Argentinian football has traditionally been dominated by Los Cinco Grandes: The big five.
The five clubs in question all ply their trade in the Buenos Aires area and consist of: Boca Juniors, River Plate, Independiente, Racing Club and San Lorenzo. Boca and River contest the El Superclásico and Independiente and Racing El Clásico de Avellaneda.
This leaves the last of the grandes, San Lorenzo, with a rival considered inferior, due to them not being a member of this exclusive club. As a result, their Clásico with Huracán is one of the more one-sided affairs in the country with 86 wins for San Lorenzo compared to only 46 for Huracán.
This rivalry is often referred to as the derby with no name. This is not quite strictly true. It is known as El Clásico de Barrio which translates as the neighbourhood derby. It has also been known as El Clásico Porteño which would translate as the Buenos Aires derby as a Porteño is someone who hails from the Argentine capital. These tags have not really caught on though, and so the derby with no name has become a common description.
If this is one of Argentina’s most one-sided rivalries, it is amazing how similar the two clubs once were, being born around the same time in the same part of the city.
San Lorenzo’s roots can be traced back to a bunch of kids playing football on the corner of the streets México and Treinta y Tres Orientale in the centre of the city, between the neighbourhoods of Almagro and Boedo.
The local Priest, Lorenzo Massa once watched as one of the boys was almost knocked over by a tram. Concerned for the boy’s welfare with the increasing traffic in the city, he invited them to play in his churchyard on the proviso that they attended mass every Sunday.
On 1st April 1908, a meeting was held to discuss turning these games into an official club. Two names were suggested, firstly ‘Los Forzosos de Almagro’ which translates as ‘The strongmen of Almagro’ which was the name the boys called themselves when they played on the streets. The priest did not like the connotations of the name and so it was suggested the club be named after him following his original generosity. Massa refused as he felt he did not deserve the honour. He was persuaded to change his mind, Father Massa’s logic being that this would honour San Lorenzo of Rome and the battle of San Lorenzo which was a key event in the independence of Argentina. They decided to add Almagro to the title to identify where the club came from. Thus Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro was born.
In the nearby barrio of Nueva Pompeya exactly seven months later, another football club was formed. Club Atlético Huracán’s history went back a little further than that to 1903 but it was at a meeting on 1st November 1908 that the club in its current form was founded. The club chose a balloon emblem in homage to aviator Jorge Newbery, whose balloon had passed the three nations of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The club asked permission from Newbery who gave his approval and asked the club to take inspiration from his achievements. They were about to do exactly that.
Newbery was given honorary membership of the club and when they reached the Primera División in 1914, following three successive promotions, a letter was sent to Newbury by the club managers. It read ‘Huracán has kept its promise, promoting three divisions, as your balloon crossed three republiques before, so your wish was accomplished’.
A golden era began for Huracán in the 1920s, the most successful in the club’s history with four league titles. It was also a good period for their near neighbours with three league titles coming for San Lorenzo in the same decade. This was to be the last period in history where the two clubs were fairly even in terms of success.
The 1920s were also the year that Huracán moved to nearby Parque Patricios neighbourhood which is where they play to this day. It borders the middle-class Boedo where San Lorenzo draws most of their support.
Huracán was considered a big team during the amateur era but when professionalism came they faded as a force. San Lorenzo just got bigger, becoming one of the big five in the 1930s.
The term came about once the AFA was formed. In order to decide voting rights, they chose a system of proportional representation. To qualify for a threefold vote clubs needed to meet the following criteria – They must have 15,000 members and at least 20 years playing in the competition, along with two or more championships. Twofold vote qualification was 10-15,000 members with 20 years of tournament experience and one championship. All other clubs votes would carry the weight of the standard one. San Lorenzo met the criteria for a threefold vote whereas Huracán did not. This had a major effect on on-field performance. Between 1931 and 1966 no team outside the big five won the championship. Only clubs from the capital were in this exclusive club.
As a result of San Lorenzo’s membership of the big five, they have fans all over Argentina. Huracán can only really call on support within Buenos Aires and their barrio in particular. This makes them what is termed as a ‘Barrio Club’ which is a club with local, rather than national appeal.
San Lorenzo inaugurated their Viejo Gasómetro stadium in 1914. It was one of the finest in Argentina and was used for international matches. Huracán opened their Tomás Adolfo Ducó stadium in 1924, redeveloping it in 1949. The stadium itself is a beautiful art deco stadium depicting the pure grandeur of the time. It has two seated side stands and two large open terraces spelling out the club name in red letters on the white terrace steps. The facade is of similarity to Highbury with a slight Argentine twist. The stadium is much loved in Argentina and beyond. Not just for its beauty but for what it represents to Argentinians.
Built when the country was still relatively young and prosperous, it represents the optimism of the times, before the dictatorships and economic crises to come. These days it is often half-empty, even when San Lorenzo come to town it doesn’t reach capacity. A consequence of poor team performance and Argentine economics, the people of a country that is effectively bankrupt have to pick and choose where they spend their money. To watch a weak Huracán is perhaps not a top priority. Before matches were played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 crisis, jokes abounded that Huracán would not notice the difference.
San Lorenzo had a fantastic side in the 1960s. They won four titles between 1968 and 1974 earning the nickname Los Matadores. Following this success, however, bad management led to a financial crisis resulting in San Lorenzo being coerced into selling their Gasómetro stadium to the Argentine government, now a military dictatorship. Outrageously, the government sold the land at eight times the price to supermarket chain Carrefour. San Lorenzo became homeless leaving their beloved Boedo.
The first part of the 1970s was good for Huracán too. In 1971, César Luis Menotti was appointed coach. He was merely seven years away from winning the home World Cup of 1978, Argentina’s first, to put him in the pantheon of coaching greats. They won the league in 1973 featuring the likes of René Houseman. Playing a brand of football Menotti would later immortalise in the World Cup they are regarded as one of the greatest Argentine teams of all time. Sadly, despite adding the likes of Osvaldo Ardiles to the playing staff, following Menotti’s departure to the national side in 1974, they couldn’t repeat their previous success but did become runners up on two occasions.
San Lorenzo was relegated in 1981 but returned in 1982. They spent the 1980s rattling around various stadiums in Buenos Aires looking for a home of their own. Huracán themselves had fallen on hard times being relegated for the first time in their history in 1986, not returning until 1990. This led to a lack of matches in the 1980s between the two sides which diluted the rivalry. It was suggested that some San Lorenzo fans were sorry to see Huracán go down.
In 1993, San Lorenzo built a new stadium in the notoriously dangerous Bajo Flores area of the city. Named the Estadio Pedro Bidegain but known to fans as El Nuevo Gasómetro. The large Villa 1-11-14 is opposite the stadium and there have been many reports of robberies of fans on matchdays, particularly at night. These problems have led the club to request games at weekends, during the day, to try to alleviate the problem. Buenos Aires villas are large areas of shacks occupied by its citizens that are living in poverty. They can be dangerous crime-ridden places. Diego Maradona and Carlos Tevez are two players that grew up in the villas.
San Lorenzo may no longer be completely homeless but their fans still sing songs about returning to their beloved Boedo to end their long exile. The San Lorenzo fan culture is one of the best around. The fans are renowned for their unique songs that have ended up being exported around the world. You can hear fans in Spain and Italy chanting songs that originated on those terraces. I’ve stood with them myself and experienced this unique atmosphere.
The rivalry gained a new intensity going into the 1990s. With Huracán now back at the top table and San Lorenzo now permanently situated in Flores. It started with taunts from Huracán fans goading their rivals about their exile from Boedo. Calling their new stadium ‘the supermarket’, mocking their misfortune and reminding them of what happened to their beloved former home. Other supporters in Buenos Aires like to joke that how can this be the derby of the barrio when San Lorenzo have three – Boedo, Almagro and Flores – yet none at the same time.
The newfound intensity of the rivalry has led to violence. In 1997 Ulises Fernández was shot by San Lorenzo fans. Huracán fans later stole a flag that belonged to San Lorenzo’s barra brava that was so huge it covered an entire terrace at the Gasómetro. They also vandalized club facilities while they were at it. In retribution, after a match in 2008, the rival barras clashed resulting in the shooting of Rodrigo ‘Cafu’ Silvera.
So, by the first decade of the new millennium, the most one-sided derby in Argentina was regarded as the most dangerous. Tales abound of taxi drivers refusing to take tourists to the fixture and the coach of Huracán admitting that he would not let his children attend.
The last decade has seen a resurgence of sorts for both clubs. San Lorenzo finally won the Copa Libertadores in 2014 being the last of the grandes to do so. They presented the trophy to a smiling pontiff in the Vatican. Pope Francis, himself from Boedo, is a fanatical San Lorenzo fan which is apt considering the origins of the club. Huracán won the Copa Argentina in 2014 too, their first major trophy since 1973.
San Lorenzo recently received the news they had long been waiting for. To write the wrongs of the past, the government purchased the land that the Carrefour supermarket stands on and have given it back to San Lorenzo to build a new stadium on. They will finally be returning to their true home, right next to the barrio of Parque Patricios and Huracán. The stadium will be named the Papa Francis Stadium in honour of their most famous supporter. When this happens the two clubs will be true neighbours again.
Both sides are currently way off the pace in terms of challenging for honours with the previous two campaigns bringing nothing but struggle on the pitch. How the struggle between the two goes in the future, remains to be seen.
San Lorenzo has many nicknames, one of which is El Ciclón – The Cyclone. Why El Ciclón? Well, it’s quite simple really – Cyclones are stronger than hurricanes and a balloon would surely stand no chance against such an onslaught. As it is in physics, it is in this rivalry.