Contention and hate are undoubtedly understatements when describing the atmosphere surrounding the upcoming Libertadores final. Boca abhorrers River and River despises Boca. I tried to use words other than hate to better describe how they feel towards each other, but let’s be honest, words do not describe it. Instead, maybe a short story will.
In the northern Argentina province of Misiones, two friends got into a bit of a heated argument about Boca and River. Instead of taking it out on each other through their words or even throwing a few punches, one of the men decided to burn his friend’s house down.
Now that we are all on the same page and understand just how much these two sides hate one another, let me tell you another story. This is the story of the one group of people in Argentina who will be excited no matter who wins the Libertadores final.
In the city of Bell Ville – two and a half hours outside of Córdoba, halfway en route to Rosario – there is a small football club called River Plate. Naming local sports clubs after one of the larger clubs in Argentina is a common practice in all parts of the country. This River Plate however, is different.
When the club was established in 1923, its founders were split into two different groups – those who supported Boca and those who supported River. They could not agree on neither the name of the club nor the colors. It was decided that they would draw for the opportunity to name the club and the loser could select the colors. River’s group of supporters won the right to pick the name, and Boca’s fans selected blue and yellow as the colors.
For 95 years, the town of Bell Ville, population just under 34,000, birthplace of World Cup hero Mario Kempes, has figured out how to make both River and Boca cohabitate. While the rest of the country thrives off this rivalry and the animosity that exists between the two fanbases, there is proof that maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.
The current president of River Plate (of Bell Ville) is a fan of Boca. But of course, this club that has to maintain a perfect balance between the nation’s two largest teams, has a River supporter as its Vice President. The club currently has 250 members and it is believed that it is split almost 50/50 between fans of River and Boca.
No matter the result of the Libertadores final, River Plate de Bell Ville will win. But maybe they have already won. They have accomplished something that has all but proven to be impossible – they have shown that River and Boca fans can coexist without violence. Hugo Vazquez, the club’s secretary said it best, “No matter what, we are going to win: because of the name or because of the shirt. Here we won’t lose, at this club, those from River and from Boca are brothers.”
As we near the Libertadores final, my hope is twofold. First, I want these matches to live up to the hype. I want players giving their all and putting everything on the line. I want to see blood and tears on the pitch. I want to see 180 minutes of exciting, adrenaline filled football. But secondly, I want the fans to be able to enjoy those 180 minutes in peace. Of course, watching the match will be full of anxiety and stress as is customary in any football match, but I hope no fan of Boca or River has to live in fear of retribution from the opposing fanbase.
Maybe I am being an idealist. Maybe I just don’t understand the true nature of this rivalry. But I have faith that fans of River and Boca can watch the matches, die with every kick of the ball, cry for joy if their team wins and sob filled with sorrow if they lose. All of this is possible without violence. Boca hates River and River hates Boca, this fact cannot be avoided. While I believe this rivalry should be celebrated, the hate should never manifest itself in violence. And we can all look to the tiny club from Bell Ville for proof that this dream is possible.
Jimmy lived in Córdoba, Argentina as a teenager and is still an active Socio for his beloved club, Belgrano. He currently lives in Seattle, WA and loves to write about football when he has a break from work and family. He also runs the Belgrano – English twitter account.