Posted: 1/14/2018



         I am enjoying a book by Uruguayan Andreas Campomar  GOLAZO !. A history of Latin American Football, which I can recommend to you all. Quercus Books

         For such a small country Uruguay has held its own against huge neighbours Argentina and Brazil, and other world football big boys over the years. From 1975 for a decade the country was run by a dictatorship, after the Tupamaros Marxist Revolutionaries were defeated.

        The first international club match outside the United Kingdom was played in Montevideo in 1895. The CELESTE won the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games tournaments in Paris and Amsterdam, and then won the very first World Cup at home in 1930 and repeated the triumph in Rio de Janeiro in 1950 at Maracana, stunning hosts Brazil.


          My first visit to Montevideo was in early 1980 for the MUNDELITO, to celebrate 50 years since the original World Cup victory. All previous world champions were invited: Brazil, Argentina, West Germany, Italy and England to join the hosts but The Three Lions declined and were replaced by then twice runners up Holland.  All matches were played in Estadio Centenario, built for the original World Cup with room for 90,000 spectators. 

        Unfortunately it was not ready for the first five days in 1930 and so early matches were played elsewhere. On opening day, 13th July France beat Mexico 4-1 at the small Estadio Pocitos, capacity 1,000, owned by Penarol, while USA downed Belgium 3-0 at Estadio Parque Centrale. Probably the smallest crowd ever watched Romania 3-1 beat Peru on 14th July at Pocitos, only 300. !

          FIFA was formed in 1904 with seven members and by early 1930 there were 41 members, including  25 from Europe, although the  4 British ones had withdrawn in 1928.   Uruguay was chosen by FIFA President Jules Rimet because it had the strongest team and also offered to pay all the travel and accommodation expenses.

         The Conte Verde of  Genoese Lloyd Sabardo Line, built outside Glasgow, sailed from Genoa, Italy on 21st June with the Romanian team who had spent three days and nights on the train from Bucharest. It docked at Villafranche-sur- Mer in France to pick up France and 3 referees plus Jules Rimet, with the trophy in his suitcase. Belgium embarked in Barcelona and Brazil in Rio de Janeiro for the 15 day journey. Lots of running on the deck and a small below deck swimming pool helped pass the time,

            Mexico left Vera Cruz via Havana and New York where the USA team joined up. A much smaller vessel  SS Munargo had a very small deck and inadequate toilets.and a 17 day voyage.  Only 13 teams took part after Egypt missed their connection in Marseille with the ship SS Florida on which Yugoslavia travelled. USA had only played 11 matches in their history, but reached the semi-final.

            Argentina beat USA 6-1 in the first semi-final at Centenario followed by Uruguay 6 v Yugoslavia 1  at the same venue. 

            Uruguay beat Argentina 4-2 in the final on 30th July, refereed by Belgian Jean Langenus, splendid in his white shirt, bow tie and plus fours.

           It was very hot when I arrived in January 1980 in high summer and I stayed just outside the city in a beachside cabin on the Rio Plata. 

           December 1939 we had the Battle of the River Plate, the first naval engagement of World War ll when the heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spey commanded by captain Langsdorff was scuttled by his crew rather than be captured, with a huge crowd of locals watching. Over 1,000 sailors were taken to Buenos Aires where Langsdorff committed suicide. I visited the Graf Spey anchor and memorial outside te Montevideo port.

              Montevideo is not very exciting...most of the fun is along the coast at the resort of Punte del Este.  I watched a few matches from the press box then went to Rio de Janeiro for the first of 10 visits and listened to the final on the radio on a ferry on Guanabara Bay when Uruguay beat Brazil 2-1 in front of 71,000 fans. There is a small fotbol museum attached to Centenario, and for a little extra you can take the elevator up the stadium tower.

             My next visit was about 5 years later as a guest of Club Nacionale. They are the team of the middle and upper class and play in red,white and blue. Their big local rivals are Penarol who play in yellow and black, for some reason adapted from the colours of Robert Stephenson's ROCKET.

            In 1967 Celtic hosted Racing of Argentina after winning the European Cup. They won 1-0 but lost the return leg in Buenos Aires 2-1. It was decided to play a deciding third match at Centenario in Montevideo. It was a battle with 4 Celtic and 2 Racing players receiving red cards and Celtic lost. Jock Stein was the manager and it was rumoured that the reason he was never knighted was for his behaviour on that day.

           Anyway, I went to see a couple of league matches , visited the new FA headquarters and was treated to lunch at the Montevideo Country Club by a college room mate of US Soccer President Sunil Gulati. I had a free first class ticket courtesy of Pan-Am Airlines. At their small downtown office I met one of their sales people. a survivor of the ill fated charter flight of his rugby team from Montevideo to Santiago, Chile that went missing. Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 carrying 45 people crashed in the Andes on 13th October 1972. 16 survivors were rescued 72 days later and stories of canibalism were proved to be true. NO, I DIDN'T ASK !!!

          In 1986 at the World Cup in Mexico  Uruguay played Scotland in the third group match. It was Friday 13th June at Estadio Neza in the million plus slum city of Nezahualcuyotl outside Mexico City. After ONLY 56 seconds Gordon Strachan was cut down by Jose Batiste and my friend Joel Quinou of France sent him off.  Scotland, coached by Alex Ferguson could manage no more than a 0-0 draw..their only point    and they went home. Omar Borras the Celeste coach had used the phrase GROUP OF DEATH for the first time. Uruguay, Denmark, West Germany, Scotland. For his attitude against The Scots he was banned from the touchline in the next round v Argentina.

          In 1988 I had been at the European Cup Final in Stuttgart, won on pks by PSV Eindhoven over Benfica Lisbon. I was in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan for the Intercontinental Final on 11th December to renew my friendship with Club Nacionale. After a 2-2 tie the Uruguayans won 7-6 over PSV on penalties. I was staying for a few days with a Japanese college coach who I had met in Sao Paulo Airport a few months ago and slept on a tatami mat on the floor, and I ate with the family cross legged at a low table.

        The last time I saw Uruguay play was at the 2010 World Cup quarter final at Soccer City. With the score 1-1 the Africans were awarded a penalty after Luis Suarez handled the ball on the line.  Asamoah Gyan hit the bar with the last kick of extra time and they lost 4-2 on penalties.

        At Russia 2018 Uruguay's opponents are Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia, from which they ought to adnace fairly easily.