Origin Stories – River Plate
- Tonight, Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate clash in the final of the Copa Libertadores for the first time. Ahead of the first leg, we decided to look at the history of River’s kit, with something similar following for Boca ahead of the second game in a fortnight
One of River Plate’s nicknames is la banda – as in English, there is a translation meaning ‘group’ or ‘band’, while it also serves to underline the distinctive element of the club’s kit – a red diagonal stripe, or sash, across a white body.
When the club formed in 1901, plain white dress shirts were chosen as the kit – this was the way with a lot of teams, with these being the easiest to source.
The first recorded use of the sash came in 1905, when it was literally a red piece of material worn over the shirt, though the new style was properly incorporated by the time of the 1908 promotion to the Primera División for the first time.
As is often the way with these things, there are more than a few theories as to why the change came about. The most prosaic (and, therefore, arguably most likely) was that a game against the similiarly white-clad Villa Devoto necessitated a change.
Then there is the romantic notion that, during the 1905 Carnaval, some River players came across a red ribbon and made use of it as a kit accoutrement. There is also a suggestion that the red was a nod to the Italian city of Genova, from where many of the members of Santa Rosa – one of the clubs that merged to form River – had come from.
What can be discounted is the idea that it was a tribute to the Peru national team – that didn’t exist until 1927, with a sash not worn until 1936.
Whatever the reason, the promotion to the top flight wasn’t enough to ensure the sash’s retention, with a striped style used in 1909 and retained until 1932. This design has often been used as an alternative – rather than ‘away kit’, as the tradition in Argentina was for the home team to change when a clash arose.
The return to the sash came in 1932, at the instigation of club chairman Antonio Liberti. He is reported to have told the team:
Take care of it, boys, because this is the River Plate jersey.
If you think about, it seems an odd comment regarding a design used in four years out of 31 by that stage, but it has become ubiquitous ever since.
River will be aiming for a fourth Copa Libertadores against Boca. Their three previous wins were in 1986, against Colombia’s América de Cali:
A decade later, with América again the beaten side:
And 2015, when they saw off Tigres UANL of Mexico: