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 Argentina to take a look at the world famous rivalry: Club Atlético Boca Juniors (Xeneizes, La Mitad Más Uno) versus Club Atlético River Plate (Los Millonarios, La Banda, La Máquina).
The year was 1901 and the owners of football clubs Santa Rosa and La Rosales, both of La Boca in Buenos Aires, decided that a merger was in their best interest. One of the members took a stroll through the city’s district Dique 3 and noticed members of a construction crew playing football on their time off. The boxes they were working with were labeled River Plate, the English name of Río de la Plata. [Factoid: “plate” was also used as a translation for “plata” (silver) back then.]
Four years later, five Italian kids also from La Boca decided to start a football club because, well, what else where they gonna do? The group held its first meeting at founder Esteban Baglietto’s house. After a few hours, his father got hella annoyed with their shenanigans and kicked them out. The meeting was concluded at Plaza Solís where they decided to name the team after the area where they lived. Juniors was added to the name for a bit of flair.
The first meeting between these two teams based in La Boca is recorded on August 2nd, 1908 with Boca defeating River Plate 2 – 1. The first official superclásico, meaning the first game labeled as an actual rivalry, wasn’t until August 24th, 1913. River Plate humbled their opponents 2 – 1.
The rivalry grew out of both team’s location in working-class La Boca but intensified after 1925 when River Plate jumped ship to the more affluent Núñez in northern Buenos Aires – adding a class division between the sets of fans.
What makes this rivalry so intense and world famous isn’t just the amount of silverware nor the amount of talent (Diego Maradona played with Boca while Mario Kempes, who lends his voice to FIFA 13, was a legend in his own right with River Plate) between the two teams. It’s because every superclásico is a spectacle in and of itself. In fact, English paper The Observer cited the Argentinian superclásico as one of their “50 Sporting Things You Must Do Before You Die” in April 2004. It was number one!
As the documentary showed, each game between the two is like a wild carnival. What the video doesn’t show is how early the party starts before kickoff.
Check out River Plate fans traveling in style to River Plate’s stadium El Monumental:
WHEN FANATICISM GOES OVERBOARD
Unfortunately, there have been too many incidents where fanaticism proved fatal and not just at the superclásico.
The most famous incident occurred on June 23, 1968 at El Monumental. 71 fans died and another 150 were injured in a stampede at door 12. The events of the “Tragedia De La Puerta 12” are still unclear as of today, but three different narratives remain as a possibility: River fans arrived in the section and caused a stampede of Boca fans OR Boca fans lit River flags on fire causing their own fans to stampede OR the door to Puerta 12 was locked from outside, which some witnesses claimed.
In another incident two years ago, River Plate fans nearly tore down their own stadium. The reason? River had suffered through a disastrous couple of years which led to one the worst moments in its 100+ year history: its first-ever relegation into lower division Nacional B after losing to Belgrano on aggregate after a two-game tournament.
The video below shows what happened next. It’s 45 minutes of tears, players escaping via police escort, stadium chairs torn out and tossed out onto the field, fights between fans and police and more:
Boca fans didn’t seem too upset:
Argentina’s football league and both teams have taken a stronger stance denouncing violence in Argentinian football because of incidents such as this one:
Regardless, the rivalry is one of the most passionate, intense and exciting of all the Clásicos.