La Bombonera: The past, present, and future of the Chocolate Box

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Boca Junior’s stadium, affectionately known as La Bombonera, is one of the cathedrals of world football and in November 2015 was named as the best football stadium in the world by FourFourTwo magazine. If it isn’t on your bucket list, then it should be. However, you better hurry, as the future of La Bombonera is far from certain.

The stadium is based in the working class La Boca district of Buenos Aires, which despite the smell coming from the Riachuelo River, draws hordes of visitors each day. It is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, with a brilliant museum and tour, and dozens of souvenir shops lining the streets. The stadiums nickname, meaning ‘chocolate box’ in English, is derived from its appearance, as the stands are seemingly stacked on top of each other like in a box of chocolates. The club’s famous yellow and blue adorn the seating and the standing areas, and in most places the paint is peeling and the shades of colour differ. The unpolished rough-around-the-edges effect is part of the stadium’s allure as opposed to the sanitised identikit stadiums popping up across the world.

In May 2016 La Bombonera celebrated its 76th birthday. Building work began in February 1938 and two years later the stadium was inaugurated with a 2-0 friendly victory against fellow Buenos Aires side San Lorenzo in May 1940. This match was cut short after only 70 minutes due to the lack of floodlights. Two months later saw the competitive debut, and Boca were once again were 2-0 winners, this time against Newell’s Old Boys from Rosario.

It is often said that sport and politics shouldn’t mix, yet history is littered with high-profile cases. Mauricio Macri is another such example having straddled the spheres of sport and politics. Not only has he held arguably the two highest positions of office in Argentina- mayor of Buenos Aires, and now president of the nation- he also presided over Boca Juniors’ most trophy laden spell of their illustrious history. First elected in 1995, he won subsequent re-elections in both 1999 and 2003 and spent 12 years in total at the head of the club. During that time, Boca won six Argentine championships, four Copa Libertadores’ (South American equivalent of the Champions League), two Copa Sudamericana’s (Europa League equivalent), and most famously two Intercontinental Cups, the precursor to what is now the World Club Cup.

Shortly after Boca’s first intercontinental triumph, in December 2000, Macri officially renamed Boca’s stadium the Estadio Alberto J. Armando, although it would still be known affectionately as La Bombonera. Alberto Armando was elected Boca Juniors’ president in 1954, aged 44, and immediately ended the club’s ten year wait for the championship. However, he was forced to stand down less than a year after taking office due to other business interests.

In 1960 Armando met Francisco Macri, Mauricio’s father, and later that year returned to La Bombonera for what would be the beginning of a fruitful twenty-year relationship with the club. The stadium and training grounds were renovated, and the team excelled on the pitch, notching six national championships, one Copa Argentina, successive Copa Libertadores’ in 1977 and 1978 as well as an Intercontinental Cup victory over Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977. Following a failed land purchase during Armando’s tenure, the clubs finances deteriorated rapidly following his retirement in 1980 as did the on-pitch fortunes. He failed with a bid to become president for the third time in 1986, passing away two years later.

Football fans worldwide have unfortunately lost some stunning and historic stadiums over the last decade or two, as clubs seek to replace crumbling structures as well as construct new purpose-built stadiums that can keep up with the corporate path the modern game has taken. Sometimes the new stadium is for the better, sometimes the worse. Juventus’ new stadium, in Turin, is undoubtedly a more fan-friendly than the soulless Delle Alpi. Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is impressive to look at and extremely comfortable, but football nostalgists will yearn for the historic old Highbury stadium. Boca Juniors, like many clubs before them, are now at that crossroads and considering abandoning its legendary home altogether and build a brand-new structure.

Predictably the fan base is divided. Those in favour of remaining clearly have nostalgia in their hearts and want to remain at the home where so many memories and legends have been created. A change.org petition and a social media campaign using the hashtag De la Bombonera no nos vamos (we won’t leave La Bombonera) gathered pace, and even club idol Juan Román Riquelme weighed in on the issue, stating his preference for the club to remain in the iconic stadium.

On the other hand, fans of clubs who have overseen successful stadium moves themselves will point to the additional comfort and revenue that can be gleaned from such moves. Land close to the current stadium has already been purchased, and incumbent president Daniel Angelici has proposed that this be the site for the Nueva Bombonera. He also proposed keeping La Bombonera as a “living museum” and using it for shows and cultural events.

Angelici believes that the stadium is too small compared to the amount of people wishing to watch Boca, and the club are forced into a corner by new FIFA rules, due to come into effect over the next few years which state that clubs need to veer towards all-seater stadia. This would reduce Boca’s capacity from approximately 50,000 to 35,000, when seats are added to standing areas. Angelici says he is thinking of the long-term future of the club, and the next 50 years.

Former president Jorge Ameal, leader of a group known as Juntos Por Boca (Together for Boca) announced in June proposals for a project called Bombonera 360. This proposes knocking down the flat section of the stadium, which houses the dug outs and the VIP boxes, and building a new stand. This will enclose the stadium and create a bowl effect, hence the reference to 360 degrees, to which a roof will then be added. He claims that 80 per cent of residents who currently live within the two blocks adjacent to the stand have already either sold, or have agreed to sell, their land, paving the way for his project. This will allegedly take two-and-a-half years and cost $50 million to complete.

The run for the next presidential elections, scheduled for December 6, will mostly concern this matter. Football and politics will mix once again and one way or another, La Bombonera will never be the same again.

First published in The Football Pink Issue 13. Issue 19 out now!

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