River Plate relegated! Who would have thought? I don’t know how many people here follow South American football but I try to check it out every now and again, despite the limited coverage available in this country. It used to be a lot easier when Channel 4 showed Copa Libertadores matches live in the middle of the night and had that really cool show Goalissimo that did a roundup of all the leagues every Friday night at about 3am. Now all we have is Tim Vickery’s column and streams that never work properly. But enough lamenting about the standard of the coverage of South American football in the UK, this is a story about the shock relegation of River Plate, one of Argentina’s most famous clubs. River Plate were relegated to the second tier last night after a playoff defeat over two legs to Argentinian minnows Belgrano. Here’s a picture of the River plate team shortly after the lost the match. Heartbreaking scenes.
Even if you don’t know much about South American football you’ve probably heard of River Plate on account of them being pretty much Argentina’s most famous club and famous names such as Gabriel Batistuta, Javier Mascherano, Pablo Aimar, Marcelo Salas, Hernan Crespo and Gonzalo Higuain (amongst others) have all turned out in the famed red and white of River Plate. I’m pretty sure you used to be able to play as River Plate on the old Pro Evo games too and that goes some way to illustrating the fame of the club. River Plate have also won a record 33 domestic titles, as well as the Copa Libertadores twice and a couple other intercontinental South American titles that even I don’t understand (Do you know how they set up the leagues down there? It’s really weird) and crucially had never been relegated in their 110 year history. River Plate’s matches with the other Argentinian powerhouse Diego Maradona’s (and Carlos Tevez’s) Boca Juniors are referred to as the ‘superclassico.’ If this paragraph isn’t enough to make you realise how big a deal River Plate are in Argentina then I don’t know what is. Maybe these sentences in capitals: RIVER PLATE IS THE BIGGEST CLUB IN ARGENTINA. RIVER PLATE IS THE EQUIVALENT OF MANCHESTER UNITED OR REAL MADRID. So the relegation of River Plate was a huge shock, albeit one that had been coming for the past three years since their last domestic title success. .
So what happened? Apparently River Plate have been in a bad run of form for some time and it all came down to a RELEGATION PLAYOFF. They don’t have these in England but I would probably be all for it as it might mean Birmingham were still playing in the Premiership. Basically the top ranking team in the relegation places plays the top ranking team in the division below to see who plays in which league. It’s a pretty dramatic idea although I can see how it’s a bit unfair on the team in the division below. Well, you would think that anyway, especially when playing against the mighty River Plate. You would be wrong though as Belgrano (who?) managed to win the first leg of their playoff 2-0 and then draw 1-1 at River Plate to send River Plate into the second tier for the first time. The highlights of the match make it look awesome – lots of chances for River Plate, a goal disallowed for Belgrano and River Plate even managed to miss a crucial penalty midway through the second half. If River Plate had drawn the tie then they would have stayed up.
However, the real story was after the final whistle – or one minute before it to be precise – with the distraught River Plate fans in tears storming the pitch and having to be hosed down by high powered hoses by the 2200 riot police that were employed for this very eventuality. The riots continued all night all over the city, with apparently 50 people arrested and about 75 injured as the River Plate fans set loads of fires around the city and smashed loads of stuff up. There are a bunch of videos doing the rounds of ‘the River Plate riots’ – here are the best I could find. Commentary is in Spanish on some and English on others, just to mix it up you know. The Spanish commentary is probably better.
I guess if there’s one good thing about this story it’s that Birmingham got relegated the same year as one of the giants of world football River Plate. Only wish the Birmingham fans could riot like the River Plate fans.
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