On 8 April, Bolivian football club The Strongest celebrated 100 years in existence. The Aurinegros (Black and Golds) have played a pivotal role in their country's football history, a contribution which deserves the world's recognition. Here, FIFA.com pays homage to a stalwart of the Bolivian game.
Origins of the club
In 1908, a group of middle-class friends from the Bolivian capital, La Paz, all in their 20s and just out of military service, came together to found a football club. When it came to the task of picking a name, the majority were in agreement that it should contain the English word 'strong', and so it was that on 8 April that same year, Strong Foot Ball Club was established. After a short time, the name was changed to The Strongest, and this would endure as the club's name to the present day.
Although a dark green and yellow kit was initially proposed, one of the founding members came up with the idea of gold and black stripes, the same colours as the chayñita, an indigenous bird of the Bolivian region of La Paz. As for the mascot, although starting out as a llama, and then a leopard, it finally became its present incarnation - a tiger, an apt choice for the strong and tenacious image the club wanted to project.
Truth and myths behind the football
Being the pioneering institution in Bolivian club football, it is no surprise that The Strongest were closely involved with the first formal steps of the sport in the country. In 1911, the Department of La Paz organised the Copa Prefectura, the first official competition in Bolivia, which was duly won by the Aurinegros.
In fact, the amateur and semi-professional era was dominated by the club, a founding member of the Asociacion de Futbol de La Paz. Out of 29 tournaments organised between 1914 and 1949, the capital side won 13 titles, finishing runner-up six times. Initially, their main opponents were the now defunct Colegio Militar and the Universitario de Sucre, but all that would change with the 1925 arrival of neighbouring Bolivar, who in time would become their fiercest rivals.
The 1930 campaign saw The Strongest set a milestone unequalled in the era by winning their tenth title without losing a game or conceding a single goal.
Another little known fact is that the club will forever be associated with the Chaco War, an armed conflict between Bolivia and Paraguay that lasted from 1932 to 1935. In honour of the courageous death in action of Jose Rosendo Bullain, a former The Strongest player, the battle in which he lost his life would become known as the Battle of Canada Strongest.
The year 1950 marked the start of the professional era, but the Aurinegros would have to wait another 14 years before lifting their first national title. In 1965, the team played in the Copa Libertadores for the first time, and became the first Bolivian club to win an away match in the competition.
In 1969, tragedy struck the club when the aircraft carrying the team and staff crashed, causing the death of everyone on board. In the wake of the disaster, however, The Strongest would rise up from the ashes and true to their history, come out fighting to win back-to-back regional championships in 1970 and 1971, as well as the national title in 1974.
The creation of the Liga del Futbol Profesional Boliviano (Bolivian Professional Football League) brought more success, with the club claiming the inaugural LFPB championship in 1977, the first of seven all told.
After winning the first two championships after the season was split into Opening and Closing tournaments in 2003, it has now been four years since the Aurinegros have won a title. The closest they have come was second in the Torneo Adecuacion in 2005, but finishing as runners-up to local rivals Bolivar was a bitter pill to swallow. The capital outfit have also failed to qualify for an international tournament since 2006, although an encouraging Apertura 2008 campaign sees the team currently in third place and with their sights set even higher.
In 1987, The Strongest opened their own stadium, the Rafael Mendoza Castellon, named after a former president who achieved much for the club. In the past, however, the side played at the Hernando Siles de La Paz, home of the Bolivian national team, even appearing at the inaugural match there in 1930, defeating then rivals Universitario 4-1.