Avellaneda is a Buenos Aires province bordering Buenos Aires itself. A city in its own right, it’s Salford to Buenos Aires’ Manchester. With the Riacuelo River dividing it from it’s much bigger relation, just like the River Irwell divides the two cities in England’s north-west.
An Industrial working-class port, it has a population of over 300,000. It also houses Argentina’s third and fourth most popular clubs after Boca Juniors and River Plate: Club Atletico Independiente and Racing Club de Avellaneda. This means it also houses the countries second biggest derby: El Clasico Avellaneda.
The first club to appear in Avellaneda was Racing Club in 1903. Named after a French auto racing magazine it was the first club in Argentina to be formed by Criollos, who are people of Spanish descent. Up until this time clubs had been formed by immigrants such as Italians and, of course, the British.
Racing first won promotion to Argentina’s Primera División in 1910 which is also the year that they adopted their current colours of light blue and white stripes. This was in honour of the colours of the national flag. They decided on these colours to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the May Revolution, which was the first step to independence from Spain. By this time, though, another club had arrived in Avellaneda via big brother Buenos Aires itself and formed in the spirit of independence.
Independiente was founded in January 1905 in Monserrat, following a breakaway from another club: Maipú FC. The club was formed by the English owners of a shoe store and the local employees were only allowed to watch matches, not play in them. Disgruntled, they held a meeting and decided to form a club of their own. They named it Independiente as a symbol of their new-found liberty. This was to prove an apt name later in the club’s history.
In 1907 Independiente moved to Avellaneda. Racing now had a new rival that had located from another city, albeit just across the river. They met for the first time that year with Independiente winning 3-2. The upstarts from Buenos Aires had won the first Avellanada Clásico. Shortly after, Independiente changed their shirts to red, believed to be in honour of Nottingham Forest who had impressed their president on an Argentine tour.
Independiente may have won the first clásico, but it was Racing who soon dominated. Not just Avellaneda football, but Argentine football itself. Both clubs may have been promoted to the Primera División in 1910 but it was Racing who took full advantage. They won the first of seven championships of the 1910s in 1913. This period of dominance led to Racing being dubbed La Academia: The Academy. Independiente won nothing but during this time Clásico de Avellaneda became Argentina’s most popular match ahead of River Plate vs Boca Juniors.
One famous encounter during this period occurred in 1915. Independiente won the match on 12 December 2-1 but the AFA awarded the match to Racing. This victory led to Racing winning the championship. The reason for this remains unrecorded for posterity but it’s believed that Independiente fielded an ineligible player. Whatever the reason, this ramped up the tensions between the two clubs.
Independiente won their first title in 1922 and another in 1926. In 1928 Independiente moved again and this time closer to Racing than ever before. The last time they had moved to Avellaneda, this time right next door, building their stadium next to Racing’s. Only the stadium’s of Dundee and Dundee United are closer in world football.
As the two clubs became closer some of their clashes became classics. In September 1931, Racing beat Independiente 7-4 in the highest-scoring match between the two sides. Independiente avenged this defeat by winning 7-0 at Racing’s stadium to embarrass the hosts in the return.
Racing won the league again in 1949 which was the first of three titles in a row. It was around this time that the club received help from the Argentine government.
Their stadium was demolished and completely rebuilt and inaugurated on 3 September 1950, with a 1-0 victory against Velez Sarsfield. Spherical in structure, and opening with a capacity of 100,000 it was known by the locals as El Cilindro due to its shape. The official name is Estadio Presidente Juan Domingo Perón, named after the former Argentine president.
Racing fans claim Perón as their own, but this is not quite the case as the author of Perón, Gardel y los deportes (Peron, Gardel and sports), Maxi Kronenberg tells me “Peron wasn’t a football fan. It’s just a legend. He loved individual sports such as fencing and boxing.”
The Argentine government did loan the club funds for the construction of the stadium though, which Maxi attributes to one of Peron’s ministers rather than the man himself “Peron’s economic minister, Ramon Cereijo was a big Racing fan. It is likely he played a major part in the decision to fund the construction of the stadium. Rival fans dubbed Racing: Deportivo Cereijo.”
Nevertheless, the stadium bore his name and Argentina’s most famous leader was also made honorary president of the club. It’s believed that due to this association some Peronists favoured Racing over Independiente and vice versa.
Racing won the title again in 1961 but Independiente managed the consolation of a 4-0 home win in the clásico that year. The return fixture was noted for trouble on the pitch with four players from each team being sent off as the match descended into a brawl. The 1-1 draw seemed an irrelevance.
If trouble on the pitch was starting to blight the fixture then something that was beginning to happen off it that would characterise later clásicos. The 1960s was the decade where groups called Barra Bravas (Brave Boys) started to be formed. These groups were the precursors of the ultras in Europe.
In 1964 Independiente became the first Argentine club to win the Copa Libertadores. This followed a title win the previous year which also featured a 4-0 home defeat to Racing, almost mirroring the events of 1961. They also won the league in 1967 by beating Racing 4-0 at home. Racing won their first and only Libertadores in 1967 and followed it up with the Intercontinental Cup that had so far eluded Independiente.
As Racing celebrated their win a group of Independiente fans, motivated by hatred and envy, broke into the stadium. They buried seven black cats to put a curse on the club. It was believed to have worked as for Racing this was as good as it got. The 1970s would firmly belong to Independiente.
During the 1970’s Independiente won four league championships. If that wasn’t enough they set a record that stands to this day. They won an astounding four Copa Libertadores in a row between 1972 and 1975. This gave them six in total. The club that that was named in the spirit of independence and freedom, held the most titles of the competition named after liberation from the Spanish.
Independiente’s 1970 title win was secured against Racing in El Cilindro. The 1970’s side was led by club idol Ricardo Bochini. He spent his entire career at Independiente, playing in the number 10 role. To this day he remains the idol of Diego Amando Maradona.
The 1970s were a complete contrast for Racing This was a period where they consistently flirted with relegation and won no trophies. Could this curse be to blame?
In the 1980s worse was to come with Racing being relegated in 1983. To make matters worse, Independiente won the league title by beating them in their own stadium. This was the third time that Independiente had secured the title against Racing. Perhaps the curse was real.
Whether Racing was cursed or not, there was no doubt that the 1980s brought a blight on the fixture. Trouble had started to become prevalent with rival Barras Bravas groups arranging fights as the fixture started to spiral into violence.
Independiente built on this success with another Libertadores in 1984. This gave them seven titles, a record that still stands. On the continent, the only club that comes close is Boca Juniors on six. Independiente won all seven finals they appeared in which is an incredible achievement. This led to them being declared ‘Rey de Copas.’ (King of Cups.) Their stadium is also now named Estadio Libertadores de América in honour of these triumphs.
A 1-0 win over Liverpool in the 1984 Intercontinental Cup came at a time when South American sides were stronger than they are today. Many great players would remain in their home country rather than look to move to Europe. Bochini retired in 1991 and their glory days were over. A further title was secured in 1994 but this proceeded a decline.
Racing was promoted to the Primera División in 1985 but success still eluded them. Something had to be done about this curse. In 1999, 100,000 Racing fans gathered on the pitch at the stadium to perform an exorcism. They dug up the pitch but could only find the remains of six of the cats. Still, no titles came and the curse became an obsession.
So it was that again in 2001 the pitch was dug up, including concrete area’s that had been laid post-1967. The body of the seventh cat was found! Perhaps success would no longer elude Racing? In December that year, they won the championship. It was their first for 34 years. The curse was lifted.
Racing couldn’t build on that long-awaited title win though, and the following decade was unremarkable. If Racings success was sporadic, what was becoming prevalent was violence when the two would meet.
Several incidents occurred around the turn of the millennium. In 2000 a fight in the Avellaneda streets led to 100 people getting injured and 2001 brought the stabbing of 17 fans during a mass fight. If that wasn’t bad enough, in 2002 an Independiente fan by the name of Gustavo Rivera was killed following a gunfight. 25 others ended up in the hospital.
The fight started on the day of the clásico at the El Cilindro. As is customary in Argentina, Racing Barras were having a barbecue outside the stadium. Independiente’s were doing likewise and one of their number threw a rock that hit a Racing fan. Racing ran to attack and guns were drawn. Hundreds of ordinary fans queuing up for tickets for the match watched on in horror.
Independiente’s curse on Racing was lifted but perhaps they then suffered a curse of their own albeit of their own making. Diego Forlan was sold to Manchester United in 2002 and the club, devoid of his goals, finished bottom. It was only the Argentine relegation system where points average over three seasons determines who goes down, which saved them from the first relegation in their history. As is often the case in the up and down world of Argentine football Independiente won the title the very next season.
As the new Millenium progressed, Independiente had a new rising star. Youth product and fanatical fan Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero. He was 15 years and one month old when he made his debut making him the youngest player in Argentine history. He was sold to Atletico de Madrid in 2006 and the money from the transfer was used to completely rebuild the stadium. However, Independiente overstretched themselves and the stadium came in way over budget which led to financial problems.
Before the rebuild in August 2006, Racing fans attempted to demolish part of the stadium ahead of schedule. Trailing 2-0 in the clásico they started to riot and began damaging the away section. They then turned on police and the match had to be abandoned. The match was handed to Independiente and Racing were forced to play games behind closed doors. The AFA also took the unprecedented step of banning all away fans from matches for some time.
Independiente may have won the Copa Sudamericana in 2010 but were relegated for the first time in their history in 2013. Following River Plate’s shock relegation in 2011, this made Boca Juniors the only Argentine team to never be relegated. Independiente fans, notoriously demanding, were unimpressed.
They did manage to win promotion at the first attempt though. It was a good year for neighbours Racing too as they won the championship for the 17th time. Overtaking their neighbours in league championships when they were previously both tied on 16 each. Independiente can point to a better head to head record between the two though, of 88 wins to Racings 66. Another Copa Sudamericana in 2017 for Independiente hammered home their superiority in continental competition.
As things stand in the rivalry domestically, it is Racing that is enjoying a successful period today. They won their last title on 31 March 2019. It’s a date that stands out in my mind as it was my 40th birthday. I was also in Buenos Aires to witness the celebrations.
I had been to the Libertadores to see Independiente beat Velez Sarsfield 2-1 the previous day. As I walked past El Cilindro, Beto, my taxi driver, a Racing fan, pointed at the stadium and confidently told me that “tomorrow Racing is champion.” They only needed to equal or better Defensa y Justicia’s result. Racing was away at Tigre and the two sides would play at the same time.
The next day after attending a match in Lanus, I arrived in Buenos Aires to see Racing fans streaming into the centre to watch the match. Apart from at the game, I had not seen any Independiente shirts all week. Considering they are Argentina’s third best-supported club that was odd. Perhaps they were keeping a low profile.
The final whistle went and Racing were champions. In the pizzeria I was watching the game in, a father and son burst into tears. I remarked to a friend that perhaps it was an overreaction for an 18th title. “Yes but it’s Racing,” she told me. “They have not won much these last 50 years.”
The same could be said for Independiente now 18 years without the league. I wondered as I watched the thousands of fans celebrating at the Obelisk, as flags were waved from cars and horns sounded, as to whether Independiente fans might start rounding up cats.