Posted: 10/16/2012


      The locals say about Uruguay, "Everyone else has their  history, we just have our football". Winners of the first ever World Cup, which they hosted in 1930 and again in 1950 when they suprised Brazil in Maracana.

      My first visit was in 1980 for The Mundialito, at Estadio Centenario, celebrating the 50th anniversity of that first triumph. It was supposed to feature all previous champions, Uruguay, Argentina, West Germany, Italy, Brazil, England. However, The Three Lions refused to take part and twice runners up Holland took their place.

      Two years later I was back again as a guest of Club Nacional for a few days and visited the Uruguay association office and had my photo taken with the first trophy. I was invited by my friend, a V.P. of Club Nacional to a reception in a travel agency in the main street, on the anniversary of the rugby flight disaster. We  were served coffee, empanadas(small pasties), and cakes. One of the guests had been a rugby player who with his team had flown from Montevideo to Santiago, Chile for a rugby match in 1972, 40 years ago this week, October 13th. Piers Paul Read wrote an outstanding book two years afterwards called 'ALIVE', later made into a Hollywood movie.

      The charter plane Uruguay Air Force Flight 571 went down in a snowstorm in the Andean mountains, 20 minutes from its destination. It carried the Stella Maris College 'Old Christians' team and supporters and crew. For 10 days some managed to survive, including eating the flesh of dead colleagues. Two of the party then went for help and they met a mule pack driver the other side of the Andes called Sergio Catalan who called for help. Three military helicopters finally rescued all 16 of the survivors after 72 days. 29 had perished.  I was told not to bring up the incident, but it was an interesting meeting all the same.

      I also visited the Football Museum and attended a football medical conference at the university sponsored by FC Barcelona. One of the more interesting things to see near the beach is the memorial and anchor of The Admiral Graf Spee,the German pocket battleship that was scuttled by its crew, in full view of thousands of spectators on 19th December 1939. For the previous 3 months it had sunk 9 allied ships in the South Atlantic, until badly damaged by The Royal Navy and forced into port for repairs.

       Uruguay's neutrality meant that she had to leave port within 72 hours, and was cornered by the Royal Navy. The crew were put on an Argentinian tug boat and brought ashore before the scuttling. The crew were kept in the neutral port city for the duration of World War ll while the captain, Hans  Langsdorff shot himself in his hotel room the following day dressed in full dress uniform and lying on the ship's flag.