Spring is in the air all around Argentina, and with that in mind clubs across the country are busy cleaning up their homes in preparation for some long-awaited visitors. After 18 long, quiet months, the moment has finally arrived: fans will flock back through stadium turnstiles from the start of October onwards, hopefully marking another step along the way of putting behind us the nightmare of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Boca Juniors are just one of the teams getting into the home improvement spirit. On Thursday the Xeneize released a video of the works involved in getting the Bombonera back into fighting shape, most of which seemingly involve the application of vats of blue and gold paint to corridors and stairwells. “The finishing touches to leave it all radiant for the reunion with fans,” Boca's accompanying message beamed. “The Bombonera is preparing to shine again. More works. More Bombonera. More Boca.”
Alas, over in Avellaneda returning Racing Club supporters may not yet be able to enjoy their side's flagship construction, a new external elevator which has been making slow vertical progress since February but appears doomed to remain unfinished for the first game back in the stands.
Just how much Boca, or Racing, or any other team also remains in doubt. Health minister Carla Vizzotti initially posited capacities of 50 per cent for each ground, mindful that while the situation in Argentina is far more encouraging than just a few short months ago – around 2,000 daily cases and less than 100 deaths, with almost half of the population fully vaccinated – we may not be fully out of the woods just yet, especially with Delta remaining an invisible yet frightening menace on the horizon. Many of the Liga Profesional's denizens (for decorum's sake let us not name any names) might have their work cut out to fill even that limited space, but the cries have already gone out to raise the limits before they have even come into place.
“The capacity should be at 100 percent with health precautions,” Boca president Jorge Amor Ameal opined this week, without suggesting what those precautions may be. “We all want 100 percent. We don't know how this will be regulated, nobody knows how this will go. I'm sure we will be told.” Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, meanwhile, given that their first home game will be none other than a Superclásico against Boca on October 3, River have kept their demands a little more moderate, asking only that 60 percent of the Monumental be opened in order to accommodate the 45,000 supporters who have guaranteed tickets to every game. Again, just exactly how the return will be managed, less than a week than this most daunting of organisational tests, is still rather unclear.
In truth the final percentage should be the least of clubs' concerns. Having a half-filled stadium on health grounds, after all, is utterly redundant if the majority of those supporters end up packed like sardines into the terraces behind the goal in exactly the same fashion as before the pandemic. Arranging a sensible distribution around the stands, as well as determining exactly who will be given priority for tickets – lifetime vitalicio members and those who kept up with dues throughout the pandemic would be a good place to start, while an initial restriction to vaccinated fans would be positive but probably impossible in the local context – is an essential but admittedly complex topic, perhaps explaining why most teams would rather just throw their doors open and admit one and all.
Once these teething pains are solved, however, the presence of fans back where they belong can only lift the game and provide blessed relief for all those of us who like nothing better than jumping around and making noise alongside thousands of others on a weekend afternoon. And while we are on the subject, why not go one step further and take the measure which would really confirm the return of normality. “Are we really such beasts,” new Security minister Aníbal Fernández mused, “that we cannot have away supporters? I think it can be done.” Now that would truly be a comeback worth celebrating after eight long years of lockout, and one worth pursuing for everyone involved in the national game.