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Buenos Aires Derby - Boca Juniors vs River Plate

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


A Question of Class
"The people's team" vs 'los millonarios'. The city of Buenos Aires has produced one of the world's greatest football rivalries - and a string of world class players.
Pigs vs Chickens
Argentina's best-known author, Jorge Luis Borges, once said "Football is a calamity". It was 1978 and Argentina was playing host to the World Cup. For many people, the same is true 23 years later. Just ask any self-respecting supporter of Boca Juniors or River Plate - the two soccer teams in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, whose rivalry is legendary not just in Argentina, but across Latin America. For a Boca supporter, the worst calamity is a River Plate fan, and vice versa.
"I don't have any friends who support River," says lawyer and Boca Juniors fan, Ariel Naserala, defiantly. "They think that they are the best and they are very snobbish, but we are the champions and they can't do anything about it".
For River fans, the reality is completely different.
"They can't even do sums. We are the real champions", says Javier Bartoli, a consultant and an expert on international affairs. "Mind you", he says, "I don't agree that you can't have friends from the other team. Personally, I do. Those kind of comments are for monkeys! That's fanaticism, that's not football".
Football or fanaticism, the truth is that the rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate is reflected in lots of aspects, not least nicknames. For example, followers of River Plate are known to Boca fans as 'gallinas', Spanish for chickens.
"We started calling them 'gallinas' in the 1960s because they're afraid of everything. They can't take the pressure. That's why they couldn't win the derby championship for 18 years", says Ariel Naserala, while humming one of the songs invented to taunt River after Boca won the Intercontinental cup in Tokyo. (It goes something like 'Keep going Boca, we took home the cup that the chickens lost...'.)
But River supporters have an equally insulting name for Boca supporters - they call them pigs and in Spanish they are referred to as 'bosteros', a word that comes from 'bosta', meaning horse dung.
"It's a good name. Boca play like that", says River fan Javier Bartoli. But the nickname also refers to the district in Buenos Aires where Boca has its stadium.
"They call us 'bostero' because we are from Boca, a poor neighbourhood near the river that smells bad sometimes", explains Ariel Nasarela. "But we don't mind the name. We're proud of our roots, not like them".
Divided by class and money
The rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate stretches far beyond mere nicknames. Supporters of the two best-known clubs of Buenos Aires are also divided by class and money.
Both clubs were formed in the Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires in the south of the city. But in 1938 River Plate moved to a more affluent part of the city. From then on, River fans were immortalised as 'los millonarios' (the millionaires), a team for Argentina's upper-crust. In stark contrast, Boca Juniors, with their humble roots, are seen as the 'people's team'. When the club was formed in 1905, the majority of people living in Boca were Italian immigrants who had come to Argentina to escape from a life of poverty.
"We were founded by Italian immigrants and we are proud of that. We are called the 'Xeneize' because that means from Genoa", says Ariel Naserala.
"It's true that River is more refined. Even the players are. But to my mind, both teams have supporters from every background", emphasises Javier Bartoli.
Great players bring trophies
Over the years, both teams have had their equal share of world-class players whose performances on and off the pitch have led to frequent arguments between rival supporters. And more than the occasional fistfight.
"Diego Maradona is ours", says Boca-mad Ariel Naserala. "That's why we're superior. Just like Maradona, we Boca Juniors fans believe that football is not just a game, it is love itself".
"Who cares about Maradona? We've had far better players, and we play better as a team", points out Javier Bertoli, who begins to list players… "Alfredo Di Steffano, Omar Sivori, Onega, Norberto Alonso, Enzo Francescoli...". The list goes on.
River fans have also seen Marcello Salas sporting their team's strip in recent years, and they currently have Ariel Ortega, who has returned to Argentina following bad luck in Italy's Serie A.
As for Boca followers, they have been blessed not only with Maradona, but also with Gabriel Batistuta (he also played for River), Hugo Orlando Gatti and Marcelo Tobbiano.
In fact, the statistics show that Ariel and Javier are both right. Of more than 160 bitterly-contested derbies, Boca Juniors (the pigs) have won an impressive 60 games, while River (the chickens) are just behind on 56.



May 2001

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