FATHERS AND SONS: EL CLASICO AND URUGUAY’S UNIQUE OBSESSION WITH TWO ERSTWHILE GIANTS

FATHERS AND SONS: EL CLASICO AND URUGUAY’S OBSESSION WITH TWO ERSTWHILE GIANTS

Here in America, this first weekend of June may be the height of the sporting calendar. Rather than any one specific offering, it’s because there’s a multitude of options. This weekend alone, Americans can choose from the UEFA Champions League Final, the Stanley Cup Finals, the NBA Finals, the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line, the French Open, NCAA Baseball Super Regionals, the Women’s World Cup, The X Games, plus the regular Slate of MLB and MLS games to direct their dollars and their eyes. While an impressive slate, it somehow seems numbingly normal to the casual American fan. In the age of mega cable packages, we’ve come to expect, and even demand this constant merry-go-round of sporting events.

In Uruguay, this remarkable diversity of consumer choice, this embarrassment of athletic riches, this onslaught of sporting pluralism is a foreign concept. Most weekends of the year there are only two events that matter, and on two very, very special weekends, that is reduced to one.

Uruguay’s main soccer rivalry between Club Atlético Peñarol, and Club Nacional de Football is not the best or most popular sporting rivalry in the world, but it has the most far-reaching impact on an entire country than any other rivalry in sports. Uruguay is a small nation, and its traditions, brands, and personalities have limited international visibility. While the clasico is a victim of Uruguay’s tiny internal market, it also defines that same market for club soccer. In an extremely agnostic, pacifist, and unified country, the clasico becomes a proxy for religion, war, and social divides.

In many countries, sporting rivalries are a reflection of society. In Uruguay, the clasico is not merely reflective, but pervasive. Its impact is felt in Uruguay’s economy, public space, everyday life, media, politics, and in the future of the country’s sporting landscape. Here are some of my stories and observations from Uruguay that illustrate the Clasico’s uniqueness and importance.

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The origin of the clubs and their ensuing rivalry is well documented. In fact, excessively well documented, and debated to no end. Peñarol argues that the present club is the continuation of Central Uruguay Railway and Cricket Club (CURCC) founded in 1891 by British railway employees. Nacional–founded in 1899 by Uruguayans–argues that Peñarol was founded in 1913 as a distinct institution from CURCC. Fans obsess over which club is older, which is rather silly and one-dimensional in terms of decision theory in an open market. If you have the choice between two restaurants that serve have great food, great service, and great tradition, why does it matter which one is older? In a country that lacks ancient or royal history, an historiographical debate about primogeniture drives sporting passions. The padre y decano (“father and dean”) conflict can rile up fans more than anything else on or off the pitch. Even in basketball, Club Atlético Atenas brags about being “el Glorioso y Decano del basket uruguayo.” It’s an argument that gets passed down from generation to generation in a linear view of history. In America this is the kind of detail that’s reduced to a trivia question during the timeout of a broadcast. No one cares if the New York Yankees inherited the records of the 1901-1902 Baltimore Orioles. But in Uruguay, founding date and historical accuracy are foremost markers of tribalism. In a part of the world known for its attachment to Freud, it’s telling that when older team calls itself “papá”, the rival becomes “hijos”.

As I’ve written about with Uruguayan players, it’s nicknames that matter just as much as actual names. And in the case of the clubs, it isn’t just one nickname. Nacional are sometimes known as El Tricolor (tricolor). This refers to their colors of red, white, and blue, which were taken from the Artigas flag. In the stands of their main stadium Parque Central, or Tribuna Colombes, where their fans stand in the Centenario Stadium during clasicos, you will often see Artigas flags flying along side team flags and other banners. The link to national liberator José Gervasio Artigas, the foremost symbol of uruguayanidad makes sense given that—unlike their rival–Nacional are “un club criollo” (a creole club), one that was founded by Uruguayans for Uruguayans. But their most common nickname is El Bolso, which comes from an early kit having pockets, or bolsillos.

Peñarol has three nicknames to which any fan will happily identify. Like their counterpart, one of them is the team colors, Aurinegro, or “black and gold”. A second nickname is Carbonero (“coalman”), which comes from the railway heritage of shovelling coal into locomotives. The third nickname, Manya, has one of the most bizarre origins in all of sports. Striker Carlos Scarone returned from a stint with Boca Juniors in Argentina, and signed for Nacional. When his father, an ardent Peñarol supporter, asked him why he didn’t go to Peñarol, he responded, “Why would I play for Peñarol? To eat shit?” For Scarone, the son of an Italian immigrant, “to eat shit” came out as manyarmierda. Corrupted to manya, the term was initially used pejoratively by opposing fans, but soon peñarolenses adopted it as their own.

Both on and off the pitch, the national predominance of these two clubs can’t be overstated. Peñarol has a slight edge in the trophy cabinet, having won 5 Copa Libertadores—South America’s premier annual club competition–to Nacional’s 3, and 47 National titles to Nacional’s 44. No other Uruguayan team has won a Libertadores, and all other clubs have only 19 titles between them. From 1932 to 1975, either Peñarol or Nacional won the Uruguayan league every single year. In only 4 of those years did a team other than Nacional or Peñarol even win second place. Yes. 43 years. 2 champions.

In terms of the fan base, Peñarol has a slight statistic edge depending on who’s doing the polling. A 2013 telephone survey revealed that 46% of Uruguayans are for Peñarol, 35% are for Nacional, and 6% are for cuadros chicos. That is to say that between them Nacional and Peñarol possess 93% of fans who support a club in Uruguay. Peñarol also comes out on top in every demographic category, though the relative advantage affirms conventional wisdom that Nacional narrows the gap for followers of the Partido Nacional (National Party) and for people from outside Montevideo (The Interior). But given that in no category Peñarol attained above 56% support, we’re talking a fairly level playing field. These statistics on fandom illustrate how socially lateral and fluid Uruguay is. In any social or geographic setting, it isn’t hard to find supporters of both clubs.

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Cuadros chicos (“small clubs”) constitute every other professional club in the country. In the top two divisions, there are 29 total clubs, Nacional, Peñarol, and 27 cuadros chicos. Nacional and Peñarol are national clubs, while the cuadros chicos are either neighborhood or departmental (like counties) clubs. I can’t emphasize this difference enough. In terms of size and popularity, it’s like having Ohio State and Michigan play in a conference full of high school teams. The fans of cuadros chicos love their clubs just as much as Peñarol and Nacional fans do; it’s just that there are vastly fewer of them, and they have far fewer resources. To give an idea, Fénix, a traditionally mid-table club in the Capurro neighborhood, use plastic deck chairs (Figure 1) for the players’ bench. Rampla Juniors have one of the most spectacularly located stadiums in the world, yet the facilities leave much to be desired (Figures 2 and 3). Peñarol, who plays in the Estadio Centenario gets to share the same facilities that Uruguay’s national team la Celeste use when they are in town.

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Figure 1: Plastic chairs for the players’ bench at Parque Capurro

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Figure 2: The view across the bay from Rampla’s Estadio Olimpico

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Figure 3: Ticket booth or prison cell? Rampla’s Estadio Olimpico

The cuadros chicos tend to be in Montevideo’s peripheral and poorer neighborhoods. You wouldn’t ever come across them unless you had a specific connection to neighborhoods like Capurro, Sayago, and Jardines del Hipódromo, which are far out of the way to any visitor who comes to Montevideo for leisure or necessity. As a tourist, the only one you’re likely to notice is Defensor Sporting, which vies with Danubio in terms of fans and trophies to be a distant third. Defensor are often considered a cheta (“posh”) club. Their stadium, the Franzini is located along the Rambla (Montevideo’s waterfront promenade) between Parque Rodó and Punta Carretas, which are two of Montevideo’s richest neigbhorhoods. You don’t see much Defensor graffiti in the area, fans don’t flaunt their gear, and there’s a minimal barra brava presence at matches. The atmosphere at the Franzini (Figure 4) is much more for the casual fan that takes in good football, a good view, and good mate (Uruguay’s caffeinated drink of choice). Kind of like Arsenal in England, they are many people’s second favorite club. When Defensor were the only Uruguayan club to make a deep run in last year’s Copa Libertadores, many Nacional and Peñarol fans cheered them on. In a quarterfinal against Atletico Nacional of Colombia, I saw more black and gold than purple and white in some sections of the Centenario (Figure 5). During a lecture I attended at the Social Sciences Faculty of the National University (UdelaR) about the evolution of batllismo over the 20th century, nationally renowned political scientist and frequent commentator on football, Gerardo Caetano pauses and asked his students about football. “Levantá la mano si sos de Peñarol” (“Raise your hand if you’re for Peñarol”). Almost half raise their hand. “Levantá la mano si sos de Nacional”. Almost half raise their hand. “Levantá la mano si sos de Defensor”. One student shyly raises his hand. Caetano chirps back, “Bien bien! Somos poco. Hay que llenar el Franzini.” (“Good good! We are few. We must fill the Franzini.”)

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Figure 4: A rather casual Sunday match at the Franzini. Note the mate thermos in the foreground.

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Figure 5: The Centenario during a Copa Libertadores quarterfinal between Defensor Sporting and Colombia’s Atletico Nacional

The interior cuadros chicos come out of a late 90s AUF (the national soccer federation) drive to decentralize club soccer in Uruguay. Before then, all professional clubs in the country were located in the capital. Some of them are de novo creations backed directly by the Intendencia and with the support of local amateur clubs (Cerro Largo FC, Rocha FC), and others still are amateur clubs that made the step up to professionalism (Plaza Colonia, and Deportivo Maldonado).

Clubs in both groups, such as Frontera Rivera Chico and Bella Vista Paysandú have had trouble staying afloat. Changing consumer habits in Uruguay is something that takes more time and patience than in most places. The most logical explanation for the continued obscurity of the cuadros del Interior is that Peñarol and Nacional are ingrained so deeply in the culture, that changing peoples’ preference for something that rooted in tradition is nigh impossible. Interior clubs faltering hasn’t kept first division football from being played in the Interior. Rather than suit up in crumbling stadiums in Montevideo run by cash-strapped clubs, cuadros chicos Sud América and El Tanque Sisley are playing in better kept stadiums run by the Intendencias (local government) of Florida and San José departments, respectively. If this is a ploy to get more interior fans to come to games, it works, at least when Peñarol and Nacional are visiting. Overall, the presence cuadros chicos have in the Interior is not one of commerce or fan affinity. However, many amateur clubs in the Interior, such as Melo Wanderers and River Plate de Cerro Chato (Figure 6), take their names and jerseys from cuadros chicos.

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Figure 6: River Plate de Cerro Chato takes on Artigas of Santa Clara de Olimar

The government wanted decentralization for reasons of access, though not necessarily to create competition. Compare this to expansion franchises in America meant to fit seamlessly into the existing league structure and provide teams ready to compete for a championship immediately. Take the Seattle Sounders. The Puget Sound market was ready to pounce on top-flight football, and the Sounders have become one of the most successful American clubs on the pitch and in terms of attendance. In baseball terms, the cuadros del Interior would be like setting up teams in Albany and Hartford to compete in the same division with the Red Sox and Yankees. In Uruguay, the fan base for these new interior clubs is minimal, because the two giants already have the market captured.

In Uruguay, the phrase cuadro chico goes beyond football. It is a way of saying underdog in any context. Uruguay itself is a cuadro chico in the big bad world, especially the big bad FIFA world, which helps to explain why so many Uruguayans support the big two. Much like La Celeste, Nacional and Peñarol have achieved incredible success on the international stage. But in the micro world of Uruguayan club football, there just isn’t a market for anyone else. For Manyas and Bolsos, seeing other names on the fixture list is a mere illusion of competition. It’s a coping mechanism, a piece of grandeur to cling onto amidst global insignificance outside of soccer.

I can’t stress enough how in a country where the majority of the already small population lives in or around one city, the clasico is a National rivalry. Peñarol and Nacional have total dominance in the interior. Despite both clubs being located in Montevideo, the clasico is NOT a city derby like Liverpool/Everton or Cubs/White Sox. In fact, the term “city derby” is a misnomer in most places where cities have natural hinterlands, but especially in Uruguay. Nacional and Peñarol not only have fans all over the country, but get to entertain them in their native habitat every once in a while. Preseason tours to the largest departmental capitals are common, and this year, Peñarol even played a league game in Rivera, where fans from across the interior made a pilgrimage to a stadium built in 1995 that already looks like an archaeological site (Figure 7). Peñarol and Nacional spreading the wealth geographically is a sign of how important inclusiveness is in Uruguay. Imagine the Ducks and Beavers playing their spring game, let alone a regular season game in Astoria, The Dalles, or Klamath Falls.

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Figure 7: Estadio Atilio Paiva Olivera, Rivera

The clasico may hold a grip over many Uruguayans, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t follow club football in other countries. Any foreign club with a major la Celeste player is likely to receive more press and sell more jerseys in Uruguay than a cuadro chico. In general, people follow whatever European club they feel like at any given time. A kid can wear a Suarez Barcelona top with Real Madrid shorts, and no one bats an eyelid. But harboring sympathies for both Uruguayan clasico clubs? Forget it. Affinity for Peñarol or Nacional is permanent, while global brands come and go with circumstances. However, affinity for other South American clubs is somewhere in between. Many Uruguayans have a side in the major Argentine and Brazilian derbies. Bolsos tend to favor River and Inter, and Manyas Boca and Grêmio. This makes sense given the historical origins and perceived socioeconomic identities of the clubs. British railway workers founded Peñarol, Genoese dockworkers founded Boca, and Germans founded Grêmio.

So the Clasico isn’t just the actual derby match. It’s the aggregate of two colossal teams, and the product that their collective success has brought to Uruguay. It’s every game those two teams play, and it’s felt in every corner of the country. It’s the vast majority of club football in Uruguay in terms of money, media attention, and personal devotion. Any Nacional loss is a win for Peñarol fans. Any Peñarol loss is a win for Nacional fans. The teasing happens every week regardless of whether there is a derby.

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Understanding the clasico will get you a long way in making friends with Uruguayans. It’s a standard conversation starter, and something almost everyone has a unique story about. Either you bond with them over a common love, or you have something to tease each other about. The most revealing story about the clasico comes from my experiences teaching.

I’m in a classroom on the top floor of Liceo Enrique Alzugaray in Cerro Chato (pop 4,000). There are about 15 students from quinto scientifico, or the 11th graders on a scientific track. This is the first day I came work in Loana’s English classes in Cerro Chato. It’s a chance for them to ask me questions about my culture, leisure, family and friends. Naturally the topic of conversation veers towards football.

Matías (also known as “Cowboy”): “Who is the best [soccer] team in the USA?”
Me: “The best or my favorite?”
Matías: “What do you mean? They’re the same thing.”
Me: “I’m afraid that’s not true in the MLS. The league is younger than me. There’s no history.”
Matías: “But there still must be a best team?”
Me: “I’m afraid that’s also not true. Every team has similar resources, so every year any team can win. No one’s won more than four or five championships.”
Matías: “So the league is awful then?”
Me: “It’s about the level of the Argentine league, but imagine the Uruguayan league without Nacional or Peñarol. That’s the MLS.”
Matías: “So no one roots for the best team?”
Me: “People root for the team from their city. No matter how bad they are.”
Matías: “So who plays the Clasico then?”
Me: “There’s no clasico, just a bunch of rivalries.”
Matías (gesticulating jumping out of his chair): “But what’s the point if there’s no Clasico?”

In Uruguay, you support a team, because they’re the best. And in such a tiny country with so little competition, there are only two teams who can even make an argument that they’re the best. For most fans, there are Peñarol, Nacional, and no one else.

It’s Friday before the clasico in November, and I’m at the fortnightly peña folklorica (Figure 8) at Bar El Galeón in Cerro Chato. Again, the topic of conversation turns to the impending showdown. Having arrived straight from Montevideo, Valentín turns to his friend, smiles, and flashes five fingers five times. Given the result of the previous derby, the gesture is clear as day. In April, Peñarol defeated a woeful Nacional 5-0. Any time the topic of the Clasico came up last year, Peñarol fans took every chance they could to expose their rival’s shame.

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Figure 8: Peña Folklorica, Bar El Galeón, Cerro Chato

Nacional fan Huguito is a speedy winger for Cerro Chato club San Jorge. He is one of 7 kids, some of whom are Manyas, some of whom are Bolsos. His toddler nephew Santi, has a Manya father, so whenever Huguito is watching the kid, reverse brainwashing is par for the course. He’ll dress Santi in Nacional clothes, and teach him to sing the club song. All this is in loving fun, but it goes to show that Uruguay’s clasico is a family rivalry as well as a national one. Indoctrinating kids to cheer for one team or the other is a fact of life for many Uruguayans. Though, sometimes in households with split allegiances, parents will save the trouble, and decide ahead of time which offspring they will convert to which team. In a rivalry divided within neigbhorhoods and within families rather than between them, it’s more often the outsized influence of a parent, uncle, godparent, or older sibling in one’s formative years, than any pretermined demographics that determines lifetime allegiance.

When the topic of soccer comes up, people don’t ask what’s your team, or who do you root for, but “¿de quien sos?” (“Of who are you?”) It’s as if the club was my parent rather than a hobby. In Uruguay, there is one of two answers. Regardless of the situation, you will get half the room cheering, and patting you on the back, and the other half hissing and groaning. In Argentina, the expected answer is not necessarily Boca Juniors or River Plate. When I told people in Argentina that I support Huracán, the reaction is “that’s a bit strange”, not “why on earth would you root for anyone other than River or Boca”. In Uruguay, when I meet a like minded fan, I get a “bien, bien”, which sounds exactly like the seal of approval Uruguayan fans give player for making a tackle with their knee, face, buttocks or any other decent part of their body. I got asked this question so many times in so many circumstances, that I became very well rehearsed in responding. By contrast, in half a year living in England, not once was I asked what club I supported. This is a reflection both on the fact that the English refrain from asking personal questions–nor did anyone there ask me if I had a girlfriend—and that in England, football is much farther from the mainstream.

Speaking of bodies on display, it’s another Friday in Cerro Chato, and I’m at a beauty pageant (Figure 9) where I know multiple contestants. Guti the moderator reads facts about each participant. The last of about six items, he reads with the most conviction. It is their team. Predictably, half are for Nacional, half are for Peñarol. During bailes de raid (horse race dances) (Figure 10) in the interior towns, the band will relax during a bridge in a song, and the leader, Chacho Ramos, Lucas Sugo, Martín Segovia, whomever it be, will egg on the audience, “palmas arriba para toda la hinchada de Peñarol” (“palms in the air for all the Peñarol fans”) and half the club cheers. He strums a few more chords, and shouts “Palmas arriba para toda la hinchada de Nacional”, and the other half of the club cheers. The dancing continues.

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Figure 9: Desfile de Moda Juvenil, Cerro Chato

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Figure 10: Sonido Professional takes the stage at Club Social Democratico for a baile de raid in Cerro Chato. Palmas arriba toda la hinchada.

I could probably count on two hands the number of times all year I saw someone wearing a cuadro chico jersey. The same number goes for the big two in one day. You do however meet exceptions. The 7th grade class in Tupambaé (pop 1,100) was quick to point out that one amongst their ranks is a Defensor fan. The same kid who writes in fancy cursive, and who does play-by-play of the playground pick-up games while playing goalie, casually plays down his affinity with La Viola. For this independent minded guri, it’s a mix of natural contrarianism, and family ties that drew him away from the big two.

Another afternoon at the school in Tupambaé was probably the most heated football discussion I witnessed all year. Despite this being the dead of winter, and well removed from the 5-0 paliza three months gone, and the ensuing derby three months ahead, El Clasico takes center stage. In the staff lounge, literature teacher Ricardo is freshly removed from teaching Don Quijote, and computer teacher Miguel, has probably just finished a lesson instructing kids how to use their ceibalitas, the laptops the state provides free to every public school student. They reminisce about great Peñarol players of yore. A group of 8th grade boys, who were idle, because—surprise, surprise—a teacher was absent, enter. Debates ensue about Chino Recoba and Toni Pacheco, about which club has more fans, and who’s going to win the next clasico. Marcos, the principal, and ever the historian, attempts to lay everything to rest by proclaiming Nacional the oldest club in Uruguay, and the only true Uruguayan club for Uruguayans. Miguel and Ricardo serve up the rebuttals as if they’ve practiced them their whole lives. I’m content to sit back and take in the sounds of tradition being passed down from teachers to students.

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If you haven’t gleaned it already, what I find most startling about the clasico is how it represents the lack of consumer choice, and the limitations of the tiny internal market in Uruguay. The scale of Uruguay is such that there is only room for two clubs to reach a critical mass of fans, AND for those clubs to achieve success abroad. Other smaller nations like Iceland spread the wealth of titles and fans more evenly between clubs. Yet, because of this, the clubs flounder in the face of opposition from bigger countries. Go to a grocery story anywhere in Uruguay, and you will see gear from baby bibs to toothbrushes—and of course any yerba mate paraphernalia–for Peñarol and Nacional on sale, but good luck finding anything for any of the cuadros chicos, or the basketball clubs. You’ll only see stuff for the smaller teams at streetside vendors and market stalls, and even then, it tends to be badges and stickers, rather than scarves, hats, and jerseys. And presumably, it’s not genuine material. In terms of merchandising for anyone other than Nacional and Peñarol, it’s a vicious cycle. As a cuadro chico, you don’t have enough of a market to mass-produce goods, so profits for apparel don’t stay with the club, and a valuable revenue stream is lost.

Historically, major international brands like Goodyear, Pepsi, and Pirelli appeared on Nacional and Peñarol jerseys. Today, as the teams decline in international standing, what you see are Uruguayan brands that dominate the internal market, but have NO influence outside Uruguay’s borders. As the global relevance of the clasico has continuously decreased, its national relevance has grown. The current kits of both clubs contain advertisements for Antel, Conaprole, Redpagos, and a major bus line.

Antel is a state-owned entity, which has a total monopoly on land telecommunications, and about 80% of the market for cell phones, especially in the interior, where the cost of competitors investing is too high. Conaprole is the national cooperative of milk producers, and has 60% national market share on dairy products. The fact that it faces much stiffer competition for dulce de leche than milk or yogurt, tells you a lot about business and consumer habits in Uruguay. Redpagos is one of two—Abitab is the other—payment and collection stores with locations in most towns and neighborhoods across the country. Abitab and Redpagos are where most transactions in Uruguay take place. There, you pay your electricity bills, you bet on a horse race, you even to put money into a collective fund, say to help pay for someone’s trip or medical treatment. But when it comes to football, Redpagos and Abitab aren’t just kit sponsors. They, NOT the clubs, are where you buy advance tickets to Peñarol and Nacional games, especially to the Clasico (Figure 11), which is likely to sell out. As for the bus lines, it’s Nuñez in the case of Peñarol, and Turil in the case of Nacional, which are the two companies with the widest geographical reach.

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Figure 11: Tickets to the clasico purchased at RedPagos. $490 pesos at the time was around $US 22.

Telecommunication, dairy products, monetary transactions, and bus service are the things Uruguayans consume most out of want and need, and that they come across in everyday life. And the biggest and most visible brands providing these needs are attached to the two most visible teams. The main kit sponsors for cuadros chicos are still recognizable brands, but for much more niche products and services. River Plate (not to be confused with the larger synonymous club in Buenos Aires) have one of the four main supermarket chains, Wanderers have a hardware store, Cerro and Rampla Juniors have a juice brand, Racing has an alfajor brand, and Defensor have–I don’t think this is coincidence–a major private medical provider.

The following story explains why a ticket to a league game between Peñarol and a team about to get relegated costs 10 times as much as seeing Suarez, Forlán, and comrades line up for la Celeste in a friendly. My German friend Johannes and I are out for a nice autumn Sunday to watch the footy. We’ve recently enjoyed the clasico, and want to follow Peñarol’s title run. Today, they are playing lowly Liverpool in the Centenario. I meet him outside Tribuna Amsterdam, and we quickly wonder, where the hell are all the fans? It’s a stadium that seats 60,000. The nation’s most popular team could clinch the title with a win. And kickoff is in an hour. There are more policemen than supporters, and nary a song within earshot or firework within sight. We asked a policeman on horseback where to get tickets, and to our bewilderment, he said Redpagos, warning us that they would cost 1200 pesos (about 50 US dollars). Frustrated, we asked him why, and he said “porque son visitante” (“they are the away team”). None of this made sense. The Centenario is where Peñarol play all their home games. Liverpool are located in a barrio called Belvedere 10 km away. Neither wanting to shell out 50 bucks, nor miss the title tilt, we hailed a cab down Av. Ponce and Bulevar Artigas to the Franzini to watch Defensor host a hungry Wanderers side eager to usurp Peñarol at the top of the table. For 200 pesos we were able to see an end-to-end game that resulted in absolute euphoria for the visiting Bohemio fans (Figure 12). Peñarol and Liverpool played out a dour draw, while Wanderers found a late winner.

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Figure 12: Montevideo Wanderers fans celebrate being one win from a title

Ticket prices are an interesting phenomenon in Uruguayan football, though not necessarily for the same reasons as other countries. When La Celeste comes to town (and nowadays, it’s quite literally, as almost all of them arrive from abroad) for a friendly, tickets run for 100 pesos a pop at–who else?—Redpagos. The idea is that the national team is for wholesome family entertainment. And the Centenario has totally different atmospheres for national team friendlies (Figure 13) than it does for a normal Peñarol match (Figure 14) than it does for a clasico (Figure 15). But as the Sunday afternoon saga with Johannes indicates, ticket prices are also used somewhat nefariously to level the playing field between the big two and the cuadros chicos. Later that evening I told Uruguayan friends about the ordeal, and they weren’t surprised at all what happened to us. Because Liverpool were the home team, as designated by the league, they got to choose a) which stadium to play in, b) how many tickets are allotted to home and away supporters, and c) at what price. Thus, when Peñarol and Nacional are the opponents, a cuadro chico can play the game in the Centenario, charge a pittance for their supporters, get a large “home” crowd, and price out Peñarol and Nacional fans. There are no hard and fast rules, so clubs are pretty much free to do what they please.

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Figure 13: The Centenario during a friendly between Uruguay and Costa Rica

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Figure 14: Manyas celebrate a goal against Atenas de San Carlos

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Figure 15: Manyas in Tribuna Amsterdam during a clasico. Peñarol won 5-0. Note the banners for Las Acacias and Lezica, two neighborhoods in outer Montevideo. (photo: Johannes Binder)

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In December 2013, one of Uruguay’s two largest beer brands, Pilsen, sponsored a sweepstakes where one of two 37-year-old men could tattoo their name on your skin, or shave their name on your hair. Any great rivalry needs great heroes. In Uruguay, these heroes, or ídolos (“idols”) dominate the clasico. Certain fans take the word ídolo quite literally. As football fills the religious vacuum in South America’s most agnostic country, Antonio “Tony” Pacheco and Álvaro “Chino” Recoba are revered like saints for their service to the club. The only problem is that both are now 39 years old. Tony has only made 12 appearances with la Celeste, the most recent coming in 2004. After helping Peñarol to 5 league titles in 6 years, he was signed by Italian giants Inter Milan in 2001, yet made only one senior appearance in four years on the books. Following disappointing spells in mid-table Spanish clubs, he returned to Uruguay in 2007, and has played for Peñarol all but one season since. El Chino, so called for his Asian-like features, also tore up the Uruguayan league in the mid-90s, first for Danubio, then for Nacional. Like his counterpart, his success led him to Inter Milan, where he was on the books for over a decade. His time with the Nerazzurri was marked by the occasional late game heroics, and flashes of world-class talent, but also derailed by injuries and a half-season suspension for carrying a false passport. He has a much more distinguished Celeste career than Pacheco, but has also been out of the picture for a long time, have last appeared in the 2007 Copa America.

It’s these ídolos that are supposed to leave their mark on each clasico match. Club careers of players and managers are often defined by what they accomplish in the derby, rather than over the course of a season. In April, with Peñarol leading ten-man Nacional 3-0 with an hour gone, manager Jorge Fossati replaced Tony with Fabián “Lolo” Estoyanoff, another ídolo in his 30s who hasn’t appeared for la Celeste since 2007. The ensuing chorus of “ole ole ole ole Tony Tony” ringing across the Tribuna Amsterdam (hard core fans) and Tribuna Olimpica (slightly less hard core, i.e. a higher mate to fireworks ratio) continued for what felt like hours, until the hinchada turned their attention on Nacional’s particularly woeful goalkeeper tauntingly chanting nothing but his name, “Munúa, Munúa, Munúa”. You can’t get more blunt. Unsurprisingly, Gustavo Múnua is also in the downward slope of his 30s, having not appeared for La Celeste since…2004. Following this 5-0 paliza, Nacional manager Gerardo Pelusso resigned with immediate effect. In the next clasico in November, Tony scored a second half penalty to give Peñarol the lead. Nacional stormed back with two stoppage time goals to send a dagger through Manya hearts. Guess who scored the winner? None other than “Chino” Recoba.

When aging stars like Tony and Chino are the “gran figuras and “protagonistas” of the clasico, and the faces of the two biggest clubs, something is amiss. It’s these have-beens that fill seats, sell jerseys, and become the talk of the nation. This obsession with aging stars is like Uruguay itself, always looking to the past for inspiration, identity, and ultimately money. The up and coming kid doesn’t sell, because he’s been shipped off to a mid-table team in Holland, or Benfica’s B team before he can become a mainstay in a domestic squad. A 2010 survey showed that players in the Uruguayan First Division made a paltry US$1,150 per month. When Nacional and Peñarol were removed from the algorithm, that figure fell to US$900. Not only does playing for the big two carry cachet, there’s also a financial bonus. Yet compared to what clubs overseas can offer, even the allure of the clasico forces most players to ply their trade in the exterior. When steady careers playing for your local team aren’t economically feasible, the clubs begin to rely on moments of brilliance like a free kick from a man nearing forty that’s already made his fortune. Compounding the unsustainability, in a nation where one game is vastly more important than any other on the calendar, these kinds of moments can only happen two times per year.

In the American model of college sports, the saga of Tonys and Chinos and Lolos and Munúas can’t happen. You graduate and you’re gone. College fans may bemoan the fact that their team can’t keep a player more than four years, but can also rest assured that they won’t perilously hold onto players past their prime. In most pro sports, the salary cap helps take care of that. Players like Brett Favre get disgraced for overstaying their welcome, and coaches and executives are wary of taking a punt on them just because they have a cult following.

 

———-

 

Travel around any neighborhood of any town in Uruguay, and the importance of the clasico lies right before your eyes. Jerseys and flags are highly visible, but it’s graffiti that dominates the streetscape. Compared to most parts of the world, Latin American cities have an abundance of street art. While Uruguay has its gems, the excess of letters in Peñarol and Nacional colors overshadows them. In Oregon, try imagining buildings and signs in Portland tagged “Green and Yellow the Biggest”, “Beavers are my sons”, or “Pearl District is Duck”. This begins to approach what much of Montevideo looks like. First of all, in most of the US, but especially Oregon, this wouldn’t pass ordnance. Second, the built environment in Uruguay is conducive to this kind of graffiti. Apartment buildings come straight up to the sidewalk, and “private” buildings are easily taggable by the public. In Montevideo especially, the Intendencia is notoriously unresponsive to cleaning.

Like many aspects of Uruguayan society, football and political parties dominate graffiti. And Peñarol and Nacional exercise a duopoly over football related street art. Some of it is genuine art on a larger scale, like the “Esto Es Peñarol” mural in Palermo (Figure 16). But most clasico related street art is back and forth graffiti battles. Fans paint over the name, nickname, and founding date of the rival club with those of their own (Figure 17). Lots of profanity is involved, especially labeling your rival a gallina (“hen”) (Figures 18 and 19). One example in Montevideo’s Palermo neighborhood stands out. On the façade of the Club de Residentes de Treinta y Tres, 1891 has been crossed out, and next to it is an equal sign followed by 1913 (Figure 20). To a foreigner, this looks absolutely absurd. What kind of graffiti hooligans would have paid enough attention in history class to care about chronological accuracy? To an Uruguayan, this makes complete sense without any context. A Peñarol fan originally sprayed 1891. A Nacional fan came and put the 1913. To a Manya, the club was founded in 1891, to a Bolso, Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club, was founded in 1891. The Peñarol they know and hate began in 1913.

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Figure 16: Mural in Palermo

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Figure 17: The clasico as urban palimpsest

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Figure 18: A hen adorns an abandoned train station. Cardona, Soriano Department

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Figure 19: This translates as “bag hen.” Innocuous jibbrish? Not to Uruguayans. Mercedes, Soriano Deparment

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Figure 20: Graffiti battles over chronological accuracy

Other common sightings have to do with results. Following the paliza on April 27th, a number of messages appeared reminding Bolsos of their misery. Again the simplicity shines through, something that would make no sense out of context the score, “5-0” (Figure 21), the date “27/04/2014” were most common inkings. Though with graffiti like “BOL5-0 COJIDO” (Figure 22) Manya artists occasionally show they can be both clever and crass.

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Figure 21: The final score

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Figure 22: A clever touch of profanity

Clasico graffiti has strong geographic implications, and whether or not it is related to gang activity, is often used in the style of territorial gang markings. The first time I came to the city of Melo, my eyes were met first not by the official highway sign, but by the words “Melo Bolso” spray-painted over a billboard. This is also a major difference with political graffiti. Declaring a whole neighborhood or town to belong entirely to one political party would undermine democracy, not something that goes over well in 21st century Uruguay. But doing the same for a football team is a reminder that one club occupies more territory than the other, and is thus bigger, better, or older.

There are exceptions to territory being a battleground between Manyas and Bolsos. First is Barrio Peñarol, the ancestral neighborhood of the namesake club where railway workers founded CURCC. Stand near the Peñarol railway station, and you’ll see nothing but black and gold. Nacional fans dare not spray this part of town. Partisan messages such as “Acá Nacio El Más Grande” (Figure 23) are specific to the neighborhood. La Blanqueada, where Nacional originated, and are still based, is close enough to the Centenario and central Montevideo that it is not exclusively Bolso.

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Figure 23: Barrio Peñarol

In neighborhoods where cuadros chicos are located, you will see competition with the big two, though messages for the smaller clubs tend to coexist alongside Manya and Bolso graffiti, such as this lamppost in Capurro painted in the white and purple of Fénix (Figure 24). The one part of Montevideo where this is not the case is Villa del Cerro, which in many ways is its own separate world cut off by the bay. Here on the streets below the fortress, you will see the white and sky blue of Cerro contrasted with the green and red of Rampla Juniors (Figure 25). As the latter have been a yo-yo club of late, graffiti reflects their instability. Across from the Rampla stadium, Cerro fans have inscribed “sos de la B”, or “you are in the second division”. Following promotion, Rampla fans gleefuly drew an “A” over the “B” (Figure 26). The last exception is Rivera, and the other smaller border towns. This is not because of any cuadro chicos, but because in a bi-national society, Inter and Grêmio of Porto Alegre (collectively the Grenal) feature alongside Uruguay’s clasico clubs (Figures 27 and 28). Go to a shop on the border, and kits of all four teams will be sold next to each other. Get much beyond Livramento or Jaguarão, and Nacional and Peñarol are suddenly out of the picture.

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Figure 24: A lamppost painted in Fénix colors, Barrio Capurro, Montevideo

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Figure 25: Villa del Cerro, home to Montevideo’s other clasico

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Figure 26: Rampla Juniors and Cerro fans share jousts.

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Figures 27 and 28: Cross the border, and you find a different clasico, the Grenal. Jaguarão, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Just as the clasico is an indelible part of Uruguayan culture, graffiti for Peñarol and Nacional is an indelible part of the Uruguayan urban landscape. Clasico graffiti is a palimpsest of the nation’s most visible rift. Like wins and losses by the clubs, fans are constantly superseding their rival, repainting the same story over and over again with the same words, the same images, and the same dates, changing only minor subplots. As most people are fans of the two clubs, I don’t think the clasico graffiti bothers them. It doesn’t smell, it doesn’t pollute, and it could be saying much meaner things, after all. Trash, noisy buses, dog feces, and cracked sidewalks are much more urgent civic infrastructure problems.

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Figure 29: Carrito de Panchos Manya y Celeste, Fray Bentos

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Figure 30: Uruguayan humor. Someone thinks Manyas belong in Montevideo’s Central Cemetery, Barrio Sur

Back in Oregon, imagine the stands of Autzen or Reser Stadium covered in banners reading the names of towns and neighborhoods across Oregon. Coos Bay next to Ontario, next to South Waterfront. This is what Parque Central or the Centenario look like on matchday. Of course, these kinds of banners are common across Latin America. But in Uruguay what distinguishes the ones for Nacional and Peñarol is that they represent places all across the country. Banners for Salto and Las Piedras hang alongside ones for Cordón and Lezica. Cuadros chicos simply don’t have them, because almost all the fans come from one neighborhood. These banners are made by a “peña”, a fan club for a neighborhood or town. These peñas have meetings, travel together to matches, and put on displays both at home, and in the stadium. The club will work with the peñas to organize benefit events, which often include the visit of players. The excitement amongst kids in Cerro Chato was palpable when then-Manya striker Carlos Nuñez came to town for the Teletón fundraiser last spring.

Watching on TV, it’s important to remember that there are dedicated human beings behind these banners. One Sunday evening riding back to Cerro Chato on the Turismar, Tres Cruces—Montevideo’s central bus station–was swamped with Nacional supporters headed back from Parque Central to respective parts of the country. Sitting in the far back of the bus, I befriended several youths from San Ramón (Figure 31) who are hard core Bolsos by opening the conversation “¿y como anda la gallina?” By offering to share a bottle of grappa miel, I quickly allayed any offense they took. We bonded over the rivalry, over travelling to matches, over how each set of fans sings about the same things, and of course how American fans behave very differently. If you saw an impressive banner featured prominently in the television backdrop to Chino Recoba’s stunning free kick in November, it was Ale, Adrian, Ignacio, Rodrigo and co. who made it.

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Figure 32: With los pibes bolsos de San Ramón

The clasico helps make Uruguay one of the most fascinating countries in the world to vexillologist (a scholar of flags). At la Celeste games in the World Cup, or in public victory gatherings, many people will fly the Peñarol or Nacional club flag in lieu of the national flag. I’m not talking about a national flag with the club crest or acronym superimposed, as you often see for England fans. Nor is this CollegeGameday style trolling and attention getting (any Wazzu fans reading?). The Peñarol flag and the Nacional Flag are a proxy for the country’s flag. For people watching a TV broadcast confused as to why fans fly flags with red, or black and gold when cheering a team whose colors are clearly sky blue and white, this is why. The political party flags, the historical flags (Artigas and The 33 Orientales), and the Nacional and Peñarol flags are all symbols of national identity. Waving anyone of them is a way of participating and showing citizenship. You see them for sale side by side at public markets and street vendors (Figures 33 and 34). In democratic Uruguay, saying “soy manya”, “soy bolso”, “soy artiguista”, “soy oriental”, “soy frentista”, “soy blanco”, and “soy Colorado” are all ways of saying “soy celeste”. In Uruguay, identity comes from a blend of state, nation, party, and club.

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Figure 33: As soon as Nacional clinched the 2014 Torneo Apertura, vendors lined up outside Tres Cruces bus station selling the club flag along with the national flag, and the Flag of Artigas

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Figure 34: During a bike race in Fray Bentos, flags for the clasico clubs hang alongside political flags, historical flags, and the national flag

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In the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, elections aren’t just for politicians. Football clubs have them too. And like regular political elections, the ones for Peñarol and Nacional are subject to heated public debate, highly democratic, feature impassioned speeches on a campaign circuit, and are visible throughout public space with signage and graffiti, as seen here on Avenida Agraciada (Figure 35). Uruguayan clubs don’t have big owners. Actually, almost all of them are fan-owned, and run by an elected board of directors. The model of a club with members (socios) and a board of directors prioritizes security over risk taking. The club is run more like a public agency than a private enterprise. When fans say “soy de Penarol” in addition to “soy hincha de Peñarol”, they imply that they are part of the club, and by being able to vote, that they are also part of the ownership structure. In the 2011 documentary Manyas, la película about Peñarol fans, journalist Fernando Niembro says “No existe club sin hinchada. La hincha es hincha por creer, no por razonar.” (“A club doesn’t exist without fans. The fan is a fan for believeing, not for reasoning.”) This is all to say that fans are more akin to members of a religion or citizens of a polity than they are rational consumers in a competitive marketplace. When clubs like Real Madrid–who Peñarol beat in the 1966 Intercontinental Cup final–are fast becoming global brands, Nacional and Peñarol are neither global, nor brands.

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Figure 35: Graffiti for the Lista 12 “Peñarol Campeón” platform sits alongside signs for the Frente Amplio

Here’s a snapshot of FOX Sports pundits laying out all of the candidates for the most recent election to Peñarol’s board (Figure 36). And this was just for a primary. The way the candidates frame their campaigns in terms of logos, slogans, and platforms is almost identical to actual politicians in Uruguay. There’s an obsession with history, and it’s all about going back to some kind of golden generation rather than looking at specific policies that make future improvements.

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Figure 36: This country just loves elections. Even university elections draw a great deal of attention.

So this begs the question, would Peñarol and Nacional do better in terms of revenue, gate attendance, trophies, stadium quality, keeping star players, etc. if they adopted an ownership model similar to American and British leagues, where investment–not emotion, deliberation and democracy–is the key ingredient in success? If an oligarch proposed to takeover Nacional or Peñarol directly, there would be rioting. In spite of Paco Casal’s smooth operation at the media level, Uruguayans don’t like they idea of moneybags, and one person’s wealth dominating over the will of the people, especially when it comes to their most cherished institutions. The challenge is to find healthy types of investment without attacking the communal nature of the way these clubs operate, and that is so integral to their identity.

 

———-

When la Celeste isn’t in season, Uruguayan sports media cares about two things. 1) How national team players are faring abroad, and 2) what’s happening to Nacional or Peñarol. I can see an editor screaming behind the scenes, “I don’t care if it means writing about the manager picking his nose, I just need some news, dammit.” Ovacion, the sporting brand of main daily El País has two pages for Peñarol, two pages for Nacional, and one page for the cuadros chicos. If a cuadro chico is having a particularly nice run of form, there may be a feature interviewing their manager, captain, striker, and president.

The following is my template for an Uruguayan newscast, illustrating the central role of the clasico, and where it fits in a larger context.

  • Politics: If it’s campaign season, where did the candidates go today, and what did they say? If polls were released, show statistics. Aside from campaigns, interview a minister or senator who said something interesting today. Interview an opposition party politician to get their take on the issue.
  • Sports: If La Celeste is playing soon, interview players after training session. If not, then what players for Peñarol or Nacional are injured for the next match? Interview Peñarol and Nacional managers about strategy. Show repeat footage of Peñarol and Nacional training. Be sure not to give either team any more airtime than the other. If Nacional or Peñarol are playing away, how many tickets will be available, and at what price?
  • Crime: A kid—assumed to be on pasta base—nicked two loaves of bread from a bakery in an outer barrio of Montevideo. Send a reporter to stand outside houses with stray dogs and interview the keeper of said burgled shop. Cite statistic about the price of bread, or youth incarceration rates. It doesn’t matter which one.
  • International filler: Show some disaster from far away to remind Uruguayans that things here are rather uneventful in the grand scheme of things

Media doesn’t focus entirely on the sporting or the antagonistic natures of the clasico. In the week leading up to the most recent derby, AUF put on an initiative to emphasise that the clasico is also about camaraderie and non-violence. Called #Disfrutaelclasico (“enjoy the clasico”), it encouraged fans to send in pictures of themselves with family and friends wearing jerseys of both clubs, illustrating that, yes, in fact, rivals can get along. An informal check and balance like this shows the central place that everyday people have in the rivalry, and that by and large, their participation, like so many things in Uruguayan society, is premised on inclusiveness, friends, and family.

———-

During the 5-0 in April, even when Peñarol were on cruise control, Johannes remarked how ugly the game was. Not in terms of bad tackles and cynical play, but the lack of movement, creativity, and flow. Peñarol won so handily not because they played well—because quite frankly, they were average–but because Nacional were absolutely appalling. The clasico fills seats not because it’s good football, but because it’s the big game. In a country without a domestic cup, the clasico IS the cup final. In fact, many fans will even say they’d far rather win the derby than any domestic silverware.

In asking how soccer in the US is different, Matías the 11th grader in Cerro Chato voices an opinion understood if not shared across the country: If there was no clasico, club football would be pointless. In the stands for any other game, the fans are singing about their eternal rival. They could care less about the opposing team and players on the pitch. When West Ham fans sing, “If you hate Millwall, Stand Up” when they are playing Crewe or Cardiff, they are either bored, or being cheeky. When Peñarol fans sing “Bolso vos sos gallina” during a game against Atenas de San Carlos, it’s because no one matters other than themselves and Nacional. If the game on the pitch isn’t the clasico, then at least you can sing about it.

On Uruguay’s 1950 World Cup winning team, 14 of 22 players belonged to either Nacional or Peñarol. For the 1970 4th place team, it was 16 of 22. In neither case did any of the players ply their trade abroad. In last year’s World Cup, not one Uruguayan club had a Celeste player on their books. Yet I’ve met people that can rattle off which clasico club each national team player is a fan of. Even when stars are well into lucrative European careers, they are still associated with a domestic club, and many—like Chino and Tony—return with the specific intent of finishing their career for their favorite team.

The present situation isn’t exactly the healthiest–not for the clubs, and not for the country. Uruguay is a tiny pond, and Nacional and Peñarol simply need more room to swim. Forays into the continental club competitions aren’t enough. By playing week after week against clubs like Sud América and El Tanque Sisley, Nacional and Peñarol are held back by the limitations of the nation state like a kid held back in school beating up on classmates a fraction his size. In the end, fans are buying into the clasico more than they are into the health of the game. It’s more or less the same story told every year for the last 116 or 123 years–depending what side you’re on. Stuck in a rut. Expectations are dramatically reduced from the heyday of the 60s, 70s, and 80s when the two clubs combined for eight South American titles, but the passions are no less. And herein lies the disconnect. Fans continue to be as fervent as ever even where there are no signs that the team is going to give them the same calibre of international results or quality of play.

———-

There is no other major footballing nation where two clubs have had a virtual monopoly on trophies and fans from the moment a ball was first kicked. Celtic and Rangers share a similar percentage of domestic titles as Nacional and Peñarol. But in Scotland, Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen, and Dundee United all have much stronger fan bases and international pedigree than Uruguay’s cuadros chicos. Furthermore, football doesn’t have as dominant a grasp over Scottish society. Scotland has two national stadiums. Football is based in Glasgow, and rugby is based in Edinburgh. Uruguay has neither a second city, not a second sport. Some countries, like Portugal, Greece, Holland, and Turkey have three teams that share the spoils. In other nations, a newcomer breaks the oligopoly, be it thanks to a rich owner, a scandal knocking a top team off its perch, or any other bizarre circumstance (see the curious case of Serbia’s FK Obilic). In Uruguay, strange and random events just don’t tend to happen very much. As the relative failure of the new clubs from the interior shows, Uruguayan football isn’t going to have random clubs surface to great success any time soon. In predictable Uruguay, year after year, Peñarol and Nacional line up against Wanderers, River, Defensor, Danubio, Cerro, Fenix, and the rest, and year after year, they come out on top, no questions asked.

This success goes far beyond the trophy cabinet. A 2012 survey by sportingintelligence.com showed that Uruguay is the only country where two clubs combined for a majority of gate attendance. 55% of all matchgoers in Uruguay watch Peñarol and Nacional. By comparison, in England, Manchester United and Arsenal combine for 9%, and in MLS, Seattle Sounders and Montreal Impact combine for 25%. Even in Spain, with the world’s most famous derby, Real Madrid and Barcelona combine for 21%.

What is so unique about the Uruguayan clasico in its national context is that it IS the most visible division in the country. The clubs aren’t a symbol for the secret police, a religious sect, or a social class; they ARE the institutions and groups one identifies with. Examples as small as the beauty pageant, and Sonido Profesional singing at the aptly named Club Social Democrático in Cerro Chato show how the clasico is a tangible and accessible way of distinguishing people when you lack strong internal divisions and identity groups that most countries, especially the US, obsess over. In the vision of Uruguay as a homogenous nation-state, the clasico is also a way of showing that a) the most noted difference is a trivial one, and b) that fans of both clubs live, work, and play side by side.

The clasico does lead to occasional violence, but on the whole, it is also emblematic of pacifist, tranqui, Uruguay. We’re not talking about Sunnis and Shias, Hutus and Tutsis, or even atheist liberals and evangelical conservatives. There’s not a history of sectarian violence (Celtic-Rangers), of civil war (Red Star/Partizan), of kings and paupers (Real/Atletico), or of battles between the military and the police (Steaua/Dinamo). Go to a Rangers game in Glasgow, and you see the Ulster flags, images of the queen, Unionist propaganda, and military insignia (Figure 37). Peñarol and Nacional have none of this undercurrent. The club, historical, national, and political flags waved at games don’t suggest ill will, much less death, to anyone, or at least not individuals or groups alive today. It would be quite the stretch to say that a 33 Orientales flag implies anti-Spanish sentiments. Rather, they are about extending democratic space into the sporting sphere. Keep in mind that in America, these kinds of divisions are reflected in people choosing to play and follow different sports, not necessarily different teams within the same sport. In Uruguay, there is football.

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Figure 37: Outside Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow

It’s a country whose national identity internally, and image abroad, are largely defined by its success on the football pitch, at the club, and international levels. It’s World Cups and Libertadores that Uruguayans cling onto, not war victories, GDP, or Nobel Prizes. It’s a free country, and no one’s forcing you to watch it, but if you don’t exercise your right to support a clasico club, you are missing out on a fundamental nation building experience. In the holy trinity that is Uruguayan football, Peñarol and Nacional are Father and Son—though the order depends on whom you ask–and La Celeste is the Holy Spirit. As for the cuadros chicos, they are long-ignored saints at best.

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