The River Plate Museum.
The River Plate Museum.

The River Plate museum wants to go further than football

How is River’s history remembered? A visit to their museum

Agustín De Julio
Agustín De Julio FMH Contributor

At Football Makes History we are convinced that football museums play a crucial role in the social and cultural fabric of everyday life. Because of this, we love reviewing museums: see Bente’s review of the museums of Roda and Frankfurt, or Maddy’s review of the St. Pauli museum. We are always curious to see to what extent football clubs share our perspective on remembrance and education, and want to see the different ways in which they interact with their histories and identities.

At my day job in research, I always have to justify very carefully why I choose certain cases before I write about them. Luckily, Football Makes History is not my day job: I’m reviewing River Plate’s museum simply because I’m a big fan and because visiting it was an interesting experience that exposes clearly the themes and dilemmas of remembrance in sports.

A house fitting for the Millionaires’ history

Most of my memories of the River Plate stadium are from the early noughties. In 2008 me and my family emigrated, and my visits to their iconic stadium, the Monumental, sadly ended. This is probably why I was shocked as I saw it for the first time in years: how it had changed! After I left Argentina, River Plate went through a sporting golden age, and the physical reality of the stadium reflected it too. The stadium went through massive renovations that expanded its capacity to 84,000, it has been equipped with a swanky restaurant, and, most importantly, in 2009 the River Plate museum opened its doors. 

Upon entry to the museum, one can pose with the cup of the 2023 Liga Profesional de Futbol – River’s latest accolade. But the silverware obviously doesn’t end there: most of the 70 titles the club conquered in their 122-year history are on display in a dedicated room in the museum. Apart from the trophies, the museum’s 3500 square metres include a wide variety of collections and activities. The collection of historical kits River has is a staple for club museums. There you can see perfectly preserved historical kits, with the original numbers and names of club glories. One thing stuck with me from that section: I came across the 2002 home kit (from when I was young,) and couldn’t help getting teary eyed. I was overwhelmed by memories and names: Ricky Rojas’ chip v Boca, my all-time hero Angel Comizzo between the sticks, the current coach Martin Demichelis before he left for Bayern Munchen. When I looked across the room, I saw another teary eyed man staring at a shirt. It was my dad, admiring Beto Alonso’s kit, from the early 70s. Lo and behold a central function of the football museum: reconnecting with one’s childlike wonder – across generations. 

The museum boasts other sections and collections. It has a state-of-the-art 360 projection room that gives the attendee an immersive experience of how it is to attend a game. It also has historical models of previous stadiums – or the same one, before the many renovations. It has a massive train engine symbolising the legendary lineup of the 40s, dubbed la Máquina. A whole room is dedicated to – arguably – River’s greatest achievement: beating rivals Boca at the finals of the 2018 Libertadores Cup at a breathtaking game in Madrid. These are all sporting themes, but how does River see its place in society? What does the museum teach us about the bigger picture? 

Beyond the trophy case

The River Plate museum makes a serious attempt at going beyond the trophy case. They do this mostly via their time capsule. This is the central part of the museum and is composed of a sci-fi looking tunnel that leads to eleven rooms: one for each decade since the creation of the club. In each room, the visitor can find a video with historical highlights of each decade. These highlights are not necessarily sports related. In fact, they provide a broad overview of the state of the world at that time. Head to the 1910s room for an informative video on what WWI did to European nations and the world. In the 1930s room, you’ll find footage of people queuing for bread during the Great Depression. In the 1970s room, you’ll find a video explaining the state of the world – and giving an overview of the political turmoil in Argentina and the beginning of its infamous dictatorship. To have a South American club museum explaining world developments to its visitors is an unexpected treat. 

The rooms in the time capsule include expositions with artefacts from each decade. In the 00s, Argentines took to the streets to protest one of the biggest economic debacles in their history. They took frying pans and pots and hit them to make noise during their protests. Head to the 00s room then to see an original pot from one of those protests, next to a trendy flip cell phone from that decade. In the 80s room one can see a reconstructed polling station, complete with original ballot box, from the 1983 elections that marked Argentina’s return to democracy. Next to the historical overview videos and the mini expositions, you can of course find a year by year overview of River’s lineups, results and trophies won. 

Interacting with our common past

The River Plate museum saw a chance and took it. They know they’ll have the full attention of young people for a few hours and they are determined to pique their interest in both Argentine and world history. Their exhibits are well-curated and make room for intergenerational conversation. Is there room for improvement though? Of course. 

The current focus of the museum is on football and world history. This in principle is laudable. Yet I can’t help but think that a club museum is better suited to tell local histories. I would be curious to know more about how the club changed the neighbourhood of Núñez and the city of Buenos Aires. Or perhaps how the fans from faraway provinces in Argentina gather in local clubs, or peñas, and watch and attend games together. In short, what is the meaning of the club within Argentine society? Another thought I was left with was about the role of painful stories within a football museum. The football museum is a place of gathering, of sharing memories, and celebration of the club’s identity and history. But in a 122 year history, there are always dark or painful moments. A good example of this is how the museum shows footage of the 1978 World Cup finals at the Monumental stadium but does not discuss the meaning of this for the club and fans any further. Fans know how to celebrate together, but how can they also reflect on painful histories together? How can they grieve together? 

Thinking points

The visitors of football museums are completely heterogeneous. Some are long-time fans of the club, others are casual football fans. Some are local, others international. Some young, others old. How can a museum cater to all its different visitors? How can they weave their local stories into universally applicable teachings? 

This review also exposes some of the dilemmas curators face. A clear example is to find the perfect balance between education and football, between history and the trophy case. Another two competing interests in designing such a museum is how much it will focus in the past and how much in the present. Football museums have the dual task of remembering and building identity. How can they include new developments in their museums and still pay tribute to their histories? 

Find out more

Find out more about the River Plate museum on their website or on their Twitter.

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The River Plate Museum.
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