Boca Juniors banners at La Bombonera (Creative Commons)

Boca Juniors banners at La Bombonera (Creative Commons)

It is the morning before the superclasico – River Plate versus Boca Juniors, a local derby that not only dominates the calendar but is also the lifeblood of Argentine football, gripping the nation.

“The fan experience is the main reason to go to an Argentine game anyway. The quality of the football has declined but that quality on the terraces has not at all,” said BBC’s South American football expert, Tim Vickery.

“You’re probably more likely to carry away memories of the fans, the songs and the drums even more so than the memories on the field.”

In the recent past, violence has long dominated headlines in Argentina, many games pockmarked and scarred with matches often breaking out in fights.

Many of these are civil wars between rival factions of the same barra brava – who fight to control the income from ticket touting and match day parking.

Following River’s death, in 2011 as Boca fans call it; there were many fights that broke out in the neighbourhoods, glass bottles flying, smashed windows and fights leading up to the famous Monumental stadium – putting more than 25 people in hospital after clashes during the match.

Boca’s barra brava managed to smuggle their leader, Mauro Martin into the stadium despite him being banned. A monumental figure amongst the Boca support, Martin would be seen on the fence orchestrating orders both home and away.

During the build-up to kick-off, choreographies are unveiled, massive banners, confetti and balloons are released and the stadium erupts with noise.

Whilst barra bravas are at every club in Argentina, they are most prominent in both River and Boca. River’s barra bravas have close links with the national government who were at war with the powerful media group, Clarin, which saw football become just one of the battlegrounds in Argentina.

Just this week, the barra bravas of River Plate have already been in the headlines. A 100 strong mob attacked rival gang in a River Plate cafe, injuring many members of the public in an organised attack over limited tickets for the game against Boca Juniors.

“The organised fights of Barra Brava often taken place away from the ground, often near motorways. There is the lurking sense of danger at football matches in Argentina,” Joel Richards, author of Inside the Ultimate Derby.

Argentina’s most serious-related football tragedy was that at the Monumental in 1968 where 71 Boca supporters had died in a crush as fans made for the exit. To this day, nobody has yet been brought to justice for the tragedy and exactly what had happened has never been clarified.

In the next fixture between the two sides, the two sets of supporters sang the same song.

No habia puerta, no habia molinete, era la cana que pegaba con machete. There was no gate, there were no barriers, it was the police thrashing out with knives.

Between the Gate 12 tragedy and River and Boca’s barra bravas joining forces for political and financial interests in 2009, the violence in and around football in Argentina has steadily increased.

Families travelled from Europe, namely Spain and Italy to the south of Buenos Aires, settling in the dock area of La Boca. Football clubs emerged in working-class areas in the Argentine capital but a dispute between youth over who was the better team, Los Rosales or Santa Rosa,  resulted in both sides deciding to join forces, and so The River Plate was born.

Through the narrow streets of La Boca, two of the club’s founders noticed red ribbons hanging from a float claiming to carry ‘The Inhabitants from Hell’. Risking the wrath of the owners, the youth ripped the ribbons down and draped their white shirts, providing the team with a strip.

Streets away, Independencia Sur were looking for a new start, names were mentioned but owners decided that the neighbourhood should figure in the name. Days later, they had opted for Boca Juniors, and so a local rivalry was born.

“The area around Boca is characterised by lack of space, pokey little streets,” said Vickery.

“The stadium reflects that, that’s why it is called the chocolate box because it goes straight upwards, there’s no space.”

For 20 years, both clubs had battled it out for ownership of the area, and with narrow streets and little space for the two of them – it was time for River to relocate in Recoleta before moving further north to a barren area in 1938.

To this day, River find themselves situated on the edge of Belgrano and Nunez, an open space which allowed them to build the largest stadium in the country, and so the Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti was born, named after legendary club president, Antionio Liberti.

Argentina, known for its wine, steaks, ice cream, and of course, two of the greatest footballers to ever grace this planet, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.

An icon for Boca, Maradona stayed at the Argentine club for just one season before joining Barcelona, returning to La Bombonera in 1995 as a legend and a World Cup winner.

When Maradona had signed for Boca the first time round, River had softened the blow by signing Valencia’s Mario Kempes, despite being injured.

“They knew I was injured when I arrived,” said Kempes. “At Valencia they hadn’t found out what was wrong with me, and I didn’t play for six months after joining River.”

Despite missing the first superclasico, Kempes was fit for the following clash, ending in a 1-1 draw in which Maradona was the scorer for Boca.

The great Kempes once told reporters: “Central-Newell’s, in Rosario, is different,” he explained, “Because they are the two local sides they are fighting over who is the best in the city, for hegemony. In Cordoba, where I also played clasicos, it is very similar. The build-up is intense, players prepare for the game like any other but nothing gives you that buzz of a clasico.

The superclasico is different because they are not just fighting for the city, but because it is a national clasico, the whole country is involved.”

Following River’s promotion back in the top flight, the superclasico has raised in intensity levels – police on high alert during the hours of build-up to the game. Aggression, chanting, and most importantly, passion will entice viewers around the globe.

You can find RivalTalk’s full Tim Vickery interview below: