Boca Juniors VS River Plate: why “Superclasico” of Buenos Aires recognize the best derby in the world?
Over the 105-year history of rivalry, “Boca Juniors” and “River Plate”, football players and fans of both teams did everything possible to make their standoff the most powerful in world football. There are several cities on the football map of the world, which a couple of times a year turn into an arena for an exciting match between two local teams. This is Glasgow with its confrontation between the Rangers and Celtic, Rome with Lazio and Roma, Istanbul with incredible rivalry between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, as well as London, Milan, Madrid, Cairo, Manchester, Seville and several others. But the metropolitan Argentine derby, known as the “Superclasico,” stands apart among all these confrontations and is considered to be the main one in the football world.
- “The derby day in Buenos Aires re-opens the good old football: players scamper around the field like schoolchildren at recess” – “The Observer” (first place in the list of “50 sporting events you should see before dying”).
- “This battle is the ultimate example of a class war in football” – “Daily Mirror” (first place in the “Top 50 football derby of the world”).
- “In the stands you can expect anything from chicken feathers to flying pigs” – “FourFourTwo” (first place in the list of the 50 Best Derbies of the World”).
- “Each match is played in an indescribable atmosphere of extreme noise, touchiness, bravado and toughness” – “The Telegraph” (first place in the list of “25 largest club fights of world football”).
Twice a year, Buenos Aires dies by two hours. The streets are becoming empty, public transport is running intermittently, various institutions are being closed, and you can’t even find a switched off TV even in the office of the president of the country or in the ancestral chamber. During these two hours, the entire capital city, with bated breath, watches the main club match of Latin America, the confrontation between Boca Juniors and River Plate. It is a well-known fact, recorded by special devices, that the stadiums of both teams, “Bomboner” and “Monumental”, are shaken when a crowd of thousands of fans simultaneously jumps to the rhythm of chants and songs. In the stands, watching which is no less interesting than the action taking place on the field, you can see huge balls in the form of pigs, half-naked Maradona, waving a blue-and-yellow flag (glazed VIP lodges? This is not for you Bernabéu!), Fans covered feathers from head to toe, coffins painted in club colors, naked beauties and a myriad of flares and smoke bombs. In temperamental South Americans, any rivalry causes strong emotions, and an incredible love for one of the opposing sides turns into a fiery hatred of another. “Superklasiko” determines the best team in Argentina is much more accurate than any statistical calculations or place in the championship table, but fans of both teams follow rivals almost more closely than their favorites.
The first “Superclasico” after Argentina’s football clubs became professional (1931), ended in scandal. Forward “Boca” Varalo, punched a penalty, attacked the goalkeeper “Rivera” Iribarren, who fixed the ball, knocked the projectile out of his hands and beat him into the net. The arbitrator counted a goal (to attack the goalkeeper, who took the ball in his hands, it was not forbidden by the then rules), but the River Plate players began to noisily challenge his decision. Three of them were removed, but remained on the field as a protest. The clashes turned into a real fight, the police appeared on the field, after which the riots spread to the stands. The authorities had to use water cannons because the fans refused to leave the stadium. The match was interrupted and Boca Juniors was later deprived of points. In 2015, the match of the eighth of the Libertadores Cup was interrupted after the fans of Boca Juniors sprayed pepper spray in the tunnel under the bridge when the players were playing River River. Four players were sent to the hospital where they were treated for burns. The president of “Boca” made a formal apology to the opponents, but said that the team should not suffer from the actions of individual fans and expressed readiness to help them find them. Despite this, the club was disqualified and left the tournament, and “River Plate”, to the indignation of the “Genoese” fans, won the Cup that season for the third time in its history.
But the most tragic derby ended, held at the home stadium “Rivera” “Monumental” on June 23, 1968. Then a catastrophe, known as “Tragedia de la Puerta 12” (“the tragedy at the 12th exit”), occurred when 71 people were killed in the crush of the twelfth gate and another 150 were injured. This tragedy was the most terrible event in the history of Argentine football, the average age of the dead and wounded did not exceed 19 years. There are several versions of the causes of the disaster. According to one of them, the fans of “Boca” burned flags of their opponents on the upper tiers of the stands, throwing these kind of torches down, which caused panic among their comrades who rushed to the exit. Another argues that the fans of “Rivera” moved to the stands of their opponents, provoking their hasty escape. The third blames police officers who started cramming Boca Juniors fans after they urinated from the stands. Be that as it may, numerous sources agree that the gate was not opened on time, and some argue that, in addition to the usual grille with a chain, someone propped it on the reverse side with concrete blocks. This was the cause of a large number of victims. The shots of the blood-stained stairs leading to the street and dumped in a pile of clothes and shoes, torn in a crush, shook the whole country.
However, “Superclasico” is first and foremost football. In its Buenos Aires derby, for its long history, dozens of players took part, which later became true legends. Why are only the names of Maradona, Alfredo Di Stefano, Juan Riquelme, Gabriel Batistuta – they all went through the harsh school of the most intense match of Latin America. The stadiums of “Bomboner” (the official name of “Stadium of Alberto Armando”) and “Monumental” were witnesses of their growing and maturing. “Superclasico” has become a real litmus test for European scouts, who often signed talented players from both teams who showed themselves in this confrontation. One of the main “graduates” of the derby is Diego Maradona, who moved to Boca after five years at the Argentinos Juniors club, where he scored 116 goals in 186 matches of the national championship and became a star of local football. The capital club corresponded to Diego’s ambitions, but there was another, hidden meaning in this transfer. The fact is that the roots of the confrontation between River Plate and Boca Juniors, in addition to the natural rivalry between two strong clubs from the capital city, go to the profound class differences between the “millionaires” and the “Genoese”. The former are considered the second plebeians, and the latter are considered the snobs. Both clubs were founded in the port area of Buenos Aires, “La Boca”, but in 1925 the River Plate offices moved to the richer district “Núñez”, after which the team began to be called “millionaires”. Boca has remained the port dock club of the Italian district of Buenos Aires (and therefore the “Genoese”), where Maradona’s father, Chitoro, lived and worked. That is why one of the best football players of the twentieth century could not hold back tears when he first entered the field in a Boca Juniors t-shirt – he played for a team from the area where his father worked for many years.
In the first Superclasico, Maradona played on April 10, 1981, when he was only 21 years old. “Bombonera” was crowded as fans, who gathered here more than 60 thousand, and emotions: after all, in this derby decided the fate of the championship. The blue and yellow half of the Argentine capital did not even consider the scenario in which “Boca” could lose in that match. The burden of responsibility put even more pressure on the Genoese players than usual, but Diego Maradona was destined to be the hero of the match, who scored the ball in his debut derby, forever writing his name in the history of this confrontation. The goal scored by a young genius, when he managed to beat Ubaldo Filol, the main goalkeeper of Argentina, who rushed to the ball with a few tricks, was recognized as the best goal of the year in the national championship. This match made “Boca Juniors” champions, and Maradona finally transferred from the status of a national scale star to the rank of one of the best young footballers in the world, in which he moved to Barcelona a year later. For opponents “Boca” the main pupil of their academy was, of course, Alfredo Di Stefano, who played in the River Plate in the first years of his professional career, scored more than fifty heads for the “millionaires” and became part of the team that won two championship titles in the second half 40s. Despite this, the legendary forward of Real Madrid did not have time to prove himself in the Superclasico matches, since he left for Colombia in 1949, after the Argentinian footballers strike.