Many people argue that there is no rivalry like that between River Plate and Boca Juniors. No football spectacle matches up to what Argentinean’s call ‘El Superclasico’. The rivalry is a story that can be traced back over 100 years.
River Plate, or Los Millonarios, were founded in 1901, while Boca Juniors, or Xeneize, were founded in 1905. Both teams originated from the same neighbourhood, La Boca and quickly became adversaries. The teams’ first derby was in 1913 and was won by Los Millonarios. Boca’s much-anticipated derby victory came a few years later, in 1918.
River Plate moved to the upscale neighbourhood, Núñez, in 1925. The move to the affluent district explains why River Plate fans are called Los Millonarios, which translates to ‘The Millionaires. On the other hand, Boca Juniors stayed in La Boca, and became the working class or people’s clubs, with a lot of supporters coming from Italian immigrant communities. Nowadays, people support the team that their grandparents or parents supported. It is something inherited and passed down from generation to generation. The team club you support is impregnated in your blood and the passion is in your genes.
In 2004, the English newspaper, The Observer, featured the Superclasico on a list of “50 things you must do before you die”. Another British publication, FourFourTwo, considered the Superclasico, the biggest derby in the world. The Daily Telegraph stated that the Superclasico is the “biggest rivalry in world football”, while the Daily Mirror, placed it as number one in the top 50 football derbies in the world. That should be enough to make you want to jump on the next flight out to Argentina to watch a Superclasico.
The Superclasico stands out and is noted by the passion of the fans. At every game, there are banners, screams, roars, chants, dances, fireworks, confetti and much more. The stadium shakes from the 90 minutes of constant chanting and singing of songs which are most likely aimed at rivals. These songs are taught to babies in cribs, just like one song states: “I’ll follow you from my crib to my tomb”.
Throughout the years, the rivalry has intensified. Boca Juniors and River Plate never stopped jostling for superiority in Argentina. Boca eliminated River from 2000 and 2004 Copa Libertadores, being named the champions in 2000, 2001 and 2003. In 2011, for the first time in their history, River Plate was relegated. Xeneize fan’s claim that “that stain will never be erased”. However, since River Plate gained promotion back to the top flight in 2012, they have eliminated Boca in the 2014 Copa Sudamericana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 2017 Supercopa Argentina, 2018 Copa Libertadores and 2019 Copa Libertadores. River Plate lifted trophies in almost all these occasions, the best victory (and best day of my life), being in 2018, which we will go into detail soon.
Unfortunately, with such a big rivalry, comes a lot of violence. To backtrack, in 1968, when Boca Juniors and River Plate were meeting for their 89th derby, the horrible “Puerta 12” disaster struck. The blocked gate number 12, in River Plate’s stadium, the Monumental, was locked. The people at the top of the stairs did not realize the door was locked and continued pushing their way down, crushing the people underneath them. It remains the largest football-related disaster in Argentina, where 74 people died and over 150 people were injured. Recriminations and accusations followed, with people blaming Boca fans and others blaming River fans. Some people also blamed the police. However, an official investigation failed to identify a responsible party.
Fifty years after the event, there is still ambiguity and anger towards the events that lead to this catastrophe. The violent history of the Superclasico sadly continued. Five years ago, what some River Plate fans call one of the most cowardly acts in Argentinean football, occurred. During the 2015 Copa Libertadores, River Plate players were attacked with pepper spray by Boca Junior fans. At the time of the attack, River was winning the series 1-0. Given that the players were injured by this gruesome act, River Plate was awarded the qualification.
In 2018, Boca Juniors and River Plate would meet, for the first time in history, for the Copa Libertadores final. Football fans in Argentina went wild. This game was a death duel. People argued that the losing team would have to leave the country. It was the game that would define who the better team in Argentina was, and in retrospect, would define it all. It was the final to end all finals. But it went to an extreme it couldn’t sustain.
Because of the violence that plagues Argentinean football, the visiting team can’t attend the rivals’ stadium. The first leg was played in La Bombonera, Boca’s stadium. The teams played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in the first leg of the final. The second leg was supposed to be played on November 24, 2018, but was thrown into chaos when, supposedly, River Plate fans hurled objects at the Boca team bus. Boca’s bus had shattered glass and players were injured from the debris, as well as affected by the tear gas that the police deployed. When Boca’s players arrived at the stadium, they refused to play as they claimed they had sustained injuries and were not at their best capabilities. The Monumental was full of fans, with the stadium shaking from all the anticipating and anxious chants. The start of the game was delayed twice, and eventually cancelled and postponed to the next day. The rescheduled meeting the following day was also shelved. To this day, it is unknown what actually happened on November 24, 2018. There has never been a game, especially with the climate of the Superclasico, where teams are not escorted by police and the pathway to the stadium is blocked off.
Following an embarrassing period, where leaders could not stage the “game of the century” on the continent, the most-anticipated match in South America was played in Madrid. On the weekend of December 9th, 2018, Madrid turned into Buenos Aires, with tens of thousands of fans transforming the Santiago Bernabeu into a stadium of their own. River Plate came from behind to beat its rival 3-1 in the second leg after extra time to win what is said is the most historic victory, ever. Beating your eternal rival in the most anticipated final in the history of South America is something no River Plate fan will ever forget.
A year after the fiery game, Boca Juniors and River Plate met again for the 2019 Copa Libertadores semi-final. The hatred and passion on both sides surely had not changed. Boca wanted to redeem itself, but River once again showed they were the better team, knocking their rivals out of the competition.
The clash between River Plate and Boca Juniors has no limits, nor frontiers. The clubs stand for opposing values, but the constant peering over each other’s fence to see what the other is doing has spurred each onto great success. The rivalry keeps them afloat. It is evident that football divides as much as it connects — it brings people together because of a shared love and drives them apart because of tribalism.