If you were called upon to construct the ideal derby, your ingredients might be as follows: longevity, mutual national pre-eminence, a historical schism, legendary venues, breathtaking tifos, comic escapades and recent beefs. No need to get inventive: just get to Montevideo.
Nacional and Peñarol are the oldest club rivals outside the UK, having played their first derby back in 1900, when folks were still laughing at the Wright Brothers’ belief in powered flight.
They bicker about who’s the oldest: Peñarol claim they popped out in 1891 as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club, later changing their name to the district they played in (not to mention the fact that they played football, weren’t cricketers anymore and weren’t particularly central, what with being on the south coast). Nacional (1899) claim that makes them the older club.
Nacional’s name hints loudly at a more important shibboleth. Like many a 19th-century South American club, Peñarol (or CURCC, if you insist) were founded by and largely for European immigrants, in this case English railway workers; by contrast, Nacional were the first South American club founded without any Old World involvement/interference, hence the moniker.
“Right, let’s get good”
Not the type to hang about, the Uruguayans started their national league in 1900, and these two quickly set about dominating. They won two each of the first four leagues, then had a breather for a decade, then smashed it. Of the 115 seasons, they’ve won 95, with Peñarol a squeak ahead, 49 to 46. Between 1932 and 1975, nobody else won the league. At all.
They’ve even done a decent job of keeping it lively within that: unlike Celtic and Rangers each winning nine in a row, neither of these two won more than five successive league titles, so that’s nice.
Sallying forth into continental competition, Peñarol have won the Copa Libertadores five times (bettered only by Boca and Independiente) while Nacional have won it thrice – typically, the last time (1988) immediately following Peñarol, just to keep them quiet. No wonder it’s estimated that some 80% of all Uruguayan football fans support one team or the other.
Anything you can do...
The comparisons keep going, each trying to outdo the other. Nacional play at the Parque Central, built in 1900, which makes it the oldest stadium in South America; Penarol play many of their games at the legendary Estadio Centenario, which just happened to be the venue for the first ever World Cup final in 1930. Obviously all the derbies are staged at this magnificent crumbling cauldron, in front of 50-50 sell-out crowds, who welcome the teams onto the pitch with a shower of ticker-tape. South American insanity at its best.
Peñarol win the nickname-off: due to their black-and-yellow livery they’re somehow known as both the Coalmen and the Sunflowers, while Nacional’s nicknames are largely colour-based except “Bolsos”, a diminutive of the Spanish for “pocket”, which their early shirts featured.
Peñarol also broke the world record in 2011 with a 309-metre flag, the biggest ever at a football game. Two years later inthe Copa Libertadores, it was beaten by a frankly ridiculous 600-metre effort. Can you guess who from?
Echoing down the ages
A match this old, this big and this frequent – they’ve faced off over 500 times – has to have some quirky stories. Take ‘The Derby of the Bag’ in a 1933 Uruguayan Cup Final, when the Nacional physio innocently left his medical goody-sack just behind the post: a Peñarol cross hit it and bounced back into play, whereupon the rebound was tucked in and the ref, believing the cross had hit the post, allowed the goal. Nacional were livid – two men were sent off in the protest – but their eight men hung on for a draw and the game was eventually replayed.
Somewhat less glorious for Nacional was 1949’s El Clasico de la Fuga (‘Derby of the Escape’). Two goals and two men down by half-time, Nacional decided not to bother with the second half, preferring to clamber out of the dressing-room window and leg it instead. Their claims that it was a protest at the referee did little to stifle Peñarol’s chuckles.
READ THIS: More Than A Game: Nacional vs Penarol
You’ll notice both those games involved multiple expulsions, and that’s not changed down the years. A match in 1990 was abandoned after a red card sparked a brawl that resulted in 20 players being sent off. Another brawl in 2000 ended up with nine players spending a month in jail.
In recent years the clubs haven’t been as successful on the continental stage – which has only intensified the domestic rivalry, and occasionally the propensity for off-field violence. Not that the players can be accused of setting a shining example: in 2014, four were sent off, a post-match brawl saw nine spend the night in prison, and 17 were banned by the FA. And that was a friendly.
So: history, rivalry, quality, enmity and comedy. The only thing it hasn’t got is a decent name: they call it el clásico del fútbol uruguayo, or Uruguayan Clásico. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
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