Boca Juniors football club from Buenos Aires are renowned for having some of the most passionate supporters in the world. Every other Sunday during the season, the concrete stands of Boca’s La Bombanera stadium reverberate in a riot of noise and colour.
However the passion of their fans has transcended the stadium, and some are taking their affection to the grave in one final act of support. In a joint venture between the club, a local funeral parlour and cemetery, supporters can be buried in coffins decorated in Boca’s blue and yellow colours in a specially designated Boca plot at Parque Iraola cemetery.
As a River Plate fan, I personally wouldn’t be seen dead in a Boca coffin, but I visited funeral director, Dario D’Auría at his San Justo funeral parlour to find out more about the scheme.
He explained that it started in March 2006, after the club granted permission for their crest and club colours to be used on the coffins in exchange for a commission on each funeral sold. The coffins are sold as part of a package which includes interment in the Boca Juniors section of Parque Iraola cemetery. Prices vary between US$550 and US$800 depending on the style of coffin, which range from plain blue to more elaborate ones in yellow and blue with the club crest.
Dario says that, on average, two Boca funeral packages a month are sold. I asked him what sort of people were buying them, he said: “Two types, firstly are the families of the recently departed, who take comfort in seeing their loved ones buried in the colours they were so passionate about; and then those fans who want to plan the funeral that they want, emphasising their support for Boca.”
When I asked him if he envisaged selling coffins in other clubs’ colours, Dario gave a wry smile and said: “No, I come from three generations of Boca fans, it would be very difficult.”
Parque Iraola cemetery, 33km south of Buenos Aires, is the only one in the world to have section dedicated to fans of one club. Sector Boca Juniors is a green haven of tranquillity, a far cry from the tumultuous Bombanera, tastefully bordered with flowerbeds in yellow copetes and blue salvias.
Commercial Manager, María Cristina Diaz told me that there are 3,000 plots available to supporters in Sector Boca Juniors, in an area measuring one hectare. Each one costing between $3,000 and $12,000 depending on their place in the cemetery, places nearest the players’ section being most sought after.
The Sector Boca Juniors opened on 7th September 2006, six months after Boca president, Mauricio Macri, gave the go ahead for the project. María says that most of the plots sold have been to supporters wanting to reserve their place for the future.
In addition to the fans’ section, a further 300 plots have been set aside for players and club officials, who will be buried free of charge. The first players to be buried there were Juan Estrada, who played in goal for Boca between 1938 and 1943, and Julio Musimessi, another goalkeeper who served the club from 1952 to 1959. They were both interred in a special ceremony at the sector’s opening.
Also visiting the cemetery was former Boca legend, Alfredo Graciani, who was arranging his own plot in the section. A veteran of 250 games for Boca Juniors, he also had successful spells playing in Switzerland with Lugano and the US with Miami. However, he said: “I enjoyed my career most at Boca, because of the passion of the fans and the incredible atmosphere in the stadium.”
As well as taking their support into the afterlife, Boca fans have also sought to immortalise one of their heroes, Diego Maradona. Four of them from Mar del Plata, Julián Chavero, Leandro Quintanilla, Gastón Amato and Lionel Díaz, commissioned a statue of the Boca icon to be built by Elizabeth Eichhorn. They collected $9,000 from supporters all over the world to pay for it. The monument, built of cement covered with bronze which stands 3m tall and weighs 300kg, depicts Maradona hand on heart before his greatest moment: leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986.
The statue was inaugurated as the latest exhibit in the Boca Juniors museum on 26th November 2006, and was unveiled by the great man himself. Maradona said: “As it is my first statue, it will always be the best.” He added: “I’m shocked and happy because now my children can see a symbol of what their father did.”
In his first spell at the club in 1981 he led Boca Juniors to a first Argentine championship in five years. He scored 28 goals in 36 games for the club he supported as a boy, before moving to Spanish giants Barcelona for a world record US$8.2m fee in 1982. Maradona has been revered by Boca fans ever since and 50,000 turned up to his farewell match at La Bombanera in November 2001.