Posted: 3/16/2013


      When Pope Francis waved to the assembled crowd at The Vatican it reminded me of Argentinian football in the past. He is a card carrying member of CF San Lorenzo.

     In 1986 Diego Maradona put the ball in the English net with his hand past Peter Shilton and claimed that it was 'The Hand of God'. The Argies went on to win the FIFA World Cup at Estadio Azteca later in the tournament.

    At the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, the 4th that I attended, there was a great deal of controversy. Two years earlier the 7 year reign of terror began and democracy crumbled. A coup d'etat deposed Isabella Peron.I had managed to wangle a free air fare to Buenos Aires and one of the first people I met, when picking up my press pass, was the man who ran the one man BBC radio station in Stanley in the Falklands Islands Patrick Watts. He was issued with a 'domestic' pass since Argentina claimed that The Malvinas were part of their country.

    The next time I saw him was when he surrenderd the radio station in 1983 to Argentinian troops and marched out with his hands in the air. He was flown to Montevideo, Uruguay and later appeared in Hyde Park in London on BBC TV. He was awarded a medal by the Queen. He is now back in the free Falklands running a tourist operation Adventure Falklands.

     I watched the boring opening match at Estadio Monumental;  West Germany 0 v Poland 0 and another match the next day, Argentina 2 v Hungary 1, before flying to Cordoba. At the airport the local Organizing Committee took me to the local press HQ at The Jockey Club, since I was a 'neutral' observer, and every day I did an interview on the local TV station about my views. When I said that Argentina would probably win I became very popular.

     Little did I know that there was a miltary concentration camp outside the city called La Perla. 16 political prisoners were kept there for the length of the tournament, blindfolded and handcuffed. They were told that they would be executed if guerillas committed any attack during the World Cup. They were allowed to listen to Argentina's victories on the radio and Mario Kempes 6 goals by their potential hangman.

     Lots of Scottish fans were in the city and spent most of their time drinking heavily in a corner bar, with locals 6 deep watching them. I used to sit in the City Square eating an empenada and  picnic lunch and locals would come up and sit next to me on the park bench and have their photo taken with a foreigner.

     Scotland tied Iran 1-1 and lost to 3-1 to Peru in the two matches they played there at the Estadio Chateau Carrera and the players were bored stiff in their out of town hotel. They had been given a tour around a packed Hampden Park Stadium and then flown first class by British Caledonian Airlines to Argentina with great fanfare. Their third group game was in Mendoza to the west, at the foothills of the Andes where they managed to defeat Holland 3-2 at Estadio Cuidad de Mendoza but failed to advance. Just prior to kick off I was walking on a raised glass tunnel to the press box when I was pushed from behind. I turned round to see General Jorge Rafael Vidella the dictator and president, and his body guards.

     With only 16 teams and lots of free days the Cordoba LOC organized tours for journalists. One such one was to the local Lake District and the town of La Falda(the skirt).  I had been a long, boring day with plenty of delays. We were ushered into a restaurant and I was placed at the top table next to the mayor and on the other side was a female interpreter for the speeches and greetings. When we chatted I learned that she was the great, great grand daughter of the first Welshman to settle in the Pampas years ago and who brought Welsh settlers to farm and run the new railroad. She told me how he had been held up at gunpoint with the weeks wages by non other than Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  I was enthralled by her stories.

    One night in Cordoba I was taken to a cellar club to help celebrate the annual The Day of The Journalists, and was given a cartoon on a napkin of the military dictator General Videla as a souvenir.

    Argentina had to win by 4 clear goals against Peru in order to reach the final. A deal was struck with the Peruvian government for a vaste shipment of wheat and other 'persuasions', and in Rosario they won 6-0 and the right to face Holland in the final, which they won 3-1 after extra time.

    Many years later Juan and Ernesto, two of those held and tortured in the camp in Cordoba, were awarded a World Cup medal at the Instituto Espacio pera la Memoria(Space for Memories Institute). The ceremony was attended by apologetic World Cup players Houseman, Villa and Luque, but coach Cesar Menotti refused to attend.

      On December 22nd, 2010, Vidella was sentenced to life in prison and 5th July 2012 to 50 years for kidnapping. He is now 76 years old.