The World Cup Alphabet – W is for…

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…WAR!

 

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Football is becoming more corporate and involving suits but football and politics in Latin America are inseparable. it is impossible to have one without the other. The future of many regimes has been decided by the outcome of a football match and nothing seems to ignite national fervor more than pride in your team. There is one match in particular which remains a testament to just how seriously people take their football in Latin America.

 

It all started on 8 June, 1969 with a qualifier for Mexico ’70 and ended four and bit days later with thousands dead and the future of two countries in the balance. On 8 June, the El Salvadoran national team was set to play Honduras in the Honduran national stadium in Tegucigalpa. The El Salvadoran team arrived the night before and went to their hotel where they were greeted by a hostile crowd. In the tradition of psychological football warfare. The Hondurans harassed the El Salvadoran team by throwing stones at their hotel windows, by letting off fireworks, and by sounding their horns throughout the night.

 

The team slept badly and it was no surprise that the El Salvadorans lost 1-0. This would have been the end of a matter  and a minor blip in the history of football violence had it not been for Amelia Bolanios. This 18-year-old El Salvadoran, after witnessing the Honduran goal, shot herself in the heart with her father’s pistol. She had made herself into a true martyr for football. Her funeral turned out to be a state affair and her coffin was accompanied by a military guard of honour. The President of the Republic, his ministers and the national team all followed in the cortege.

 

Due to the then intricacies of football rules, the two teams tied in points so a rematch had to be played. This time the Honduran national team had to go to the Flor Blancal stadium in San Salvador. On this occasion, it was the Hondurans who were harassed but the stakes were raised due to the rampant nationalism and pride caused by the ‘martyrdom’ of Amelia Bolanios. Hotel windows were smashed and rotten meat and stinking animal carcasses were thrown into the rooms. The following day, Honduras was escorted to the stadium in armoured vehicles and the stadium and pitch were ringed with soldiers wielding sub-machine guns.

 

The Honduran national anthem was played to little avail as it could not be heard over the jeering of the predominantly local crowd. To add insult to injury, the organisers had burnt the Honduran flag in front of the players and raised a dirty dishcloth up the flag pole in itstead. Understandably Honduras lost 3-0. After the match, the Honduran team was whisked away to the airfield and flown back home. Their faithful fans in San Salvador had to run for the border and for their lives. In the ensuing mayhem, several people died and hundreds were hospitalised. The border between the two countries was sealed within a matter of hours.

 

At dusk the following day, an El Salvadoran plane flew over Tegucigalpa and dropped a bomb. In a city of then 250,000 this made one hell of a impact. The city and its people ground to a halt. Shops closed for business, restaurants never opened and many cars were left abandoned. A blackout swiftly ensued. The President, via the only Telex machine in Tegucigalpa, appealed for help from the US via his ambassador in Washington. To add to the nightmare, a tropical storm broke out that evening, rendering the blacked-out city vulnerable with occasional lightning flashes.

 

Cross border gun fire and shelling developed through the night and soldiers and civilians alike were settling in for war. Trenches were being dug on the border and people were hoarding in the cities. Graffiti, the greatest social commentary in Latin America sprung up, revealing the depth of national pride. On both sides of the border, citizens of each country were rounded up and put into national stadiums which served as prison camps. Border villages in both countries were shelled and destroyed, scattering their inhabitants far and wide.

 

Entire villages were seen piling up possessions and marching to safer climes. The two countries came under increasing international pressure to end the conflict and eventually did so under pressure from neighbouring Latin American states. The war lasted a little over 100 hours, but left over 6000 dead, 15,000 injured and many thousands more homeless. A peace treaty was signed in 1980 but, to this day, there is sporadic cross-border gun fire. And why, you may be asking, had you not heard about this? The answer is that the world’s attention was focused on Apollo 11 which was happening at the same time.

 

…WITCHDOCTORS

 

Following the rather brief qualifying campaign for the 1966 World Cup Australia was to take a more far flung route to try and get to Mexico 1970. The quite despised coach from 1965 in Tiko Jelisavcic was well gone from the national set up and another NSW League old boy in Joe Vlatsis was given the gig. The team looked completely different from the side that had been beaten to a bloody mess by North Korea but the new talent that had fought their way in to the side was decent. Goalkeeper Ron Corry, Johnny Warren (who had been on the bench in Cambodia) was now the captain and the ex Man United striker and now Hapoel goal machine Ray Baartz had starting knocking them in.

 

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Warren and his side being sent off from Sydney on another campaign.

 

The Socceroos had a convoluted route of playing in a mini tournament with Rhodesia, Japan and South Korea with the winner playing against Israel over two legs. The warm up matches for Australia against the likes of Japan and Greece served them well with a great effort in the first phase of qualifying in South Korea. Australia first defeated an injury hit Japan 3-1 with goals from McColl and Baartz getting them over the line with a little help from an own goal by Ogi.

 

Australia then did the Koreans 2-1 in their back yard in a fantastic effort, Watkiss and McColl scoring. McColl scored again in the next match with a 1-1 against Japan meaning it would come down to the final match against South Korea with only a draw needed (Rhodesia had pulled out). In the final match of the phase the Koreans went ahead first but a goal from Baartz in the second half and a brilliantly saved penalty by Corry got Australia through with a 1-1 draw and a thank you from the Korean fans that was said in a mass of projectiles such as batteries and seats being thrown on to the pitch.

 

It was supposed to be over to Tel Aviv a month later for the two legged play off but FIFA decided to allow Rhodesia back in to the mix to qualify and a play off in Mozambique against Australia was ordered. The whole kerfuffle with Rhodesia had come from the Mexican government announcing that they would not allow the Rhodesian team to enter the country if they did in fact qualify due to their rather extreme treatment of natives in the South of the country. Yet for some stupid reason the playoff was to go ahead. Rhodesia frustrated the Socceroos over two matches that both ended in draws. The first being a 1-1 draw where McCall had got Australia off the hook. Then the quite fluky Rhodesian goalkeeper Robin Jordan repelled attack after attack in the second match to keep it 0-0 and force it in to a third match.

 

The Australians were starting to get in to a bit of a panic now because the game against Tel Aviv would kick off only five days after the third play off should they win so a fourth game had to be out of the question. Whilst drowning their sorrows/calming their fears in a bar before the third match two journalists told ASF officials that there was a witchdoctor who could perform a ceremony for a small fee and perhaps curse the Rhodesian goalkeeper. The officials decided that this was worth a crack and linked up with the Witchdoctor at the ground at dawn on the morning of the match.

 

In the ceremony the witchdoctor buried bones under one set of goals and placed a curse on Jordan. The ploy seemed to work as Jordan was taken off injured after colliding with Baartz and Australia won 3-1, Rutherford and Warren scoring with Sibanda scoring an own goal. Following a night of some serious boozing the hungover Australian team was leaving their hotel to do their own version of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ to Israel when the Witchdoctor arrived wanting to be paid for his services. The Australian team manager told him that there would be no such payment.

 

The Witchdoctor decided that that was a little out of order and placed a curse on the Socceroos. Did this curse work? Well after 1974 how many times did they qualify? Australia took some 30 hours to get to Israel from Mozambique and were outdone by a fitter and more technically efficient Israeli side 1-0. In the return leg in Sydney in front a sellout crowd Australia would go out 2-1 on aggregate after only drawing 1-1, the goal from Australia coming near the death through Watkiss.

 

 

 

Australia were out, supposedly cursed and it wouldn’t be until satirical comedian John Safran performed a ceremony with Warren in Mozambique and then Sydney to lift the curse which was shown on his program  ‘John Saffran VS God’. The curse was gone and Australia qualified for Germany, nuff said.

 

Did the curse actually exist though? It was only talked about when Warren had put it in his memoirs ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Pooftas.’ Players from that side have never confirmed it but it’s never been denied too. Some have said it sounds like something done by their entourage who enjoyed a joke. Warren honest believed in the curse and who are we to question a now departed doyen of the sport.

 

The narrative of the curse also fitted with the fact the governing body of the sport was more often than not a basketcase firing good people, hiring one of the boys and generally not desrving to go a World Cup. It was only the 90s they had teams and a set up that was somewhere near acceptable culminating in Safron lifting the curse and Australia getting in Hiddink to steer the ‘golden generation’ to Germany 2006.

 

To quote Factory Records creator Tony Wilson, “When forced to pick between truth and legend, print the legend.”

 

 

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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