There are many games that can set your pulses racing, those games are generally derbies.
The Old Firm, Merseyside and El Derbi Madrileño are games that we all know and love. The jostling is that bit rougher, the tackles a bit tougher and the goals more special.
While we in Europe may be more enamoured by the legend of these rivalries, there is one that generally escapes us. Strangely this one happens to be the fiercest rivalry in world football with English paper The Observer going as far as saying “Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about”.
You see, Buenos Aires is the home to two footballing giants, Boca Juniors and River Plate. Both teams are regarded as the two most prominent and successful teams in Argentina, there is no doubting that. It is estimated that around 73% of the nation’s population support these two clubs.
The first game, the first Superclásico
Each club was established in the early 20th century with River Plate beginning in 1901 and Boca Juniors coming along four years later. Despite both teams being neighbours in the Docklands, they did not have their first competitive game until 1913.
It was noted that the teams did meet in earlier friendly games around 1908 and 1912, however, the game in 1913 is regarded as the first official Superclasico. River came out winners on the day in a 2-1 victory against ten men Boca in front of 7,000 fans.
Irish man in the middle
The referee blowing the whistle for the first game was a man by the name of Paddy McCarthy. Sounds a bit Irish? Well, that is because Paddy came from Cashel, Tipperary.
This caused a bit of a storm due to McCarthy having a previous relationship with Boca Juniors, sure he was only their first-ever coach in 1905. Paddy emigrated to Argentina in 1900, where he took part in the country’s first-ever boxing match against Italian Abelardo Robassio.
He won that fight in the fourth round by knockout. We Irish are everywhere, in my research I love coming across snippets like this. I am genuinely more shocked then I was when I discovered Ajax’s first coach was another Irish man.
Since that day in 1913, the rivalry has become a lot more heated.
River Plate eventually moved from their working-class roots and went to what was regarded as an upmarket part of town known as Nunez in 1925.
Due to this move, River Plate became known as Los Millonarios, while Boca were nicknamed Los Bosteros which means the ‘manure shovelers’.
In the wake of The Great Depression around the world and Argentina’s economic turmoil, the divide between the two sides was becoming stronger due to each club’s perceived social status.
All you have to do is look at each set of supporters nicknames for each other. Boca fans are known as Los Chanchitos, the little pigs, and River Plate fans regularly wear masks when their sides meet to protect them from the perceived stench of their “lower class” counterparts.
River Plate are known as Gallinas by their rival fans, which means chickens. This is because of the presumed pampered lifestyle and upbringing which also doubles a slight on their fans having a fear of everything.
When speaking about fear, one would have to wonder how could you not be afraid. Tragedy has followed this tie throughout the years. In 1968 at River’s Estadio Monumental a stampede occurred in the away section which resulted in 74 Boca fans being killed and over 150 injured in what is known as the ‘Puerta 12’ tragedy.
After an investigation into the incident, no conclusion as to the reason why it happened was ever reached despite numerous theories blaming both sets of fans and the police.
In 1994 after River Plate defeated Boca 2-0 in the Superclasico, a River plate supporters bus was ambushed by Boca fans and two travelling fans were shot in the melee.
Distasteful graffiti was then seen around the city saying 2-2, implying that the two deaths were payback for the two goals.
Violence in Argentinian football is rife due to organised hooligans Barra Bravas. These factions have been responsible for over 200 deaths in Argentinian football. Boca’s branch is ‘La Doce’, the 12th Man, while River is represented by Los Borrachos del Tablón, The Drunks From the Board.
Due to the violence associated with clubs, away fans have been barred from each teams stadium and it’s easy to understand why.
However, that still rarely stops the chaos, as in 2015 River Plate players were attacked at half time by a Boca fan that sprayed pepper spray into the players’ faces.
The sides alsos met in the 2018 Copa Libertadores Finals. In the second leg, the bus carrying Boca’s players to the El Monumental was bombarded by River fans who threw stones. The game was abandoned and eventually moved to Madrid in Spain to be played at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
After drawing 2–2 at La Bombonera in the first leg, River won the game 3-1.
Over the years the club have been neck and neck in league titles with Boca Juniors claiming 34 and River Plate 36. This has only intensified the hatred between two factions of fans.
One could be forgiven for thinking this fixture gets overtaken by violence however the derby is known for some beautiful games.
The teams have met each other 252 times, with Boca coming out on top 89 times, River Plate 83 and recording 80 draws with 639 goals registered. One of the most famous goals was back in 1943 when former River Plate player Severino Varela secured the league for Boca Juniors with a diving header.
Boca has the biggest win between the two sides, dating back to 1928 with a 6-0 victory. River Plate somewhat got their pride back by thrashing Boca 5-1 in the forties.
1974 was the year the 100th Superclasico was played and Boca debutant Carlos García Cambón scored four goals in a 5-2 win.
Since the turn of the century, the tie became a bit more hotly contested and one has to look to a “friendly” game between sides in 2016 which saw five red cards and nine yellow cards during Boca’s 1-0 victory at La Monumental.
Players like Radamel Falcao and Carlos Tevez are the most recent superstars to be associated with the two clubs who have gone onto superstardom.
However, each club has had the privilege of seeing some of the greatest players to ever grace a football pitch to don their jerseys.
River Plate was the initial home ground for Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano.
The former European Footballer of the Year started his journey with Los Millonarios in 1945. The club actually had the nickname of, La Máquina, at the time, which translates to “The Machine”. This was due to their incredible success during the 40’s, to which Di Stefano greatly contributed.
The striker nicknamed Saeta Rubia, The Blonde Arrow, scored 27 goals in River Plate’s 1947 league victory. Before leaving Di Stefano even went in goal for the club, against Boca Juniors of all teams and kept a clean sheet.
Diego Maradona, what can be said that has not already been said. The World Cup Winner signed with Boca in 1981 after refusing to join River Plate.
Boca was the team he followed throughout his life and went onto score two goals in his debut for his boyhood club.
Maradonna won the domestic league however moved to Barcelona the following year in 1982. After spells with various teams around Europe, the legend ended up returning to Boca and finished his career with the club with his last ever game being a Superclasico in 1997.
Over the years many players have crossed the divide despite the massive rivalry. Oscar Ruggeri, who moved to River from Boca in 1985 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.” The first player to make the switch was Cataldo Spitale back in 1933, a player who eventually went on to play for Roma.
Another notable name who went on to play for Roma and represented both sides was none other than the legend that is Gabriel Batistuta. Argentina’s former all-time top scorer with 54 goals played one season with River Plate before joining Boca Juniors for one season immediately after.
The previously mentioned Alfredo Di Stefano, River Plate legend, actually went onto win a league title with Boca Juniors but in a managerial capacity. The footballing legend hung up his boots and had a very successful career in management witch included two stints with Boca and one with River Plate over his 23 years in the dug-out.
Where Can I Watch?
Now after all this you are probably asking yourself, how can I watch this?
All games are live-streamed on website Fanatiz and you can sign up here. You can start out with a trial on the service, and if you like what you see of the Argentinian League you can turn into a paying subscriber which amounts to $9.99 a month. The game kicks off at 9 p.m. Irish time on the 14th of March.
Boca are coming off a 7-1 demolition of Velez Sarsfield while River lost 1-0 to Argentinos Juniors.
We are on matchday five of the Argentinian League with both sides having won only two games of the previous four. It will be a very different type of game without the fans as was seen when these two sides met in early January.
That game was contested in group A of the Copa Diego Maradona, a competition that Boca juniors went onto win.
To help get you in the mood for the game, here is a great documentary below :
Our scoreline team know all about this rivalry, as they are experiencing it virtually. Have a listen below to the Football Manager Football Show, where this particular episode starts with a Superclasico meeting of our own.