As a city, Buenos Aires boasts a higher concentration of football teams than anywhere else in the world. Many of these 24 clubs play in the country’s ‘Primera’ league, and with the help of arguably the world’s most passionate fans, turn Buenos Aires into a truly football-mad city.
The biggest teams in town are River Plate and Boca Juniors, who are estimated to be supported by almost 70% of the nation. Put together, the two clubs have won 56 league titles, and Boca Juniors have won a record 18 international titles (joint with AC Milan). The two clubs both have origins in the poor riverside area of Buenos Aires known as La Boca. River, however, moved to the more affluent district of Núñez in the north of the city, in 1923. They became known by the nickname, Los Millonarios (The Millionaires), due to a supposedly upper-class support base. Today their fans still refer to their Boca rivals as los chanchitos (little pigs) as well as osteros (manure collectors) in reference to the smell of a polluted river in La Boca.
Derbies between Boca and River are called the Superclásico, which already beats the rather unimaginative ‘Manchester derby’ on paper! Rather unsurprisingly, it’s fierce rivalry. As The Observer put it – “Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about.’’ This is made possible by Boca’s dedicated followers, the notorious La Doce (The 12th Player), a gang which has over 2,000 hardcore members and is regularly involved in violent clashes. The rivalry is taken so seriously that in Boca Juniors’ Stadium, Estadio Alberto J. Armando, the Coca-Cola advertisement banners are even black and white rather than the trademark red, due to River Plate’s red and white kit. Those lucky enough to get tickets to Superclasico use the 90 minutes as an opportunity to chant antagonistic and offensive songs, set off fireworks and confetti, and enjoy some good old hooliganism.
The city’s ‘second biggest’ rivalry is between Independiente and Racing Club, the third and fourth most successful clubs in Argentina (they boast a mere 24 league titles between them!), who meet in the Avellaneda Derby. It’s another fierce rivalry, again unsurprising as the two club’s stadiums are just 300 meters apart! Red cards are common, in 1961 both teams ended up with 7 men; whilst this year two players were dismissed, which included a straight red for Racing forward Gabriel Hauche after a studs-up challenge into an opponents midriff. Yet fans are almost important as players and in the derby insulting your rivals is a must. A favourite Racing song tells the Independiente fans “you’re queer, a vigilante, you work with the police and you have no support”. Fans all over Argentina also had the Avellaneda derby to thank for the Argentine FA’s decision to temporarily ban all away fans in the top four divisions of Argentine football and ban Racing from their home ground, following riots which lead to the game being abandoned in 2006.
Perhaps this city’s passion is unsurprising due to the fact that Buenos Aires is bursting at the seams with skilful players. Its clubs have brought many talented Argentines onto the world’s radar, which as fans we should be grateful for (unless we face Argentina in the World Cup!!) Boca Juniors boast of Juan Roman Riquelme, Walter Samuel, Nicolas Burdisso, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Gago; who now all play for top European clubs. Whilst similarly, River Plate have helped Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano, Esterban Cambiasso and Javier Saviola to carve out successful careers. The city even taught the great Maradona himself, who was born in Buenos Aires and started his career at local Argentinos Juniors, before moving to River Plate.
The fans undoubtedly make football what it is in Buenos Aires. Football in Argentina is not just a sport, it’s a passion. Central to culture and life in Buenos Aires, 90% of all Argentineans claim to support a team, often one that is inherited from their parents. Some fans even choose to devote their entire lives to football, and are buried in the official Boca Juniors cemetery!