As the Boca Juniors team bus raced through the closed streets of Buenos Aires under a police escort fit for a president towards El Monumental to take on their fierce rivals River Plate, they were attacked.
Their coach was pelted with missiles of all kinds. Two Boca players had to visit hospital while many others nursed their wounds and washed the tear gas out of their eyes in the safety of the empty stadium. Only the quick thinking of a club vice-president, who grabbed the steering wheel after the driver lost consciousness, prevented this incident from being even more serious than it was.
This was the Copa Libertadores final that the whole footballing world was eagerly anticipating. The scenes that caused the game to be postponed were abhorrent, but not surprising. Previous matches have been marred by crowd trouble in a country that does not even permit away fans to go to stadiums as its problem with hooliganism is so severe.
Football is a funny old game. Its tribalism and the irrational hatred that it stirs make even the most sane, quiet people say and do the most bizarre things. The cauldron of a stadium offers what many fans view as a safe house, a place where they can do what they want without any repercussions. It is a release of all tensions and anger that emanate from elsewhere. The screaming, the relief, the anger, the tension, the joy; all these things are what make football the spectacle it is.
Despite all the weird and wonderful things that happen in a football stadium, imagine the level of hatred that would have to be swirling inside you to be so angry that you would hurl a brick through a window of a speeding bus, or attack the opposition players with tear gas. It is barbaric and behaviour that is worthy of a lengthy prison sentence. As Gabriel Batistuta, who played for both sides, tweeted this was “another lost opportunity in front of the whole world that was watching… shameful.”
This match is supposed to be one of the greatest in world football but it cannot be considered so while its rivalry is so intertwined with mindless violence and the fear that it could all descend into anarchy at any moment. In 2016 five players were sent off in a so-called ‘friendly’ between the two while this weekend a video went round social media of a woman strapping a flare to a child to smuggle it into the stadium.
Richard Padula from the BBC wrote that “this was the final that nobody wanted, a rivalry too intense for a match this big”. He has been unfortunately proven right.
CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American football, meets today (Tuesday) to decide what happens with the rescheduling of the second leg of the final. Whatever they agree, the damage has already been done. No one will win this championship in a fair way. Both sides have already lost in this ugly derby.