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Boca vs. River: the culture of soccer in Argentina

Imagine the Red Sox and the Yankees in the same city.

But being a passionate soccer fan in Argentina can be complicated. Inside the bowels of La Bombonera, I met Alejandro Moniatowitz, one of the stadium announcers. He’s the voice of the stadium, but he’s not a fan of Boca. “Shhh,” he tells me quietly feigning mortal danger. “I’m a River fan!”

In fact there are lots of River fans who work at La Bombonera, even some Boca players are rumored to be River fans. Work is work, but "futbol" is a lifelong allegiance.

Clearly I had to go check out the other team for myself. River’s stadium, El Monumental, is far from the Boca neighborhood now. It’s across town in the upscale neighborhood of Nunez. Argentina’s national team trains and plays all its games here.

But people at River’s stadium weren’t too interested in talking about soccer. “As you can see this is a social club, it’s not just a football club,” my guide Dario Santilli tells me. It's true. At River, most fans are also club members, with access to all the facilities. It’s nine in the evening and the inner circle of the stadium is packed with people waving and giving each other kisses, but there’s no game on.

Behind every door at El Monumental, there was something different: volleyball, basketball, tae kwon do, and tango. There’s bowling, water polo, ping-pong and roller-skating. Not to mention the movie theater, the hair salon, the bank and the schools — both a high school and a university.

Santilli tells me that club soccer at River is important, but the community matters more. They want their players to do well but they have no problem selling them to European teams. “That’s how we keep all this running. People can come here and do all this for free.”

Club official German Negro says that's the big difference between River and Boca. “Boca is a good soccer team, but that's all. We have a soccer team and more. We have an institution.” An institution that they’re eager to cultivate. After my tour they scuttled me over to membership services, but I wasn’t ready to commit yet.

I just didn’t feel right about making a decision about whom to root for without going to an actual game.

So I went to see the two teams play the Superclassico. It’s the game in Argentina. Unfortunately, it got rained out. But the Boca fans stayed for another three hours chanting.

These fans are called, La Doce, or the “12th players.” They’re so loud and so passionate that they actually consider themselves to be an extra player in the game itself.

“You’re only here once in this life,” said Oscar Laudonio, the mascot of La Doce, “and you have to live it.” And that's what it boils down to when it comes to picking a soccer team in Argentina.

You have to choose your passion and live it: Live for the moment Boca? Or live for the legacy River?

The author Sacheri is still waiting for my verdict. But I simply can’t imagine life without a healthy mix of both. I ask him if there’s a way to be independent.

At this, the soccer philosopher grins. He's been plotting all along. He wants me to root for his team — Independiente. “The name is beautiful and you think about freedom,” he tells me making his pitch.

I admit, it’s worth thinking about. Boca Juniors and River Plate both played terrible last season.