This evening, River Plate will play the most important match in their 110 year history when they face Belgrano de Cordoba in a relegation playoff. It is almost unthinkable that one of the world’s most famous clubs could be playing in the Argentine second division next season.
However, as a Torino fan, I’m certainly aware that having an illustrious history does not guarantee continuous success, as demonstrated by the fact that despite having seven Serie A titles to their name, Torino currently find themselves in the second tier of Italian football.
But, it is not just their recent decline that links these two historic football clubs, but instead it is tale of friendship that began in the 1940s, and continues to the present day. In 1949, ‘Il Grande Torino’ were regarded as one of the best teams in world football, as they were on the verge of winning their fourth consecutive Serie A title. However, whilst returning from a friendly match against Benfica in Lisbon, disaster struck. In poor weather conditions, the plane that the team and officials were travelling on crashed into the Basilica of Superga near Turin. There were no survivors.
Upon hearing the news of the tragedy, River Plate president Antonio Vespucio Liberti decided that his team should go to Italy in order to show solidarity with Torino, with the idea that a match between the two teams could also raise money for the victim’s families. Therefore, just 22 days after the tragedy on May 26 1949, River Plate played a friendly against a team representing the symbol of Torino, made up of a selection of the best players in the Italian league, the match finished 2-2.
Despite being over sixty years since Superga, River Plate and Torino still maintain a close affiliation, with Torino fans appreciative of River’s role in the healing process that was necessary after the disaster. In the Torino Museum in Grugliasco, a current River Plate shirt can be found, thus showing that the match between the two teams is still regarded as a significant fixture in the clubs history. The fact that Torino’s current away kit echoes the traditional diagonal sash shirt made famous by River Plate, is another way in which the affiliation continues in the present day.
With River Plate being 2-0 down from the first leg of the relegation playoff, their quest to maintain their Primera División status does seem to be an ominous one. However, as a Torino fan thankful of Antonio Vespucio Liberti’s gesture of solidarity in Torino’s hour of need, I hope River manage to get the victory they need tonight.
River eventually played out 1-1 draw against Belgrano that condemned the club to relegation for the first time in its 110-year history.
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