Di Tella en los medios
World Rugby Museum

Rugby for the Common Man: The Story of Beromama (Argentina)

El profesor de las Licenciaturas en Historia y en Ciencias Sociales escribió para el World Rugby Museum sobre el origen mítico y la historia del equipo argentino de rugby Beromama.

The earliest references to rugby matches being played in Argentina date to the 1870s, all players were British subjects employed in British-owned railroads and commercial firms. Occasional matches involved the teams "Banks" and "City".

In 1899 the River Plate Rugby Union Championship-forerunner of today's Argentine Rugby Union-was set up in Buenos Aires by four English clubs, all of which still exist today: Buenos Aires Cricket & Football, Belgrano Athletic, Lomas Athletic and Rosario Athletic; all four bore the names of the city and (fancy) neighbourhoods they were located in.

So important was rugby's early connection with British life that when WWI broke out officials were forced to suspend the annual championship for lack of players, most of whom joined the Empire's armed forces to fight in Europe.

Although the championship resumed in 1919 by then British influence started to decline, so much so that in 1921 no English club managed to qualify for the 1st and 2nd division finals, all four teams being made up of upper-class Argentine players-although some of them bore English names.

By the late 1930s the "Argentinization" of rugby and the lack of British players also forced them to discontinue the annual match between "Argentines" and "Foreigners"-a team made up of British subjects, which since its start in 1908 had become a much-awaited occasion for upper-class socialisation.



It was at that time, in 1939, when the first non-elite rugby club was founded in the outlying districts of the city of Buenos Aires, home of a white-collar middle class employed in the yards and offices of the Western Railway. Its name, "Beromama", was connected neither to place, nor institution or profession. It was formed by the first two initials of the founders' names: "Be" for "Beto", "ro" for "Roberto", "ma" for "Mario", and so on.

In fact, Beromama, the name with which it was commonly known and still is today, was the short version of the utterly unpronounceable "Beromamacacumaospobichucaco", which included ALL of the founders' initials. This was a deliberate choice to differentiate themselves from the traditional upper-class clubs with English-sounding names located in the city's fancy districts.

Narratives of Beromama's origins also make clear references to the class outlook of these aspiring rugbiers: "we were poor and rowdy, unlike the chic players of the English clubs". "Poor" and "rowdy" were convenient ways to establish a social demarcation from what was then, and will continue to be for a long time, a sport associated with foreign (read, British) and upper-class culture and values.

Another interesting aspect of the club's mythical origins are the vague resemblances with the Webb Ellis story. It all started, so the legend goes, when a bunch of friends, none of whom had played rugby before, turned up at a match at the Pacific Railway club. After the game they stole the oval ball and brought it back to their neighbourhood. One day, as they were playing with it, an Englishman walked by and, as he realised that they had no idea of what to do with or how to handle the ball, he offered to teach them the basics of rugby. His name was Willimoes, but everyone knew him as "el inglés" (the Englishman).

Be that as it may, what is certain is that in 1941 Beromama joined the River Plate Rugby Union. It started at the 3rd division and made it all the way up to the elite 1st division ten years later. It was an amazing achievement considering that they barely gathered enough players and had no playing grounds of their own-training took place by the side of the motorway.

Unable to keep up with the stronger and more competitive teams, by the mid-1950s Beromama were relegated to 2nd and then 3rd division. By the end of the next decade a conflict among players led first to a split and later to the club's dissolution.

It resurrected, as the phoenix, twenty years later (1985). With grounds of its own located in a working-class neighbourhood today it plays in the 3rd division Rugby Union tournament. It also plays in the women's rugby competition.

About the Author - Andrés Reggiani holds a Ph.D in European history and is Research Professor at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires. He has published on eugenics and the politics of the body (The Sociobiology of Decline, 2006, La eugenesia en América Latina). He is currently completing a book on the social and political history of rugby in Argentina (1870-1999), which will be published shortly before the kick-off of the Rugby World Cup.