Going inside the madness of the Superclasico: Argentina's Boca Juniors-River Plate rivalry

3:23 | Planet Futbol
Vice World Of Sports RIVALS: Superclasico
Tuesday February 28th, 2017

Episode 2 of Vice World of Sports: Rivals featuring Argentina's Superclasico premieres March 1 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Viceland. Check your local listings.

When it comes to sports' most bitter rivalries, Red Sox-Yankees and Duke-UNC have nothing on Boca Juniors-River Plate. 

The "Superclasico" features the two most successful and popular clubs in Argentinean soccer, both of which are based in Buenos Aires. Both teams originated in the working class La Boca neighborhood, but River Plate moved to the more affluent Nunez area in 1925. The rivalry developed as a proxy manifestation of societal tensions; Boca became known as the people's club while River Plate's supporters were dubbed Los Millonarios.

Superclasico matches are infamous for fiesty conduct on and off the field. An outrageous five players were sent off in a January 2016 meeting, and a May 2015 match was postponed after Boca fans pepper sprayed a River player before the game. 

But it's the anarchical madness away from the pitch that adds a political, and often times violent, dimension to an already fierce rivalry. 

Vice World of Sports' Season 2 focuses on sports rivalries as a window into a larger story about a certain society (Season 1 shared the Producer's Guild of America's award for Best Outstanding Sports Program with HBO's Real Sports). The season's second episode, "Rivals: Superclasico," dives deep into the Superclasico to shed light on both clubs' respective barra bravas, the Argentinean version of England's famous football hooligans.

As the episode explores, these gang-like organizations wield remarkable influence on the country's drug trade, politics and society as a whole.

Evan Rosenfeld, Executive Producer of the series whose producer credits include The U and Broke, spoke with SI.com about his experience in Argentina. 

Daniel Rapaport: Just to be clear, these barras bravas are full-fledged gangs, yes?

Evan Rosenfeld: Full-fledged. There’s a pyramid structure to what they do. They’re selling drugs, there’s infighting within the groups. They control most of what mafias normally control. They are a gang. They are first not fans of the teams, they are fans of the fans. Essentially, they’ve ruined the game. 

DR: What makes you say that?

ER: The violence that they’ve drummed up has created a situation where the government had to ban visiting fans from the game. How exciting is it to go to a game where there are no opposing fans? It takes away a ton. Even the barras are complaining about it now. Ha. 

DR: What kind of effect does this have on the players?

ER: When you have these type of fans, the pressure isn’t just to win, they’re fearing for their safety. You can be the best player in the world, but if you screw up in the Superclasico, you’re going to be hated forever. And on the flip side, you could be the worst player, but if you come through in this game, you will be remembered forever. 

DR: What are the barras bravas after big picture? What is their goal?

ER: Power. They’re just thugs, they want power, it just so happens that it’s channeled through this. They want to be the toughest, the most powerful. They make money from the drugs, but at the end of the day it’s about power. 

DR: And you get the sense the police turn a blind eye, that they’re immune from discipline?

ER: Absolutely. They have their own section of the stadium where they sell drugs. In the stadium! Everyone knows what’s going on.

DR: Christ. When you were there, did you ever fear for your safety?

ER: Yeah. Ben Anderson, our host, he’s spent time in Afghanistan in Iraq. He said dealing with the bravas felt like the worst places he’s been. It just felt like anything could happen at any moment. They are a shady group of people. 

Catch the full episode on Viceland Wednesday night at 10:30 ET.

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