UNIVERSITARIO X ALIANZA LIMA: THE UNDYING ANIMOSITY OF PERU’S FIERCEST FOOTBALL RIVALRY

When our minds are drawn to South American football rivalries, the high-profile clashes come to mind. Boca Juniors against River Plate, Corinthians squaring off against Palmeiras and Racing Club playing Independiente, to name a few. Often going under the radar is one of South America’s most passionate rivalries – one dating back to 1928 – and the clash between Peru’s two heavyweights, Alianza Lima and Universitario.

Much like the most fiercely contested rivalries in world football, it stems from more than just clashes on the football fields. Violence between fans is all too common at these matches, and the differing origins of both clubs have seen a rivalry emerge that is as fierce as any of the more widely reported clashes on the continent.

Alianza Lima, the sole surviving founding member of the Peruvian Football League, was a club born in the working class traditions of Peru. As in the rest of South America, football was brought to Peru by way of the British elite who arrived in the country during the 19th century, but Los Aliancistas was founded by workers in the Alianza Racing Horse Stud, a far cry from the locales of the British elite frequenting the country.

It was a modest beginning for the club who would go on to become one of Peru’s big three, alongside Universitario and Sporting Cristal, but the working class roots of the team have never truly been forgotten. It is perhaps an easy thread to follow in South American football to view the rivalry across class divides but, much like Boca Juniors and River Plate, this divide played a crucial role in ensuring the rivalry between the “haves and have-nots” was implemented immediately.

Whereas Alianza Lima can trace their origins back to the people, Universitario is easily categorised as being made up from the elite members of the society in which they were founded. As their name implies, the team was founded by a group of students and professors from the National University of San Marcos, the longest continuously running university in the Americas. The 1920s were a very different time to nowadays, and only the elites – often white – members of Peruvian society would be in a position in which they could attend university.

The disparity and tension between working and middle-class groups of people have been felt long throughout history, and the first meeting between one of Peru’s most widely followed amateur sides, Alianza, and the newly formed club within the university elites, Universitario, was always likely to be explosive, and so it proved.

The first meeting between the two occurred back in 1928, and certainly set the tone for the rivalry that was going to come to dominate Peruvian football in the decades since. The match heavily favoured the more established Alianza Lima as previous league champions, and the relative inexperience of Universitario. Pablo Pacheco gave Universitario a shock early lead, and they held out until the game was ultimately suspended.

With the game drawing to a conclusion and Alianza Lima having had five players sent off by the Uruguayan referee, an altercation that began on the pitch quickly spilt over to the stands with the Alianza players reacting to the taunts being sent their way from their rivals’ supporters. The response of the fans to attempt to repel the players with wooden batons earned the derby the nickname El Clásico de Los Bastonazos, or The Derby of the Batons.

Universitario’s surprise win and the violence that erupted towards the end of the match meant that the rivalry was immediately one that mattered to players and supporters of both teams, and, as they have both become the most successful sides in Peruvian football, there is often something to play for in the matches between the two sides.

Whilst Alianza has won more of the matches between the two – 130 to 117 – Universitario holds the advantage in matches with something tangible on the line. From their first title decided in 1928 – just the third meeting between the clubs – to their most recent clash in 2009, Universitario has claimed ten victories to just four for Alianza.

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In recent seasons, the rivalry on the pitch has slowed down as both clubs have fallen away from being top of the league nearly every season. Prior to Alianza’s 2017 victory, they had failed to win the title since 2006 and Universitario could only manage two successes in the same time period, most recently in 2013. The decline of both clubs has reduced the derby to the back of people’s minds when it comes to the high-profile clashes between South American clubs, but the matches are always fiercely contested and, even without silverware on the line, the Peruvian Clasico is a hotly contested affair.

Despite the diminished qualities of both clubs, the vitriol between the two sets of fans remains as strong as ever. Passion is a necessity at every rivalry across the globe, but, unfortunately, the passion felt by Alianza and Universitario supporters extends beyond chants and the setting off of flares and descends into violent acts against the other. It is the violence that has come to define the fixture in more recent years, especially to a western audience that has limited exposure to the ongoings of South American football.

Europe during the 1970s and ’80s was dominated by widespread hooliganism and conflict between groups of fans from the majority of clubs. This ideology has become commonplace across most South American countries, with a significant rise of Barra Brava groups occurring towards the end of the 1980s. These groups are most popularly noticed in Argentina, with many articles lamenting their influence on Argentinian football, but they also grew strongly in Peru and especially for the two biggest and most successful clubs, both of whom are based in the capital Lima.

Clashes between supporters have been regular occurrences during the matches, and even before the matches with members of the Comando Svr – Alianza Lima’s Barra – once stealing the drum used to create the famous atmosphere at Universitario’s stadium Estadio Monumental, but in more recent years things have been cranked up to a more serious level.

Back in 2008, it was reported that a 21-year-old student was killed and several others wounded in an attack on a bus marked with Universitario colours, seemingly led by Alianza supporters. A few years later, the violence was reversed and made its way into the stadium, with a group of Universitario Barras making their way into the VIP boxes containing Alianza fans, attacking them and causing a 23-year-old man to fall to his death. The incident shocked the Peruvian footballing authorities into action, with the Universitario stadium being temporarily closed, and an increased effort to crack down on the hooliganism running rampant throughout Peruvian football.

Lima Congressman, Renzo Reggiardo, began the fight back against the pervasive problem, attempting to force clubs to register fans in order to root out the criminals amongst them. Unfortunately, there was limited following to this new rule, implemented in 2009, and it took the death of the fan in 2011 forced stronger action. There was blame placed directly at the doorstep of the Universitario hierarchy for inciting the violence by offering free tickets to members of their Barra – Trinchera Norte – to boost the atmosphere.

The implementation of a rule decreeing that only supporters of the home team would be allowed to attend Clásico matches – a rule seen widely across South America as the region attempts to combat hooliganism – has seen less violence occur between factions of both supporters groups, and the relationship between the two has perhaps thawed slightly, especially in light of recent events.

Supporters of Alianza Lima have found themselves in direct confrontation with members of a church in the nearby area over disputed land. As members of the church barricaded themselves inside the stadium car park and defaced the murals of the club badge and famous players adorning the walls of the stadium, the response from the club supporters incited a riot.

In a rare show of unity, the Trinchera Norte released a statement of solidarity for their counterparts at Alianza, stating that they had to continue to fight for their club and they understood perfectly what was happening. It was an unlikely show of compassion between two groups that have never shown any remote liking of the other, and highlights that even in football’s most passionate rivalries, begrudging respect remains.

Animosity between the two clubs is ingrained into the ethos of both, and the events between 1987 and 1988 were perhaps the truest indication of the complete contempt the two hold for each other. With Alianza sporting a promising generation of players, including Luís Escobar, and beloved coach Marcos Calderón, they appeared destined for a prolonged run of success, but disaster struck. Their flight home from a match against Deportivo Pucallpa crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing all players and staff on board. The league season continued despite this tragedy, with Alianza relying on retired, youth and loaned players, and they saw their championship lead disappear, and led to Universitario being the beneficiaries of the terrible circumstances.

The following season, the two met in the Copa Libertadores group phase and the match at Alianza was going badly for the home team with Universitario leading 2-0 and Alianza down to just eight players. The team claimed that two more of their players had suffered injuries and would have to leave the pitch, causing the match to be suspended. The ploy angered officials of Universitario, and the match has become legend with Peruvian and South American football.

There have been plenty of indifferences between all aspects of both clubs, from violence between fans to using any means to get one over the other, but perhaps an under-mentioned aspect of the rivalry comes from the cantera systems of both clubs. The star names of Peruvian football – Hugo Sotil, Teófilo Cubillas, Jefferson Farfán, Claudio Pizarro, Paolo Guerrero – have all played for Alianza during their careers, mostly before moving abroad, although Sotil played for Alianza only after plying his trade for Barcelona

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There appears to be a consistent pattern of Alianza nurturing players who have gone on to become the most recognisable names in Peruvian football, a fact which is a much adored one amongst their fanbase. Many Alianza fans, when discussing the successes of their team, refer heavily to the fact that they have been responsible for the production of Peru’s greatest stars, often known to talk about how Paolo Guerrero is “one of them”.

In a nation known for having some of the most passionate fans on the international stage – Peru’s following at the 2018 World Cup being extraordinary – the club which has almost become synonymous with producing their most notable exports is always likely to be widely followed and sing loudly about this legacy. It is even more of a lauded point when compared to the record of Universitario, who have comparatively very rarely made a significant contribution to the successes of the Peruvian national side.

Football is built upon rivalries, whether they are born out of locality or competitiveness. When they have been based upon both, we are left with one of the most fiercely contested derbies in the world. Alianza Lima and Universitario have always been destined to contest a rivalry, beginning with their vastly different origins. It was a rivalry that was created in the first meeting of the two and has progressed with each passing match since. Despite brief moments of begrudging respect, there are few fanbases with as hateful a relationship to each other than between those of Peru’s two biggest clubs, and in a world where football is more accessible across borders, perhaps one of South America’s most notable rivalries will finally be given some of the recognition which it deserves.

BY MICHAEL GALLWEY