South America has always been known for its passionate fans when it comes to sport. So imagine the scenes at El Monumental when after a dismal period of football in the club’s history, River Plate were relegated to the nation’s Primera B Nacional for the first time ever. Locked in a tussle for top-flight survival, The Red Stripes were unable to overturn a two goal deficit and were held to a 1-1 draw at their home turf by Belgrano de Cordoba.
For weeks, supporters of the former Argentine giants had been rioting during and after games out of sheer frustration. So when the 2010/11 Clausura resulted in River Plate’s descent into the lowly second tier of Argentine football, police were overwhelmed, as the match was abandoned in the last minute, on a sad day in River Plate’s history.
If you aren’t aware of how the Argentine League is formatted, it works around two tournaments per year, named the Apertura and Clausura (translated loosely to ‘Opening’ and ‘Closing’). The teams that are then relegated and promoted between the two leagues are based on a three year average, so effectively over the course of six tournaments. The two teams that then finish just outside the relegation and promotion spots (17th and 18th in the Primera, 3rd and 4th in the Primera B) enter a two-legged playoff format. So the amount of teams swapping leagues can be anywhere between 2 and 4 teams, depending on the playoff results.
Some officials in Argentina have criticised the averaging system, which came into usage in 1990, saying that it’s more beneficial to larger clubs who are more unlikely to develop such a bad streak as to warrant relegation. These views have now been combated slightly, as the countries most successful will be playing in its second division for the first time ever. It’s reported that 25 people were injured in the ensuing riots, after the tempers of some 50,000 home fans came to a boil after what has been a frustrating three-year era.
The club’s decline started in 2008, in the middle of that year’s Apertura. Diego Simeone, the team’s manager at the time, had left the club following a string of poor form. River Plate went on to finish last in the Apertura 2008; the first time they had done so in 107 years. The next two seasons didn’t go quite as badly, but were along the same tune, struggling to get out of the bottom half of the table in Apertura and Clausura tournaments in 2009 and much of 2010.
Finances became an issue and the presidency of the club changed hands in 2011. However, new president Daniel Pasarella has come under huge amounts of criticism since he boarded what was then a sinking ship. Pasarella was monumental whilst at the club as a player, and captained Argentina to their 1978 World Cup victory. How unfitting it is that he should be at the club’s helm when they see their first footballing days in the Primera B. Many have speculated as to the reason for the fall of River Plate. The club now finds itself in more than $15m of debt and the issue of gangs having a say in its running has been raised lately. Argentina, and Buenos Aires more so, is rich in gang crime and it would be sad to hear if these rumours proved true for a club so gilded in history.
It was a sad day in Buenos Aires when the fate of such a huge team was condemned to relegation. However, newly promoted and relegated teams ignore the three-year averaging rule, and their total in their first season is decided on their first season in the new league. River Plate will be hoping that shakeup in the boardroom and the changing room will effectively result in immediate promotion to where they feel they belong. Los Milionarios, as the team are known, will have to go next season without a heated fixture against rivals Boca Juniors, but will be hoping a year without a Superclasico fixture will be all. This team has too much glory associated with its name to simply fade away. Or at least that’s what one would hope.