Posted: 4/2/2007
Title: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Blog:                                                                                                                         

   It was 2nd April, 1982, 25 year ago, when I heard Patrick Watts of the tiny BBC station at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, calmly announce that the Argentinian military had entered his building and that they had invaded the islands, which they called ISLAS MALVINAS. Road signs were changed to make vehicles drive on 'the wrong' side and Governor Sir Rex Hunt stood by while the Union Jack was lowered and the blue and white Argentinian flag was run up the town's flag pole.

   The two main Islands were 8,000 miles from Britain and deep in the South Atlantic, and only 300 miles from Argentinian coast. Lord Carrington, the British Foreign Minister had resigned (he later went to work for Henry Kissinger's company), but by the 5th of April a British task force led by the militarised QE 2 and an assortment of war ships and supply ships had sailed from Portsmouth and other harbors. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady, and backed by the government of Ronald Reagan, had decided to take back the islands. I vividly remember the headline The Empire Strikes Back above a photo of Union Jack waving Britons watching the armada sail away.

   47 days later it was over and the young, inexperienced, cold, tired and ill-equiped Argentinian draftees were surrendering in their hundreds, but not before more than 900 Argentinian and British soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines had died. The Royal Navy had blown up and sunk the Belgrano, The Argies had fired French Exorcet missiles into HMS Sheffield, and the fascist government of General Galtieri was dumped, and eventually democracy ruled.

   Less than 4 years earlier Argentina had hosted and won the 11th FIFA World Cup, and I had met and befriended Patrick Watts as we both lined up to receive our press accreditations.  He often flew on the weekly small plane from Port Stanley to Commodore Rivadavia on the Argentinian coast during his vacations to come up by train to Buenos Aires to watch lots of Clausura League soccer in the many stadiums of River Plate, Boca Juniors, Velez Sarfield(my favourite team),Independiente, Estudiantes, Argentino Juniors,  etc.  The World Cup committee was run by the military, and the first director had been assasinated minutes after accepting the job. Meanwhile thousands of citizens had been murdered by the regime, and outside the Casa Rosada, the widows and mothers held their weekly vigil.

   Patrick was forced to carry a 'domestic' Argentinian, as against a foreign, World Cup press pass, but was wined and dined by the authorities.  He was soccer mad and ran the small, very small, Falkland Islands league, with 2 1/2 teams, and recruited seaman and visitors from visiting ships to fill the rosters. I think the third team played in black and white, so that penguins could be drafted in to play on the wing. 'What's for dinner' is the joke in the homes of Port Stanley. Its always lamb or mutton, because ther are more sheep than people.  The next time I saw him was being interviewed on television outside the Houses of Parliament in London, after he had been released and shipped home. He later received an M.B.E. award from the Queen for his calm in the line of duty. He now runs tourist treks in the islands.

   After watching the Opener in Buenos Aires at Estadio Monumental, West German 0-Poland 0, and the next day Argentina 3-Hungary 1 in the same stadium, I flew on to Cordoba for a week, and was used as a neutral commentator on the local T.V. on a daily basis, and after predicting that Argentina would win the Cup, became very popular.  Even though it's a university city, Cordoba had never seen so many foreign visitors. I would be sitting on a bench in the local park when someone would sit next to me and 'click, a friend would take a photo with a foreigner. In a local bar where the few hundred Scottish fans passed their time, there was a crowd 3-4 deep to see Scotmen drink-and they were pretty good at it for hours every day.  Much less interesting was the Scottish national team, who had been given a rousing send-off at Hampden Park, drive straight to Glasgow Airport and then a British Caledonian Airways flight to South America.

   Coach Ally McCleod had never seen his opponents play and after a shocking 3-1 loss to Peru, with Cubillas scoring twice, they tied 1-1 with Iran, again in Cordoba's Chateau Carrera stadium. The Iranian goal was scored by Eskandarian, who later played for the NY Cosmos, and of course his son is now in the MLS. I remember the laments of the Scottish media as we waited for the bus back to town. Hugh McIlvenny, a brilliant wordster was singing a Scottish dirge, used after one of the many battles the clans used to lose on a regular basis centuries before.  One day we were treated to a day trip into the Lake District and hills nearby. It was pretty boring until we arrived at LA FALTA ,a small resort and went into the local hotel for a reception and meal with the local mayor. I was seated between the mayor and the the translator, a lady who was the great-great grandaughter of the leader of the first Welsh settlers to arrive in Patagonia, to the south. I was mesmorized as she told me how her anscestor, who was building railways and mines, was robbed of the weekly wages by none other than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The conversation made my day. A few days later I was in Mendoza, in the foothills of the Andes to watch Scotland beat Holland 3-2, but go out on goal average.

    At the Estadio Cuidad de Mendoza prior to the match I had been walking up the skyway into the under roof press box and was pushed from behind. I turned to see General Galtieri. the junta leader. Argentina controversially reached the final by scoring 6 goals without reply against Peru, and ease out Brazil on goal average. They beat Holland in the final to preserve the government until the days and deeds of 25 years ago. 

 

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