A Clásico is a match between two rival teams in the world of football and there are plenty of them in el mundo hispano-hablante. Clásicos De Futbol is a monthly series that delves into the rivalry of a different set of teams. This month, we head to Bolivia to take a look at the rivalry between Club Bolívar (La Academia del Fútbol Boliviano) and Club The Strongest (Tigre de Achumani).
Like many other teams featured in this column, the origins of both teams began rather humbly. Club The Strongest was born from the frustration of seeing various teams pop up in La Paz beginning in 1899 only to dissolve years later – most notably Bolivian Rangers FC and their rivals The Thunders FC. A group of kids from La Paz convened on April 8, 1908 to form their own football club, which (they hoped) would be the strongest of all teams in La Paz and actually survive for more than two weeks (spoiler alert: they did).
Club Bolivar’s humble beginnings date back to April 12th, 1925 when, again, a group of kids in La Paz decided to take their hobby more seriously by forming a football club that also reflected their other ambitions and interests. Thus Atlético Bolívar Literario Musical was born. They eventually realized how hella nerdy that name sounded and changed it to Club Atlético Bolívar.
Like all great rivalries, this one stems from two teams in the same city who continually try to outdo each other.
Let’s begin with Club The Strongest. The team is the oldest team in Bolivia’s history and has never been relegated to second division in its 105-year existence. The team, thanks to its age but also thanks to its being pretty badass, has an extensive list of “firsts” – including first to win the championship in the Liga de Fútbol Profesional Boliviano, first to win a match abroad, first multiple champion and is the only hexacampeon in the league (six consecutive league title wins).
Their rivals in Club Bolívar have their set of records and trophies as well, because any team that names itself after the Great Liberator better step up. The team is the most successful in the league with 26 appearances in the league final with 18 titles, is one of three Bolivian teams to reach the semifinals of Copa Libertadores and has nearly 30 appearances in said tournament.
The atmosphere at games isn’t as, uhm, deadly as in other rivalry matches but it does get pretty heated. I’m going to have to borrow the “sin llorar” chant from the video below:
SIX DEGREES OF POLITICS & FOOTBALL
One of the founding players/members of The Thunders FC was José Luis Tejada Sorzano. Sorzano grew up to become President of Bolivia from December 1, 1934 to May 16, 1936. He was elected as the country’s V.P. in 1931 and was appointed to higher office by the military after they deposed then-President Daniel Domingo Salamanca.
Sorzano oversaw Bolivia during The Chaco War (La Guerra Del Chaco), which was fought between Bolivia and Paraguay for control of the Gran Chaco. It was believed that the region was rich in oil and both countries sought first dibs over the black gold. Naturally, white capitalists became involved and Royal Dutch Shell (headquartered in the Netherlands) backed Paraguay while J.D. Rockefeller’s U.S.-based Standard Oil company backed Bolivia.
During the Chaco War, many players and staff of football clubs enrolled in the military to fight for Bolivia but none with greater patriotism and fervor than Club The Strongest. The military even had a division composed primarily of players, staff, and even fans/members from Strongest. These “stronguistas,” led by José Rosendo Bullaín, fought in the greatest battle of the Chaco War where they fought and captured Paraguayan militias in the Cañada Esperanza over the course of 15 days.
Footballer Froilán Pinilla was awarded the Estrella De Hierro for his heroics in what came to be known as the Batalla de Cañada Strongest, making the club the only football team in the world to have a military battle named after them.
Standard Oil, by the way, was broken up into 33 different companies by the Supreme Court inn 1911 thanks to the Sherman Antitrust Act. Two of those micro-companies became Exxon and Mobil, which merged in 1999 as ExxonMobil (clever!). The company’s largest shareholder is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which funds a number of programs in Bolivia. Please spare us your Illuminati theories…