Imagine it: It's Wednesday night. 11:17 PM. Estadio Alberto J. Armando. La Bombonera. 'The Chocolate Box'. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Copa Libertadores semi-final, second leg.
Mauro Zárate has just scooped the ball over the Cerro Porteño keeper after a magistral Wanchope Ábila through-ball in the 92nd minute. Mauro’s put Boca ahead and sent them to their second consecutive Libertadores final. It’s madness. Pure ecstasy echoing as far the Belgrano neighbourhood. This is their obsession. There’s a human avalanche happening on the northern end inhabited by La 12, the club’s barra brava. Bodies piling on each other as the front row climb up La Bombonera’s tall, rusty wire fences.
Everywhere else a sea of waving limbs makes it feel like the ground going to fall to the ground. Half of Buenos Aires sings a never-ending GOOOOOOOOOOOL as children, men, and women cry tears of joy for the club that defines their existence. Lots and lots of women, actually. Of all ages. But just two colours unite all La Boca ladies: gold and blue. As Pancho Monti, a Buenos Aires-based photographer, puts it: these colours are a uniform for their passion.
We sat down with Pancho to talk about his latest project, Bomboneras, a celebration of women’s love for Boca Juniors, capturing photographs of eighty different women wearing the same stunning retro Boca shirt. Pancho talks about the club, the neighbourhood, his childhood as a Boca fan, and why Bomboneras is so important to him and Argentinian football culture.
MUNDIAL: How long have you followed Boca?
Pancho: I’ve been a Boca fan ever since I was born, basically, because my dad was a really big Boca supporter. I do have to say though that I was even more fanatical about Boca as a child. Back then it really was like an obsession. Some teachers would even write “Come on, Boca!” on my homework because they knew how fanatical I was. As you grow up, you start caring a bit more about other things.
That’s true. Maybe football starts to become a secondary thing, unfortunately...
Exactly, but I’m still very much tied to Boca. I’m 32 now, and even though I’m older, I’ll never stop following the club. I think a football club is the only love you’ll have for your entire life. I’ve always been a Boca fan and definitely will never stop being one no matter what.
What does Boca mean to you?
Boca is difficult to explain. It’s passion, basically. It will be with your entire life. The players don’t really matter in the end; they change year in year out. I do love football, but Boca is something beyond that; it’s pure passion and love. Those are the best words to describe what I feel. I try to never miss a match, go the stadium whenever I can, keep up to date with the club’s news...
That does sound like true passion.
It really is. My three greatest passions are photography, New York City, and Boca Juniors. They’re the things I enjoy most in the world. But, really, there is nothing like Boca.
So you still go to the Bombonera?
Yes, of course! The truth is that it’s very difficult to visit the Bombonera without a season ticket. It’s always full. But when I get an invitation I will always go, I don’t like to miss Boca games.
You’ve told me about what Boca means to you, but is that the same for the people of Buenos Aires in general? Would you consider the Club as part of the city’s culture?
Even people that don’t necessarily like football see Boca as an icon of the city. The Bombonera is the Caminito quarter of La Boca, a very touristy but working-class neighbourhood. It’s a very mystical club. For example, River Plate is in a much better off neighbourhood.
Sounds like two different worlds.
That’s because they kind of are. Boca is in a relatively shady part of town so you might feel a bit unsafe, but when you suddenly see that beautiful stadium, any worry goes away. I think that’s why people value the club so much. Our crosstown rivals despise us, though, because we’ve won more trophies than anyone. There’s a famous phrase of Boca’s barra brava. You know what a barra is?
Sure, La 12 in Boca’s case, the fans behind the goal.
Exactly. They have a saying that goes: “We never made friendships.”
Isn’t there a banner that says something like “Since we’re not the only ones, we decided to be the best ones?”
[Laughs] Yeah, that one too! That’s because there are a lot of fan bases that are allied in a way, but Boca has no friends. Boca will always just be Boca and nobody else.
Let’s talk a bit about Bomboneras. What made you want to start the project?
Well, I started working on it since 2014/15. I would go to the Bombonera quite often, and I noticed something that happens all around the world: the stadium is filled with women supporters, but somehow the media only shows the male supporters. I felt that nobody realised or understood women’s passion for football. They yell as much as men do, they cry as much as men do, they suffer as much as men do, they go watch their teams every Sunday. There are so many women at the Bombonera. I wanted to reflect that, in a way. It all began with a shirt I had from my childhood: an old one from the 90’s.
It is a really nice shirt, that.
I had it stored in a box at my house, and when I found it, I just got filled with nostalgia. I couldn’t believe I would use this shirt as a child. Then I just thought, I’ll start giving it to different xeneize women, Boca supporters. Of course, that shirt would fit them all differently, but the feeling and passion would be the same. It didn’t matter if it was tight or loose; the important thing was the shirt that united them all. I started taking the pictures wanting to show that women are just as passionate as men are.
I love that. You’ve already told me why that shirt, in particular, means so much to you, so can you tell me about what the general Boca shirt means to all its fans?
The shirt is the symbol of Boca. There are others, of course, like the badge, the Bombonera, the legendary players. But the shirt is different: it doesn’t matter what else is on it—whether it has Parmalat or Nike or adidas or whatever written on it—just the colours matter. When you go to a Boca match, everyone is wearing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, raining or windy; it’s like a tattoo, always there. Everyone identifies with it, without minding if it’s old, broken, or anything. What matters the most are the colours on that shirt. Nothing else.
Colours must be an important thing to Argentinian fans.
Yeah, totally. Like nowhere else in the world, I think.
Let’s move on to your career in general. Were you a photographer before this project?
Yes, that’s my profession. I’ve been published on several magazines and I’ve photographed music recitals, worked with small and large brands... I do a bit of everything. This project was done for the love of art, let’s say. I had been taking a lot of portraits, particularly of women, for clothing brands, so it was just an easy transition to this project.
How easy is it to get people to agree to have their picture taken and maybe the whole process behind finding the right people to photograph? Any difficulties?
It wasn’t too difficult actually; everyone I photographed gave me permission to. Of course, two or three people did kindly refuse, but most of the pictures were arranged beforehand. I would ask people in the stadium, give them my email or number to get in touch and arrange a shoot. I’d also create announcements on the internet asking Boca fans of particular ages to participate. There are also pictures of friends of mine, friends of friends, strangers—a bit of everything.
What would you say is your favourite picture in Bomboneras?
There was a lady called Lilita, who at the time was 91-years-old, maybe you know which one I’m talking about?
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Durante los 4 años que hice fotos para mi libro 'Bomboneras', muchas noches soñaba con que el club de mi vida me llame algún día para hacer una muestra en la bombonera. Cuando digo soñar, es literalmente soñar. Un mes atrás, cuando Boca me convocó para hacer una muestra de fotos, sentí felicidad en el cerebro y cosquillas en el corazón. Fue espectacular volver a fotear y ampliar el proyecto: ahora a todas las empleadas del club, a las gladiadoras y a nuevas hinchas. Ayer las socias disfrutaron la exhibición en el club y ¡fue inolvidable para mi! Mañana sábado habrá más fotos en las inmediaciones del estadio. Gracias @bocajrsoficial & Equipo, gracias @evelinacabrera23 , y gracias a ustedes que apoyan todo esto. 💛💖💙🇸🇪🤘🏻👅🤩!
Yeah, I know the one. It's probably the best one for me, too.
I love that she’s carrying her walking stick in one hand and a Rolling Stoles soda in the other all while putting her tongue out. This one is my favourite for sure probably because it’s the most authentic to our culture. Lilita shows a very rebellious attitude and unites Boca with the Rolling Stones, two very important things for me. Interestingly, there’s a big connection between Argentinian football and rock ‘n’ roll. The average football fan here also likes to listen to rock. It’s not always true, but it is a big thing in our culture.
Do you think you’ll carry on with this project?
I did this project entirely solo, managing myself and my own expenses simply for the love of Boca Juniors. The club did eventually find out about the book and loved it so much that just last week I prepared an exhibition right in the Bombonera. It was really good.
No way! That must have been a dream for you to be able to that at your club’s ground.
A total dream. We’d been in touch since February; they called me over and commissioned more photos of all the female employees at the club, including the women’s team, the Gladiadoras. I took new pictures, and it was then all exhibited right on the pitch and in the concourses. They exhibited both my older and commissioned pictures in an amazing event. They designed a Boca badge with “Bomboneras” written across it and even displayed a commemorative video for the work. It was incredible.
I can imagine. You probably met some important people at the club, so you'll probably be working again with them soon, right?
I really hope so! I did meet a lot of people, actually. I got really close to the Boca team, and I would love to keep working with them in the future. Showing my photos in the Bombonera is the most I could aspire to, as a photographer and as a Boca supporter. I still can’t believe it.
So your work won’t stop here, I hope.
I’m going to keep taking pictures of supporters around the city until I get tired. So hopefully never. I’m really humbled that my project is crossing borders, not only staying in Buenos Aires. It’s a really amazing feeling.
Well, Boca are definitely the most recognisable South American club among European fans.
That’s so good to hear. Let me tell you, watching a Libertadores match or a Superclásico in the Bombonera is one of the most spectacular things you can witness in your life. It’s like going to watch the Stones. They say that the only time the Bombonera is louder than when Boca scores is if the other team scores. Because we’ll just sing louder.