explain why it's La Bombonera, the Buenos Aires home of Boca Juniors, I simply refer
I started attending games at La Bombonera -- "the chocolate box," a crumbling concrete hulk in La Boca, the city's hardscrabble Italian quarter -- in the summer of 1994. Somehow I'd convinced my college to foot the bill for a summer of travel studying the culture of
"Why don't you try Boca Juniors?" said
That summer a 20-year-old college student fell in love -- with a stadium. I loved standing on the terraces, singing songs and riding like a crowd-surfer in the wave of fans who rushed the fence behind the goal whenever Boca scored. I loved guzzling
These days, unfortunately, I'm too old for the Bombonera cheap-seat experience. When my wife joined me for a game there in 1999 we got box seats instead. (I wouldn't advise taking a lady into the terraces.) And by the time I returned with Simon for Maradona's testimonial match in November 2001, the country was enduring an economic meltdown. Crime was at an all-time high, and not even Quique the Butcher was traveling to games anymore.
"If you're going to spend some time with the fans here, Americano," he said one day at his shop in La Boca, "you'll need this." Then he stuck a loaded pistol in my shorts.
It was hard to tell if he was joking. And so, instead of recreating my college-aged glory days, I sat in the press tribune for Maradona's farewell. (It was the only time I've ever filled out a credential application that requested my blood type.) Down below, Simon captured the frenzy in all its glory: the 50,000 die-hards chanting
A few minutes after he shot this photograph, Simon had to vacate his position when security officials warned him the fence was about to come down. Thankfully it didn't, but the day was one more reminder of what makes La Bombonera unique. Between us, Simon and I have been to some of the world's great rivalry games: Celtic-Rangers, Real Madrid-Barcelona, Holland-Germany, U.S.-Mexico.
But we've never witnessed a scene like the one at the old Chocolate Box.