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Football News: Rivalries 4: Boca Juniors v River Plate

Rivalries 4: Boca Juniors v River Plate

Rivalries No 4 - Boca Juniors v River Plate - Super Clasico


The rivalry between the two biggest clubs in Argentina is often said to be the fiercest in world football, according to the Observer: "Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kickabout." The rivalry is so fierce that 'clasico' was not deemed enough and instead it has been dubbed the 'Super Clasico'. With estimates putting their fan following at over 70% of the entire football fan population of Argentina, they are certainly amongst the best supported clubs in the world but that support manifests itself in a way that makes English hooliganism seem like friendly banter. It is pure hatred of a kind not often allowed to be expressed so openly. Often it is claimed that it is a working class v the rich and symbolic of that class struggle, but that is simply not true. Both sides are followed by members of all social classes and, anyway, the rich in Argentina follow polo not football. That is simply a false narrative to try and find some genuine reasoning for the rivalry which is not based on simply tribal hatred of a most primal kind. Sadly though, this is just about pure tribal hatred which has been allowed to run riot due to the power of the barra bravas (ultras). In Argentina the ultras are big business, earning money from selling tickets to the matches, club merchandise and being involved in organised crime. It also helps that the current president of the country, Mauricio Macri, was president of Boca Juniors for over 10 years.

In fact this highlights the biggest problem faced by the two clubs - the barra bravas are not just organised criminal gangs with a long reach, they are also extremely well connected politically. That makes them pretty much untouchable and leaves the clubs very much beholden to the hooligans. That makes it almost impossible to deal with them. Though, it must be said, they do help create an incredible atmosphere at the games. Unfortunately they also bring the violence, vitriol and nastiness but at a much worse level. Though it has always had a nasty edge with even the first official meeting of the two sides having what was referred to in a newspaper report at the time as "pugilistic scenes".

Despite the two sets of fans being from a large cross-section of society, the two teams have come to develop a playing identity based very much on the symbolic beliefs they are meant to embody. River fans expect their team to do more than just win. They expect to see their team put on a show based on the three Gs:
1. Gustar - to play well.
2. Ganar - to win.
3. Golear - to hammer/smash/score lots of goals.

Boca fans expect their team to work hard and never give in, as their former striker Martin Palermo says: "The secret is the mentality, you can't always play well, but you have to maintain the hunger to win and fight in every game."

The two sides were both initially founded in La Boca, the working class dockland area of Buenos Aires, with River being the first to appear in 1901. Their name came from the Anglicised name of the region, Rio de la Plata, which was stamped on crates imported from Britain at the time, as it was seen as exotic and exciting to have English in the name. That very same reason was why Boca chose to addend Juniors on to Boca when they were created in 1905. Though they took their colours from the flag of a Swedish ship which happened to be in port when they were founded.

It took just 3 years before the two faced off for the first time that we know of, as they played each other in a friendly on 2nd August 1908. At this time the big rivalry in Argentine football was between two teams based in Belgrano, Alumni and Belgrano AC, but in 1911 Alumni disbanded and Belgrano left the AFA. The following year Boca and River once more faced each other in an unofficial friendly before their first official meeting on 24th August 1913, when they faced each other at Racing Club Stadium and River Plate ran out 2-1 winners over Boca Juniors. Candido Garcia and Antonio Ameal Pereyra scored River's goals, which Marcos Mayer added Boca's striker in front of 7,000 spectators. It was played at the home of Racing in Avellaneda as Boca did not have a permanent home stadium of their own at the time.

In 1925 River left La Boca to house themselves in the affluent Nunez district, while Boca stayed and began to be associated with the working class elements of society, while River's new location saw them identified with the richer part. Boca became particularly closely associated with the local Italian immigrant community, which led to them gaining the nickname 'Xeneizes' (Genovese).

While River were moving home, Boca were away on their first-ever European tour, with, for some reason, a fan of the club travelling with the squad. He was even dubbed the 12th player.

The rivalry began to ramp up after Argentinian football turned professional in 1931, as River took on the mantle of the richer club spending big money on players, including the unheard of sum (for the time) of 30,000 pesos for winger Carlos Peucella. It gained them the nickname of 'Millionarios' (millionaires) but saw them finish just 3rd in the league table, as Boca lifted the league title. River then went on another spending spree, spending another 105,000 pesos in total, including a then world record fee of 35,000 pesos for Tigre striker Barnabe Ferrayra. It paid off as Ferrayra scored 42 goals and River won the 1932 title.

The following season Cataldo Spitale became the first player to move between the two teams as he signed for Boca from River. Despite the rivalry, there have been over 100 more players play for both sides since then.

Boca gave River a new nickname in 1966, after River threw away a 2-0 lead in the Libertadores Cup final to lose 4-2 to Uruguayan side Penarol. Ever since, they have called them 'gallinas' meaning chickens. Though that is nicer than the taunts from River fans, who refer to Boca fans as 'los chanchitos' (little pigs) and 'bosteros' (manure collector/handler) because the stadium's location in La Boca. The area was prone to flooding when the Sudestada (southeasterly wind) whipped up the Rio de la Plata and the excrement in the sewers would come back onto the streets of the barrio. River playmaker, and later coach, Angel Labruna would walk onto the pitch at La Bombonera (Boca's stadium) holding his nose.

It was not just Boca fans that taunted River, in their very next league match following the Libertadores defeat they faced Banfield. Banfield fans threw a chicken onto the pitch. Even the newspaper Cronica used the nickname as their basis for a headline after Boca won the next Super Clasico at River's El Monumental stadium. The headline read: "This chicken run is closed for lack of eggs." The suggestion being that River lacked guts.

Sadly the rivalry led to the worst football disaster ever to happen in Argentina when 71 Boca fans were killed and over 150 injured in a crush at Gate 12 of River's El Monumental stadium. The majority that died were teenagers and young adults with an average age of 19 as fans tried to leave via the gate only to find the door blocked. After a 3 year inquiry the government investigation found no one guilty. River fans claimed the crush was caused by Boca fans lighting River flags on fire causing a stampede. Boca fans claimed the River fans attempted to enter the Boca section and then stampeded to escape. Former River president William Kent blamed the police, stating that they waded in to attack Boca fans after urine was thrown over them. Some witnesses claimed that the turnstiles to the exit were blocked by an iron pole. Whatever the actual reason/s, the events of 23 June 1968 left an indelible mark on Argentine football. Even the stadium no longer ever uses numbers for the gates, instead marking them by letter.

Even those sad events could not dampen the rivalry and within two years Boca's main ultras group was founded. They are called La 12 after the '12th player' that went on tour with the team back in 1925. River's version are known as 'Los Borrachos del Tablon' (the drunks of the stadium) and both groups earn a lucrative income selling club merchandise, parking, tickets and sometimes even percentages of transfer fees and player wages. They are also involved in extreme violence, both football-related and in general criminal activities.

Oscar Ruggeri is an example of someone who suffered due to the rivalry after transferring to Boca from River in 1985. He said: "It's not easy I can tell you. One side looks on you as a traitor and the other doesn't really trust you. You need time to adapt and a lot of character to win people over." He forgot to mention that you also have to expect retribution from both former teammates, such as Roberto Passucci who fouled him with a vicious knee-high lunge, and fans of the former team, who went as far as to set fire to his house.

You also have to be ready for your every comment to be taken and used against you and the team, such as when Boca forward Diego Latorre made remarks in the 1990s which led to his team gaining the nickname 'The Cabaret'. It was felt their players were just looking for the limelight.

The rivalry between the two sets of ultras is more akin to gang warfare than fan groups. It is taken to such extreme that in 1994 the leader of La 12, Jose Barrita, was sent to jail for the murder of 2 River fans. He is replaced by Rafael di Zeo, who also gets imprisoned for violent crime, though for just 56 days, and on his return is feted by the local press like a celebrity on his return to La Bombonera, Boca's stadium.

Since then the rivalry has only grown as the pair, who are Argentina's most successful clubs, are involved in numerous fierce meetings and often violent encounters. Boca eliminated River from the Copa Libertadores in 2000 and 2004 and won the league title in 2000, 2001 and 2003, which cranked up the tension to a new level.

During the 2010 Clausura, the Superclasico in La Bombonera had to be suspended due to heavy rains. The pitch was practically flooded, but referee Hector Baldassi decided to play, no doubt fearing what would happen if he called it off while the stands were full. The ball repeatedly bogged down on the waterlogged pitch and it became the first match between the two to be suspended. It was restarted 4 days later with 2 halves of 41 minutes each.

In June 2011 the unthinkable happened when River were relegated for the first time ever, but even having time apart did not lessen the antipathy between the two sets of fans. In fact it was cranked up to new levels after Boca fans held a celebratory funeral procession, lining the streets hoisting papier mache coffins in River's colours while singing "up and down, up and down, just like a lift". River returned to the top flight immediately and then started to gain some measure of revenge by eliminating Boca from the 2014 Copa Sudamericana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 2017 Supercopa Argentina and 2018 Copa Libertadores and winning those trophies too, to rub salt into the wound. On their return to the top flight, two River fans floated a giant inflatable pig painted in Boca's colours over the pitch during the Super Clasico.

In May 2013 the Super Clasico at La Bombonera has to be halted in the second half after fans light smoke bombs, set off flares, throw objects on to the pitch and try to climb the barbed wire topped steel fence which separates the crowd from the pitch. It takes riot police to intervene and stop the fans making it onto the pitch, and they are also needed to escort River manager Ramon Diaz off the pitch after he is sent off. Due to the constant violence in the stands, throughout Argentine football but particularly in the Boca-River matches, the government bans all away fans from stadiums. A ban which still stands but has done little to help curb the problems of hooliganism they are suffering under.

In fact the problems seem to be getting worse, with a 2015 Copa Libertadores match between the two abandoned after Boca fans attack the River players with pepper spray at half-time as the players returned to the pitch. Understandably River players refused to continue the game and, with River 1-0 up, the match is abandoned and River are awarded qualification.

Even the players get caught up in the moment at times, such as the 2016 preseason 'friendly' between the two sides, which turned into a mass brawl and 5 players were sent off. But all of these moments led up to the one which created the most famous moment and brought the rivalry to the attention of the general public around the world. It was also the biggest game the two sides had ever contested, the 2018 Copa Libertadores final, the last time it was played as a two-legged home and away match. Ever after it would be a one-off game played in a stadium agreed before the season began, similar to the way UEFA tournaments are handled. The first leg had taken place at Boca's La Bombonera and was a 2-2 draw, setting up the second leg at El Monumental as a winner-takes-all final game.

Tensions were so heightened between fans that one argument between a man and his brother-in-law over who would win ended with the brother-in-law burning the house down! On the Thursday evening before the game, Boca held an open training session in their stadium and so many fans turned up that the stadium capacity was massively exceeded and the city council shut the doors to stop anyone else getting in. Thousands were left waiting outside. The noise and atmosphere was as loud and raucous as a match and, even after the players left, the fans stayed and were making more noise than ever. This was just a training session!

On the day itself, the bus carrying Boca's players to El Monumental found that the police had not done their usual job and had failed to close off the streets that the bus had to pass through to get to the stadium. As they turned down Monroe Street, well known for being packed with River fans on game days, the bus was attacked. The bus driver later said: "When we got past the roundabout, it felt like an army was waiting for us. For me, we were set up. We were going to a football game not war." The bus was pelted with bottles and rocks, shattering the windows and sending glass shrapnel flying around the inside of the bus. Club captain Pablo Perez was hit in the eye by some of the glass. Riot police finally stepped in and fired pepper spray into the crowd. With the bus having no windows left, the gas filled the bus and the driver fainted, leaving the club's vice-president to take the wheel. Eventually the bus managed to reach safety and the players emerged from it visibly distressed, coughing and red-faced and Perez was taken to hospital, later returning with a bandaged eye.

Outside the ground, fans with no tickets were fighting a running battle with security, barricades were rushed and doors were kicked down with flying kicks allowing a crowd to rush in. Another group of fans pelted riot police with rocks, who replied with rubber bullets and tear gas. Then, in the middle of the mayhem, a police officer named Julio Apriles walked alone into no man's land wearing no armour and carrying no weapons. The shock made everyone stop and he was able to talk the fans into calming down, while his wife and daughter sat at home watching it all on live TV.

Boca's players petitioned to have the game postponed but CONMEBOL told them they had to play. FIFA, with their president Gianni Infantino there to watch the game, also applied pressure on Boca to play the match. Fox Sports, who had the broadcast rights, and the Argentine government stepped in to increase the pressure on Boca. The two players who were taken to hospital, with Gonzalo Lamardo joining Perez there for treatment, were 'assessed' by CONMEBOL's doctors, who said they found nothing to justify cancelling the match. Fans were then admitted to the stadium.

A protest was launched by Boca and River officials accepted that the game should be called off, but CONMEBOL refused to budge and instead delayed the kick-off. With Boca refusing to play, the kick-off was delayed a second time. Boca released pictures of Perez with his eye bandaged and their starman, former Manchester City, Manchester United and West Ham United striker Carlos Tevez went on TV to tell the country that they were being forced to play the game: "River has always done whatever they wanted. If this happened in Boca, the cup would already be River's." A third delay was called before, finally, CONMEBOL relented and rescheduled the game for the following day. Later that evening they decided to postpone it indefinitely until they could meet at their HQ in Paraguay and decide what to do about the game. Meanwhile Boca's contingent were kept behind at the stadium for hours until it was finally safe for them to leave. The game was eventually played in Spain, where River ran out 3-1 winners at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

Even this year, in May, a melee in stoppage time resulted in 7 red cards, as the violent rivalry between the two shows no signs of abating. It came about after a 93rd minute penalty winner was scored by River forward Miguel Borja which sparked wild celebrations. Former Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero took exception to the celebrations and raced over to confront the River players, sparking a brawl which saw both benches emptied as players and staff got involved in the fight. River players Agustin Palavecino, Ezequiel Ignacio Centurion and Elias Gomez were sent off, as were Boca players Miguel Merentiel, Ezequiel Fernandez and Nicolas Valentini. The seventh red was shown to Boca's manager Jorge Almiron. Somehow Romero escaped! The game needed 19 minutes of stoppage time to complete it due to the brawl.

There are many more such incidents throughout history, and little moments such as Juan Roman Riquelme, the former Boca player (who actually played for a year for Boca without wages in 2009) frequently pictured holding signs reading "bosteros". Tevez's chicken celebration after scoring sparked violence in the stands and he was sent off for it. River's Matias Almeyda was once charged with assault and inciting violence for kissing the badge in front of the Boca fans! Not that it takes much for the fans to react violently, which is why both stadiums have firehoses on their roof to extinguish fireworks that get out of hand and employ firemen to run around the inside of the stadium and hose down fans trying to climb over the fences to get onto the pitch.

The rivalry is so fierce that even Coca-Cola were forced to change their usual colours when advertising at La Bombonera. Their usual red and white branding is River's colours, so the red backdrop was swapped for black to display at Boca. It is quite probably the fiercest rivalry in football, a showcase for all that is bad and good about football supporters. The odd thing is that, despite all the claims of it being one set of society against another, the two sets of fans are essentially two sides of the same coin. They are from the same city, the same subsections of society and the only difference between them is the team they support, yet they loath each other with a passion that has very little equal.


For the previous Rivalries article onJohn McEnroe v Bjorn Borg click HERE

Requested by Livebird31

Written by Tris Burke October 16 2023 05:33:42