Updated: March 15, 2017
The most famous, the most watched, the teams that attract the most fans. Here is a breakdown of the top teams to see in Argentina.
Founded 1901 in La Boca, River Plate now plays in the Estadio Antonio Vespucio Liberti, better known as the El Monumental, in the neighborhood Núñez. El Monumental is also the traditional home stadium for the Argentinean national team and was the famous venue for the 1978 World Cup final when Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1 to claim their first world crown. Known as the “Millonarios”, either for high transfer fees paid in the 1940s and ’50s, or for having rich fans, depending who you listen to. Disparagingly River Plate are called gallinas (‘chickens’) by opposing fans.
River are the most successful side in domestic Argentine football, with 33 league titles, as well as 2 Copas Libertadores and a number of other trophies. They suffered relegation for the first time in their history in June 2011 (which did not go over well), but an immediate return to the top flight in 2012. Former greats include 1980s hero and Uruguayan legend Enzo Francescoli – after whom French World Cup-winner Zinedine Zidane’s son is named – and Adolfo Pedernera, a member of the great ‘La Máquina’ attack at the club in the 1940s and early ’50s. Their biggest rivals, as you’re probably aware, are Boca Juniors, but the other members of the ‘Big Five’ – Racing, Independiente and San Lorenzo – also play clásicos (classic match ups) with River.
In conversation about River Plate…
*Do Say: ‘[misfit striker] Rogelio Gabriel Funes Mori’s twin brother must be better than he is. I’ve never seen his brother play, but he can’t be any worse.’ Funes Mori’s brother Ramiro is also on River’s books as a defender, though he’s yet to make his first team debut.
*Don’t say: ‘The Nacional B [second divison] is clearly this club’s true level.’
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Founded in 1905 in La Boca, the club remain in the Estadio Alberto J. Armando, the near-mythical Bombonera (“Chocolate box”). Boca are known as the Xeneize, which in Genovese dialect means, erm, ‘the Geneovese’; the club was founded by immigrants from that part of Italy. To rival fans, especially those of River Plate, Boca supporters are known as bosteros. Roughly translated to ‘people who bathe or work in shit.’
Boca are the second most successful club in Argentine league history, but have more international trophies than any other in Argentina – or, for that matter, almost any other club in the world. Only Italy’s A.C. Milan can match their haul of 18 trophies won in international competitions, which includes six Copas Libertadores (four since 2000). Not so ruthlessly consistent these days, a trip to La Bombonera to see a Boca home game is nonetheless one of the essential Buenos Aires travel experiences. Club legends include Martín Palermo, the all-time highest goalscorer in Boca’s history, who retired in June 2011, Juan Román Riquelme, the mercurial playmaker, the controversial Carlos Tevez and once upon a time a chap called Diego Maradona – perhaps you’ve heard of him.
In conversation about Boca Juniors…
Do say: ‘The atmosphere at La Bombonera is the best I’ve ever seen in a football ground. It’s amazing!’
Don’t say: That in fact the crowd at Racing are both friendlier, and noisier.
*Boca Juniors have had a members’ only policy in effect since 2012 so no public ticket sales. To “borrow” a Boca Juniors membership card for the day.
Founded in 1903 in Avellaneda, just south of the City of Buenos Aires. Their Estadio Juan Domingo Perón is more popularly known as El Cilindro, due to its shape. The club’s nickname is La Academia (‘The Academy’, a reference to their youth academy and system), and their fans also refer to Racing as El primer grande (‘the first big club’), as they were the first side to dominate the Argentine championship, with seven straight titles from 1913 to 1919.
With seventeen league titles, Racing are level with their close neighbors (and bitter rivals Independiente) in third place of the Argentine league’s all-time winners’ standings. They’ve won one Copa Libertadores and that same year, 1967, became the first Argentine side – at club or national team level – to be world champions, when they beat Celtic of Scotland in the Intercontinental Cup. Former players include 1950s star Orestes Omar Corbatta, who for many is the best Argentine right-winger of all time (although his name is little-known outside the country), and more recently the likes of national team strikers Lisandro López and Diego Milito, who’ve both enjoyed success in Europe. Racing’s main rivalry match is the clásico de Avellaneda, played against Independiente; it’s arguably an even more passionate affair than the superclásico between River Plate and Boca Juniors.
In conversation about Racing…
Do say: ‘The referee/their own players/plain bad luck screwed Racing in that last game, but that’s what it means to be Racing, right?’
Don’t say: I’ve heard the fans at Independiente are more dedicated than at Racing?
Racing Club tickets and packages
Officially founded in Buenos Aires’ city centre on New Year’s Day 1905 (though the institution had started work some months previously), Independiente are another of Argentina’s ‘Big Five’, and the most successful club in the history of the Copa Libertadores – the South American club championship, with seven Copas, although the most recent was in 1984. The club are known as El Rojo (‘The Red’) or Los Diablos Rojos (‘The Red Devils’). The club’s barra brava – the hard core fans/hooligans behind the home goal – are unusual in Argentina in that they don’t have a name. Racing’s barra brava, La Guardia Imperial, like to mock them for this.
Today, they play in the Estadio Libertadores de América, which has finally…mostly completed (2016) the other half a stand and the roof, after its reconstruction was halted due to lack of funds. They now have one of the most modern stadia in South America. Former players include Arsenio Erico, a Paraguayan forward who moved to Independiente in 1934 and is the all-time highest goalscorer in the Argentine top flight, Ricardo Enrique Bochini – a member of the Argentina side which won the World Cup with Diego Maradona as captain in Mexico 86 – and more recently, Sergio Agüero.
In conversation about Independiente…
Do say: ‘This stadium’s going to be the best in South America when it’s finished!’
Don’t say: ‘A shame we don’t know when that will be. And that the team are crap at the moment.’
Independiente tickets and packages
San Lorenzo de Almagro
Founded in 1908, in Almagro, San Lorenzo now play in Bajo Flores, a rather less salubrious area of town. They are the fifth of Argentina’s ‘Big Five’, and until recently were the only ones to have never won the Copa Libertadores (opposing fans often joke that CASLA, ‘Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro‘, in fact stands for ‘Club Atlético Sin Libertadores de América‘; ‘sin‘ is Spanish for ‘without’). They finally hoisted the trophy in 2014 following a victorious Primera league championship in 2013.
They’re the only club to have won the Argentine league without being beaten all season on two occasions, and in total have won 15 league titles. They play in the Estadio Pedro Bidegain, also known as the Nuevo Gasómetro or the ‘New Gas Meter’. The club’s old stadium stood near a gas site, and when it was demolished to make way for a supermarket at the end of 1979, San Lorenzo began a period of 14 years without a home ground before the new stadium was opened in December 1993. The club are nicknamed Ciclón (‘cyclone’, a reference to the playing style of one of their teams of old, and a nice reply to their main derby rivals, Huracán, whose name means ‘hurricane’) or Cuervo (‘crow’). Former greats include José Sanfilippo, their all-time top scorer, whilst Hollywood star Viggo Mortensen and the Pope are counted as big fans.
When in a conversation…
Do say: ‘The shirt colors remind me of Barcelona, as does the team’s style of play.’ (It’s complete rubbish, but the fans will love hearing it.)
Don’t say: Anything in a language other than Spanish, unless you’re with a tour guide. The stadium’s right next to one of the biggest shanty towns in Greater Buenos Aires, so advertising your foreign-ness isn’t a wise move. If you’re talking to a San Lorenzo fan in a bar, just try and avoid complementing their rivals Huracán (even though they’re a far more likeable club).
San Lorenzo tickets
Founded in 1910, Vélez play in Liniers, on the edge of the city limits of Buenos Aires, in the Estadio José Amalfitani, better known as El Fortín (‘the little fort’), which is also the team’s nickname. At the time of writing (2011) and generally speaking over the years to present, Vélez have a very impressive side, leading the Argentine league and in the semi-finals of the 2011 Copa Libertadores. Well worth watching but they’re frequently mocked by fans of the bigger clubs for not having many fans. They’re in unofficial competition for the title of ‘sixth big club’ with Huracán.
Founded in 1908 and according to many, named after an ancient god of the winds, Huracán – San Lorenzo’s traditional clásico rivals – were actually named because the founders of the club took a fancy to a name on a plaque on the wall of the shop they bought their first crest from!
They’re also called El Globo, after the hot air balloon that appears on their crest in tribute to Argentina’s early aviation hero Jorge Newberry. They play in Parque Patricios, in Estadio Tomás A. Duco, also known as El Palacio. In conversation, don’t mention the Ángel Cappa-managed team of 2009; reminding fans how far the team has fallen will probably make them cry.
Founded in 1904, Argentinos are one of the most traditional ‘small’ clubs of Argentina’s top flight. They play in La Paternal in the Estadio Diego Armando Maradona – named after the most famous product of their prolific academy, which has also produced players such as Fernando Redondo, Esteban Cambiasso and Juan Román Riquelme, who like Maradona is a legend at Boca Juniors. Their stadium is compact (in 2010 Estudiantes de La Plata captain Seba Verón likened it to ‘a matchbox,’ which drew the comment, ‘at least we’ve got a stadium’ from them Argentinos manager Claudio Borghi, in reference to the fact that Estudiantes were at the time having to groundshare with Quilmes), but has a relaxed atmosphere which can get very noisy indeed when the side do well. Their clásico (classic match up or rivalry) is with All Boys, a considerably smaller club from nearby Floresta.
If you are interested in tickets, packages and tours to any of the teams mentioned please contact us directly at LandingPadBA@gmail.com We often times put together private tours and packages to lesser desired teams and stadiums for more authentic experiences.
Alternatively if you want to go see a game on your own and track down tickets in Buenos Aires
Sam Kelly covers South American (especially Argentine) football for ESPNSoccernet.com and UK magazine When Saturday Comes among others, and writes Primera División match previews for the Hong Kong Jockey Club. He is the author of the blog, Hasta El Gol Siempre, and produces the non-award-winning Argentine football podcast Hand Of Pod