The Ghost Game: Pinochet’s Chile and the World Cup Qualifier with One Team
How the 1973 coup and a shameful decision from FIFA led to one of the saddest, most farcical scenes in football history
(This is a very, very long post. If you’d prefer to read it in a page-based format, a PDF version of it is available here.)
Un pueblo sin memoria es un pueblo sin futuro.
-a quote at the Memorial Escotilla N.º 8 at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, remembering the prisoners held there during the Pinochet regime
I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
-Henry Kissinger, speaking in a meeting of the 40 Committee to discuss possible covert action in Chile, June 27th 1970
No me asusta la amenaza
Patrones de la miseria
La estrella de la esperanza
Continuará siendo nuestra
-Víctor Jara, in the lyrics to ‘Vientos del pueblo’, a song released after his murder
This essay contains references to torture and sexual assault; reader caution is advised.
In November 2022 - less than two weeks before the first game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar - the labour rights organisation Equidem published a lengthy report on the treatment of the migrant workers who were bought into the country to build the stadiums for the Cup. Speaking to almost a thousand of the workers, and going in-depth with sixty of them, the report - titled “If we complain, we are fired” - lists off the many violations of rights and welfare engaged in by the Qatari organisers, from nationality-based discrimination and physical violence to exposure to extreme weather conditions and COVID-19.
One of the most chilling aspects of the report comes on pages 32 and 33, where several of the interviewed workers describe efforts made to cover up any of the issues. An Indian stonecutter, working at the Al Bayt Stadium, mentioned that ahead of inspections he and his coworkers “were sent elsewhere for duty or sent to the camp”; while a Nepalese scaffolder at Lusail Stadium stated that “whenever [independent inspectors] used to come, the company would send us to the accommodation camp”, adding that the company “had vehicles on hand for this”. Even in the opening of the report, they quote another Nepalese worker who states flatly that the Hamin bin Khalid Contracting Company, the division he worked for, would ring a fire alarm ahead of FIFA inspectors arriving, bring the hundreds of workers into open spaces, and then bus them away - only to claim to the inspectors that the whole team was out for lunch at the time.
There are many, many things that can be said about the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and all the horror that went into making it happen. Others have written about that far more eloquently, but the very least that can be said is that it shows FIFA never learn from their history. The reports from Qatar, of organisers quickly hiding stadium abuses to hoodwink gullible inspectors, are uncomfortable echoes of a similar incident in 1973, on the other side of the world.
Where 2022 saw deaths and injuries to migrant workers at the hands of uncaring employers/slave owners, 1973’s victims had nothing to do with the stadium itself, and were instead the political prisoners of a far-right military regime, Augusto Pinochet’s Chile. Both sets of inspections looked set to have some impact on upcoming football matches, but while Qatar had an entire World Cup to host across their eight stadiums, the Estadio Nacional in Santiago was only needed for one game. And while boycotts were staunchly argued for during the Qatar World Cup, every match at that tournament was played - the Soviet Union, scheduled visitors to Chile for the 1973 match, never arrived in Santiago. Their absence led to one of the most bizarre, tragic, and shameful incidents in football’s history, one which represents problems still felt fifty years later; the memory of a game never played.
Although the country has had regional success in basketball and global success in tennis,Chile shares an intense love of football with the rest of Latin America. The beginnings will be recognisable to anyone who’s seen their own country’s footballing history: casual kickabouts by British trading ships, with the first records coming in the port city of Valparaíso in 1867. Upper-class, Anglophilic families began organising proper games in their local schools and communities, which led to the organisation of the Federación de Fútbol de Chile in 1895. Making connections with the other associations throughout the confederation, Chile’s national team played its first match in May 1910 ahead of a tournament in neighbouring Argentina - celebrating the centenary of Argentina’s May Revolution, some have argued it as the first Copa América.
In the pecking order of South American football, Chile quickly fell to the bottom in the early days - it took until 1937 for La Roja to beat any of Brazil, Argentina, or Uruguay. Even if they weren’t able to compete at an international level, their domestic game was impeccably organised. Following the lead of Argentina, a professional league was founded in 1933 by eight clubs based mostly in Santiago, with the debut title being won by Magallanes. The Primera División remains a strong league, even if the sixteen teams competing vary heavily in location, historic success, and support. Unsurprisingly, the capital area dominates, with six of the currently active teams based in Santiago and most others within an hour’s flight away (Deportes Antofagasta and Cobresal exist further away in the north of the country, with no top-division team further south than the Talcahuano-based Huachipato).
In a way, the story of Chilean domestic football is irrevocably tied into that of Colo-Colo, the Santiago powerhouse named after a legendary Mapuche chief from the brutal Arauco War. Founded after disputes with Magallanes, the new club competed strongly in the first season of the Primera División, eventually losing to their predecessors in a playoff game. But while it took a few years for the pieces to come together at the professional level, once it did there was no stopping them. Colo-Colo won the title for the first time in 1937, going undefeated in the twelve-game season, and within ten years had made it to five - more than any other team in the country, a position that they have never relinquished since. While they dominate both on the field (having finished top two in half of all Primera División seasons) and in the stands (a majority of committed football fans in Chile support Colo-Colo specifically), there’s more to Chilean football than just that.
The two university teams, Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile, are two other strong teams with a lengthy rivalry. Part of the rivalry derives from questions over the role of religion in Chilean society, but another part of it is just that both have been good at the same time. Both formed by students, the secular U. de Chile and the religious U. Católica have won 18 and 16 titles respectively, and take up much of the rest of Chilean football support. Smaller teams will either come from further afield, with the occasional northern club rising up for victory (most recently Cobresal, who took the title back to their small mining townfor the first time in 2015); or represent a historical migrant group - no prizes for guessing which groups Audax Italiano, Unión Española, and Palestino have derived support from.
On the whole, though, Chilean football is widely popular, fair, and well-tempered; all of these contributed to Chile pulling off the trick of winning the rights to host a World Cup as early as 1962. After the two previous World Cups were held in Switzerland and Sweden, American teams threatened to boycott the tournament if it was held in Europe for the third consecutive time. Brazil, having hosted in 1950, were never really considered, leaving the hosting rights to quickly become a two-horse race between Chile and Argentina.
The win of the Chilean bid, ahead of their larger and stronger neighbours, rests on the shoulders of Carlos Dittborn, a tireless administrator who made a powerful speech at a FIFA congress in June 1956. Dittborn mathematically laid out the reasons to vote in favour of Chile’s bid - as well as commenting on the mad footballing culture that represented the egalitarian and non-racist society, Chile had a consistent historical record of appearing at football tournaments and conferences, and had one of the most stable political systems in the Americas.The coup de grâce came as Dittborn took Raul Colombo’s statement from the previous day that Argentina could “start the World Cup tomorrow, we have it all”, and deliberately contrasted it against FIFA’s own statutes on promoting the game in ‘underdeveloped’ countries. Dittborn heavily contributed to the Chileans winning the bid in a landslide, 31 votes to 12.
Instead of a landslide, though, it was another natural disaster that almost derailed the World Cup. The 1960 Valdivia earthquake is the largest in known history, reaching at least 9.4 on the Richter scale and releasing almost a quarter of all seismic energy in the century 1906 to 2005. Cities as far away as Hilo in Hawai’i were destroyed, with tsunamis reaching the Aleutian Islands in the far north of the Pacific.
Considering the destruction throughout the country, it seemed ludicrous to even think about hosting a World Cup. Dittborn met with Jorge Alessandri, the president of Chile, and offered to return funding provided for the World Cup - the president refused, arguing that the country could use the entertainment in a difficult time. Facing up to the task, Dittborn gave the memorable quote “because we have nothing, we will do everything”,and he and his organising committee set to work cobbling together a World Cup in a broken country.
The final result, although not ideal, was enough to host a stripped back World Cup. Of the nine host cities that were originally planned, the four southernmost of them (Talca, Talcahuano, Concepción, and Valdivia) pulled out due to stadium damage; while two more venues in Antofagasta and Valparaíso accepted the financial impossibility of reaching World Cup standard. Borrowing money from other confederations and even FIFA itself, plus convincing the US-based Braden Copper Company to let them use their stadium in Rancagua,by the time the World Cup rolled around four venues were ready: the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, two small stadiums in nearby Rancagua and Viña del Mar, and the newly built Estadio Carlos Dittborn in far northern Arica - named in memory of the much loved administrator, who died a month before the World Cup of a heart attack some believe was caused by the stress of organising the event.
It was perhaps a good thing that Dittborn didn’t have to see the underwhelming nature of the tournament. The lowest scoring World Cup to that point,games were invariably dull affairs where more attacks were made on players than the goal. Even the host nation had a miserable time of it, despite eventually finishing third - Alessandri made an uninspired speech before the first game and didn’t stay the whole time, leaving during a comeback 3-1 victory over Switzerland.
Three days later, inflamed by Italian newspapers describing the country and its people as “proudly miserable and backwards”,Chilean players and fans went berserk. The Italians tried to offer some appeasement before the match, presenting flowers to varying Chilean women in the crowd, but the subsequent ninety minutes were described as “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting, and disgraceful exhibition of football in the history of the game” when BBC commentator David Coleman presented the highlights two days later. Chile won the game with two late goals, but the game was best remembered for its sheer brutality - striker Leonel Sánchez punched multiple Italian players, breaking the nose of defender Humberto Maschio in the single worst transgression. The visiting media turned on them; Chile’s run to the semi-finals wasn’t celebrated by anyone except the home crowds. When Brazil won the World Cup on June 17, beating Czechoslovakia 3-1 at the Estadio Nacional, essentially everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the tournament was over.
Following on from the 1962 World Cup, Chile had again succeeded in qualifying for 1966 - tying for top spot with Ecuador with two wins and a draw, they won a playoff in Peru in October 1965 - but had failed for 1970, losing 0-2 to Uruguay in a game that (had they won) would have qualified them. To make their way to the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, they had to make their way through the uneven qualifying format of the time. CONMEBOL received 2.5 spots between the nineteams competing, who were split into three groups of three - two received direct qualification, the third would have to play against a European team.
Uruguay and Argentina won groups A and B, who received direct qualification. Perhaps as a makeup for having to go through the playoff group, Chile were lucky enough to be only drawn against Peru and Venezuela. The latter, perennial minnows of CONMEBOL,withdrew before the first game, leaving just a two leg match between two historically acrimonious countries. The Peruvian side of the early 70s was arguably the strongest in their history, making the quarter finals of the 1970 World Cup and winning the 1975 Copa América; Chile had failed to qualify for the previous tournament.
Both of those games finished a 2-0 victory to the home team, meaning a third game was required - this time in the neutral territory of Uruguay. Héctor Bailetti, in ultimately his final game, scored a 40th minute goal to give Peru a 1-0 lead, but Francisco Valdés equalised just before half time and Rogelio Farias’ strike near the hour mark gave Chile the lead.
Chile already knew they were set to meet the Soviet Union in a playoff - over in Europe, the Soviets had recovered from an away loss in France to top a qualifying group against Les Bleus and the Republic of Ireland. The matches, the last two qualifiers before the World Cup, had been scheduled - the first game in Moscow on September 26, the second in Santiago on November 21. Before the game, though, life in Chile would be turned on its head.
The vast majority of people, when asked to consider the date September 11, will immediately gravitate to 2001. This is justifiable - the deaths of almost three thousand people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania were unprecedented in history, and the impact on global society has been felt ever sinceand will continue for decades.
In a grim irony, the very first seeds of 9/11 were sown by the United States - in the late 1970s, under the banner of Operation Cyclone, the CIA had provided weapons and other funding to mujahideen groups that would later evolve into the Taliban. This operation, one of many such actions, was part of a fight against communism and the Soviet Union, and so is inevitably tied to the other noteworthy September 11, in 1973.
Three years prior, a close election in Chile had resulted in a deadlock. The conservative Alessandri, who was hoping to return to office,won 35% of the vote to arrive in second - not enough to win, but more than enough to split the vote of the two left-wing candidates. Radomiro Tomic of the Christian Democratic Party claimed 28% of the electorate, but the frontrunner was perennial candidate and committed Marxist Salvador Allende. Running on the promises of cutting prices for medicine and rent, Allende had helped found Chile’s socialist party as a young adult in 1933, and had been involved with it for his entire life. The 1970 election was Allende’s fourth attempt at the presidency, having received the second-most votes in 1958 and 1964 and the fourth most in his first run in 1952.
Unsurprisingly for elections held in a highly polarised country at the height of the Cold War, there was considerable interest from both the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1964, both Allende and the victorious Eduardo Frei Montalva had received significant foreign funding - Allende’s political campaigning had received at least $50,000 a year from Moscow throughout the entire 1960s, reaching up towards $400,000 in some years; the CIA spent more money on trying to get Frei elected in Chile than Lyndon Johnson did on getting election in the USA.
The 1970 election, then, bought more money and more influence. While the Soviets directly funded Allende and his campaign, the United States was focusing on having anyone else as an option. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on anti-Allende propaganda, with editorials in El Mercurio and posters in the streets suggesting that the inevitable result of a Marxist presidency was repression and state violence in line with the worst aspects of communism. The campaign was ineffective with regards to the actual vote - CIA director Richard Helms bemoaned being tasked with trying to “beat somebody with nobody” - but had some impact when it came to the congressional vote.
As no candidate had reached a majority of the public vote, it came down to the National Congress to decide on the presidency. Although precedent suggested that the holder of the plurality would win comfortably, the CIA propaganda campaign stepped up with the goal of encouraging Congress to defect and vote for Alessandri. This plan - dubbed ‘Track I’ by the US State Department - would see Alessandri win the presidency, immediately resign from his term in office, and cause a second election between Allende and the now-free-to-run Frei. While there was a small chance that may have worked,the real trigger was a bungled kidnapping from CIA-funded military figures - the so-called ‘Track II’.
Roberto Viaux, a general in the Chilean Army who had already become infamous for a minor insurrection,had an army of loyalists attempt to kidnap General René Schneider - commander-in-chief of the Chilean army and staunchly dedicated to his non-political, non-partisan role. A separate group working with Camilo Valenzuela had travelled to Schneider’s home on October 16, 1970, only to find he was on holiday. Three days later, Viaux’s group arrived at an official dinner armed with tear gas grenades, only to be foiled when Schneider left in a private car. The final attempt happened on October 22nd, two days before the vote in Congress - Schneider’s car was ambushed at a street intersection, he was shot at point-blank range by some of the group of five, and despite being rushed to hospital, he died three days later. Outraged by the murder of Schneider, Congress voted for Allende comfortably on October 24th - him receiving 153 votes to Alessandri’s 35 - and he was sworn into office on November 3rd. Frei’s last meaningful act as President was to replace Schneider with General Carlos Prats, who shared his constitutionalist views.
Allende immediately set to work on far-reaching reforms across the Chilean state - fully nationalising the copper industry and the national healthcare system, funding free milk for children and providing scholarships for the Mapuche, establishing a minimum wage, and rebuilding the Santiago metro with a focus on working-class neighbourhoods. While these developments were initially very popular with the public, and helped increase real wages for much of 1971, opposition grew - not only from right-wing politicians and wealthy nationalists; but also from the United States, who feared a “well-functioning socialist experiment” and panicked further when Cuban leader Fidel Castro spent three weeks in Chile.
By 1972, things had begun to collapse. Falls in the price of copper meant that economics minister Pedro Vuskovic had to try and produce more money, causing inflation that quickly skyrocketed. Many strikes began across the country, causing widespread damage to the Chilean economy, and polarisation increased. Shortly after the 1973 parliamentary elections, the Christian Democratic Party split from Allende’s socialists to align with the right-wing National Party. The government was paralysed and ineffectual, the military was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their conditions while seeing the results of other nearby coups,and all the while the United States was quietly exercising economic and political pressure while communicating with right-wing groups internally.
By the end of June 1973, it seemed almost inevitable that the Allende government was not long for power. General Prats, who was by this point being publicly mocked and insulted, made the impulsive mistake of firing a handgun at a car whose occupants had made obscene gestures towards him on June 27th - Allende refused to accept his immediate resignation, and the opposition happily pounced on the incident. Two days later, Lt. Col. Roberto Souper set up a collection of armed vehicles outside the presidential building, La Moneda, and began firing upon it; the attempted coup was organised by the far-right Fatherland and Liberty Nationalist Front, a CIA-funded group whose ‘spider’ logo was a conscious attempt at invoking the Nazi swastika.Prats organised other more loyal divisions of the Chilean military, and making use of his charismatic nature as leader, was able to bring an end to the coup attempt within hours of its start.
Just two months later, there would be a more aggressive coup, and this time it would succeed. On August 22nd, the Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution that, effectively, signed the death warrant for Allende and his government - arguing that the president, ministers of state, and sections of the armed forces were breaching the Constitution “[with] the goal of establishing a totalitarian system”, and chillingly stating that it was the duty of the armed forces “to put an immediate end to all situations herein referred to that breach the Constitution and the laws of the land”. Allende responded two days later to argue that his actions had been made with the intention of pushing the country through the crisis, through the “revolutionary process”.
On the morning of September 11th, the forces of the Chilean navy captured Valparaíso, cutting off communications networks and establishing a defence network along the coast. Allende sought to call as many loyalists as he could, but was left with only a few police figures - the leaders of all three branches of the military refused to respond. The armed forces had declared their control of Chile within two hours of the attacks on Santiago starting, but a defiant Allende refused to resign, making a brief and eloquent speech on Radio Magallanesbefore the standoff between loyalist snipers and the coup leaders ended. Rather than risk prison or execution, Allende chose to die by his own hand at around 2pm that day, ending both his presidency and democracy in Chile as a whole.
The military junta that took control immediately established a dictatorship - Congress and the constitution were suspended, with all left-wing political parties banned. Media fell under harsh censorship, with all radio and television being used for propaganda and all except two newspapers being closed down. The country was now entirely at the mercy of the junta, whose four members led the army, navy, air force, and police respectively. Needing an initial leader, the group chose the general of the army to serve as president of the junta - Augusto Pinochet.
Pinochet had been a latecomer to the coup planning, and had even supported Prats during the first attempt in June. But after being promoted to commander in chief after Prats’ resignation in August, Pinochet took to power with a real bloodlust. Collaborating with the rest of the junta to write a document justifying the coup and laying out their plans, the new regime set about reversing all of Allende’s policies. Privatising industries and banning trade unions, economic freedoms within Chile were at all-time highs, but this came at a very real human cost.
As military governments throughout history are wont to do, there were thousands of human rights violations committed by the military junta in the aftermath of the 1973 coup. The most famous Pinochet-era violations are the “death flights”, where prisoners would be taken onto a helicopter before being thrown out somewhere over the coast of Valparaíso- this was used both as a way to murder, and a strategy to hide the bodies of those already killed. While these flights are easily the best-known thing about the Pinochet regime, with many right-wingers on the Internet using “free helicopter rides” as a meme into the 2020s, they pale in comparison to some of the other barbaric methods of torture used.
A 19 year old named Rodrigo Rojas was burned alive after the military saw him photographing a political protest. One woman reported, in addition to multiple rapes, being forced to have sex with her imprisoned father and brother. Linking things back to football, a wall constructed by German manager Rudi Gutendorflater found horrifying purpose, being used as the backdrop for many dissidents executed by firing squad.
The regime’s genocidal view on leftismeven extended to the destruction of Chile’s cultural history, with the case of legendary musician Víctor Jara a particularly brutal example. Having studied at the University of Santiago, Jara became involved in the country’s theatre movement, helping to reinterpret traditional elements of Chilean folklore into a contemporary setting. Musically, both his original songs and his recordings of traditional poems became popular domestically and overseas, directing the nueva canción chilena movement and making a strong, explicitly left-wing culture.
In 1970, Jara composed the music for ‘Venceremos’, which was used as the campaign music for Allende’s Popular Unity coalition. Three years later, that would be the last song Jara would ever sing - having been kidnapped from his university home on the night after the coup, he spent the next days in the bowels of a Santiago basketball stadium being beaten, burnt with cigarettes, stamped on, and bruised. Bought before a crowd of fellow detainees, soldiers swung hammers into Jara’s hands, breaking his bones beyond repair. They then threw a guitar at him, mockingly telling him to play. Unbowed, Jara sang ‘Venceremos’ without accompaniment, not finishing before being shot in the head.
Thousands of Chileans tried to flee the country, many going directly west across the Pacific Ocean to Australia,but the regime tightened up the borders as much as possible to prevent anyone from leaving the country. The only people they let leave were the footballers.
Even if he wasn’t much of a fan of the game himself, Pinochet was astutely aware of the hold that football had over the country,and was more than willing to use it to promote his own government. In the domestic arena, much as Franco had done with Real Madrid in his fascist leadership of Spain, the general was happy to adopt Colo-Colo as ‘his’ team. As well as being the country’s most popular team, they were in the middle of success - three months prior they had gone agonisingly close to becoming the first Chilean club to win the Copa Libertadores, pushing the legendary Argentinian team Independiente to extra time in a neutral playoff. Miguel Giachello scored a 107th minute goal to give the Argentines a 2-1 victory and the second of four consecutive titles, helping to create a myth that no Pacific country would ever claim the title.
In an act of self-preservation, Colo-Colo later enlisted Pinochet as an honorary president, which provided them plenty of funding from the bank HBCand threw out the competitive balance of the Primera División. In 1988, just before the referendum on his rule, the dictator donated 300 million pesos to the funding of Colo-Colo’s home ground, the Estadio Monumental - initially built in the 1970s, the stadium was unfit for use and languished in emptiness until the later burst of funding in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, in the sphere of international football, the first flight out of Chile following the coup carried most of the Chilean national team. There were significant doubts as to whether this first game would go ahead, but one of the team’s trainers had an in - Jacobo Helo was also the personal doctor of Gustavo Leigh, head of the Chilean air force and one of the four members of the junta governing the country at the time. Convincing the military leaders that international football could help legitimise the new government, the team was reluctantly okayed to travel - although not without the note that they were not to discuss politics outside.
Carlos Reinoso, the famed midfielder who won many hearts in Mexico at Club América, was unable to travel to Russia, but the squad featured some all-time names and several other famous players. Elías Figueroa, a sweeping defender with an uncanny ability to pick out the ideal pass, was the star of the team - often cited as Chile’s greatest ever player, Figueroa has been regularly named in all time XIs for South America as a whole. Carlos Caszely, an aggressive young striker with a thick moustache and prominent scoring ability, would go on to become a rare Chilean to play in Europe and was the national team’s all-time leading goalscorer until the 2000s. No less important to the team were players such as Julio Crisosto, a prodigal scorer for Universidad Católica and later Colo-Colo; Francisco Valdés, an attacking midfielder who still leads the Primera División goalscorers list today; and Juan Olivares, a diminutive goalkeeper who had impressed at the 1966 World Cup in England.
While the new airport in Santiago was closed, the team made their way to the smaller Los Cerrillos Airport to depart, although evidently things hadn’t been fully checked out - Leonardo Véliz, speaking to Carl Worswick in 2015, mentioned the plane rose to its full altitude faster than usual to dodge snipers at the airport. Taking a long and circuitous route - moving through Latin America up to Mexico, then crossing the Atlantic to France - the team arrived in Europe in time to play a friendly against the Swiss team Neuchatel Xamax. Moving eastwards, the Chilean team set themselves up in Moscow, only to be faced with more of the political environment.
Nobody came to accept the Chilean team, who were de facto seen as representatives of their government, when they arrived at the airport. (The United States had officially recognised the military junta as the government of Chile at the time.) Caszely and Figueroa were detained for some hours after perceived irregularities in their passports, despite the former being one of the most committed leftists in the side.When being greeted by a student of Lumumba University, Véliz urged the young Chilean leftist not to return to his homeland. The days passed, and the morning of the qualifier came.
The Soviet team that Chile faced in Moscow may not have reflected the underdeveloped nature of Russian football. Compared to much of the rest of the world, football was slow to become the sport of the working class; in the late 19th century Russia was occupied with cycling as the pre-eminent sport. It took until 1896 for the first set of laws to be translated into Russian, and when a small tournament (the Aspeden Cup) was founded in St. Petersburg in 1901, the clubs were all foreign.
Things swiftly changed. The simply named Sport were the first Russian champions in 1908, with an acrimonious game against the British millworker team Nevsky leading to the withdrawal of all foreign teams after media reports. Fighting against oppression by aristocrats, impromptu games emerged all over Russia’s main cities and were shut down just as quickly before blowing up into the open, with attendances reaching five figures as early as 1911.
The shift from Empire to Union failed to dampen Russian enthusiasm for the game, with teams being strongly associated with industry as much as city. Dinamo and Spartak, two Moscow teams, played many strongly-fought games over the decades that offered the general populace some small opportunity to go against the grain (Dinamo were a team for the elites). As the league grew into something that approached the big Western European ones in scale (if not in stature), the Soviet national team finally emerged from their slumber. And they were good - after being eliminated in the first round of the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, the Soviet team scrapped their way to gold at Melbourne 1956, beating Yugoslavia 1-0 in front of 86,000 in the final.The first European Championships, four years later, were also won by a Soviet team that incorporated more than just Russians into the side - three Georgians and a Ukrainian played in the final.
A year after claiming the European title, the Soviet Union travelled to Chile for what was the first of five matches the two countries would play over the next six years - three friendlies in Santiago and two matches at consecutive World Cups. The Soviets won all three friendlies, and the group stage game between the two at the 1966 World Cup; Chile’s only victory was in the 1962 quarter-final.
Although the Soviet Union team was somewhat of a step down from their golden era throughout the 1960s, they still had quite an imposing lineup in 1973. A famous pair from Dynamo Kyiv bookended the playing XI - Oleh Blokhin,who had burst onto the international scene with eight goals in his first nine games and would go on to become the Soviet Union’s all time leading gameplayer and goalscorer, played up front; while Yevhen Rudakov, an able successor to the legendary Lev Yashin, was an imposing figure in goal. Revaz Dzodzuashvili, a Georgian right-back, had made the team of the tournament at Euro 1972, and was a strong pair with Evgeny Lovchev on the left side. The stage was set for an enthralling game.
Armando Marques, a Brazilian, seems a baffling decision to referee such a contentious match in hindsight. Leaving aside choosing a South American referee for an intercontinental playoff,he had a history of bizarre mistakes in refereeing domestic games - in the final of the 1971 Campeonato Paulista, he had disallowed a legitimate header by Palmeiras player Levinha, a decision that helped São Paulo claim victory. Two years later, and just weeks before the Chile-Soviet Union game, Marques famously declared Santos as winners of a penalty shootout before the match was won - Portoguesa were 0-2 down, but had two kicks left to be made and could tie it up.
The Colombian-based writer Carl Worswick alleges that Marques couldn’t quite separate his political leanings from his role as referee. Described as a “virulent anti-communist”, he reportedly told Chilean FA president Francisco Fluxá ‘thank god’ Allende’s government had been couped. As well as taking some cigarettes from Fluxá, Marques spoke with Chilean player Figueroa throughout the match, the star defender challenging him (in Portuguese!) on whether he wanted the team from Europe or South America to win.
In the end, the answer was neither. Before 60,000 Soviet fans on a freezing cold autumn night, Chile ground out a defensive 0-0 draw off the back of a strong performance from Alberto Quintano - the central defender was starting with Figueroa for the first time, and the two served as a solid wall to repel all of the Soviet attacks; goalkeeper Juan Olivares also received praise for his effort.
For a final qualifier for a World Cup, the match was strangely low-key. Only one Chilean journalist, Hugo Gasc, was present; the match wasn’t televised or covered much in the Soviet papers either. Without engaging in the post-match niceties, the Chilean team returned homewards the next day. There were two months until the second game, and a win or a score draw would be enough to return the South Americans to the World Cup. But a lot had to happen before then.
A lot of the blame for the farce that emerged in Santiago can be blamed on FIFA’s president of the time, SirStanley Rous. Perhaps a charitable explanation, to not put all of the pressure on him, would be to say that he was merely out of his depth.
Rous certainly had the experience to be the president of FIFA; after a wrist injury ended his playing career he became one of England’s finest referees, hanging up his whistle almost immediately after watching over the 1934 FA Cup final. He swiftly moved into administration, helping redevelop the Rules of the Game in the 1930s while serving as secretary of the FA for almost three decades and helping plan the 1948 ‘Austerity’ Olympics in London, before moving onto a UEFA committee and then the FIFA one.
FIFA, never one to dwell on the more unsavoury parts of their history, only mention Rous’ time in office as one where “the FIFA World Cup became a worldwide television spectacle”. It’s perhaps wise of them to not draw attention to his views on South Africa, where the white Englishman repeatedly tried to force the apartheid nation into the global footballing community despite the entirety of CAF being aghast - his visit to the country in 1963 resulted in the then-suspended South African Football Federation being readmitted to FIFA,leading the rest of CAF to threaten a boycott of the 1966 World Cup qualifying over them playing and then actually boycott as a protest to having to play through subsequent qualifiers with Asian teams. A few years later, Rous genuinely believed that a better situation was for a separate confederation in southern Africa to take in South Africa, Rhodesia, and nearby countries; this suggestion was instantly shot down by CAF with another threat to leave the FIFA congress in 1966.
The misguidedness Rous had shown in dealing with African football - coupled with the 1966 World Cup itself, where almost 80% of matches had European referees,and the draw for the quarter-finals was done with essentially no oversight - was a big factor in his position wavering ahead of a 1974 vote on the new FIFA president. The election was rather acrimonious, essentially becoming a Europe vs South America conflict - Rous refused to consider expanding the 1978 World Cup in Argentina to 24 teams, which led to a Uruguayan delegate proposing the four ‘home nations’ of the United Kingdom be unified under one seat and eventually one team.
Arguably the final straw for some members was the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring for the 1973 playoff. Some of the horrors taking place in the Estadio Nacional beggar belief, and prisoner Felipe Agüero’s description of “the descent into ever deeper cavities of horror and evil” is a powerful indictment on the torture contained within. Even while anyone imprisoned was being violated, beaten, and left either dead or wishing they were, the military men in charge at the stadium took care of the grass. More reminders of football came through some of the prisoners - Nelson Vásquez, a midfielder for Deportes Concepción who was regularly on the fringe of the national team, was the son of a transport unionist who was detained for several days and only released after pressure from the footballer. Leonardo Véliz had an uncle arrested, and it took an appearance in his Colo-Colo shirt before he could learn that the uncle was even still alive. Hugo Lepe, a retired footballer and now leader of the player’s union, was freed after a phone call between Valdés and Pinochet himself.
Serious doubts emerged on whether or not the game could be played, this time from the Soviet side of things. Oleh Blokhin recalled later that he and his teammates felt it was dangerous to travel to Pinochet’s Chile, and took their concerns to the country’s football association. They agreed with the concerns, and had them later endorsed by the Kremlin. Meanwhile, back in Chile, a FIFA task force was sent to the Estadio Nacional in order to determine if the stadium was suitable to host a game. The Chilean football association had proposed hosting the match at a different venue, the Estadio Sausalito in Viña del Mar, but word came from above that it was Santiago or nothing.
Abílio de Almeida and Helmut Käser, the vice-president and general secretary of FIFA respectively, were those responsible for analysing the stadium, which they did in late October. Totally coincidentally, the Chilean regime had done some clean-up work in Santiago and the stadium itself, scrubbing away bloodstains and hiding torture instruments - even shipping away most (but not all) of the prisoners to different locations. Käser and de Almeida were impressed with what they saw, satisfied enough to sign off on the venue to host the game. Gregorio Mena Barrales, a local politician who had been imprisoned in the stadium, recalled later that they “looked across the prisoners with distant eyes”, clearly deciding that even that wasn’t enough for them to call out the regime. Of course, there may have been more to it - de Almeida, coming from a Brazil that was already a decade into its own military regime, told his Chilean hosts not to worry about international journalists discussing the government.
The Soviets outright refused to play the match in Santiago, sending FIFA an extremely strongly written letter:
On moral grounds the Soviet sportsmen cannot at the current times play in the Santiago stadium, which is stained with the blood of Chilean patriots. The Soviet Union makes a resolute protest and declares that under the present conditions, when FIFA is acting against the dictates of common sense and allows the Chilean reactionaries to lead her blindfolded, it must refuse to take part in the playoff match on Chilean soil and holds the FIFA administration responsible for it.
Chile refused to move the game, and FIFA took their side on the issue, Rous leaning on “obscure statutes that forbade political influence”.The day before the match, the Chilean team was informed that their opponents would not be coming to Santiago. But FIFA insisted the match had to go on.
Widespread international criticism of the decision arguably signed the death knell for Rous’ presidency. In April 1974, five months after the playoff that wasn’t and three weeks before the vote, he told a meeting of UEFA leaders in Edinburgh to vote for his leadership, “because it is Europe versus South America and we want Europe to retain the leadership of football” - a staggeringly out-of-touch view that seems needlessly aggressive for the generally calm Rous. His opponent was João Havelange, a former Olympic swimmer and head of the Brazilian Sports Confederation who took advantage of Rous’ blatant Eurocentrism. Touring around the less heralded regions of the world, Africa in particular, Havelange would promise an expanded World Cup and investment in youth football - accompanied by both Pelé and “small, brown envelopes”, in the words of Brian Phillips.
Much of the large bloc of voters in Africa sealed, Havelange moved next into seeking ways to appeal to the richer areas of the world. The answer, conceived in conversation with Adidas chairman Horst Dassler and British marketer Patrick Nally, was to bring sponsorship into FIFA in a big way, selling off television rights and in-stadium advertising directly through the governing body rather than each country’s home authorities.With Dassler’s promotion of this brave new world making waves at the FIFA congress, Rous was inevitably going to lose, and he did so in the second round. Havelange, to this day, is the only non-European to be elected as FIFA president, and helped FIFA change to something completely new in his two decades as president, followed by another two before he died as a centenarian in 2016.
While the Estadio Nacional was only filled to about a third of its near-50,000 capacity, none of the crowd had seen anything like it before. In all likelihood, none of them would ever see it again.
At a glance, everything is business as usual. Beneath the banner “La Juventud y El Deporte Unen Hoy a Chile”,the scoreboard indicates the match as part of the “Copa del Mundo FIFA 1974”, and scores are ready to be added - “Selec. de Chile 0 Gol, Selec. U. Sovietica 0 Gol”. With dozens of flags on display around the arena, La Roja stand in the middle of the pitch, waving to the 17,000-strong crowd.
But there’s something wrong. The worst kept secret is out, and it slowly dawns on the fans that the Soviet team is not going to show up. In fact, they’re not even in the country, having travelled to Mexico to play a friendly in lieu of this game. But the game must go on, thanks to FIFA’s bizarre decision.
Chile’s starting XI was largely the same as the first leg - second-half substitute Julio Crisosto had been promoted to starting, while Carlos Reinoso (who hadn’t been released by his domestic team, the Mexican side Club América, for the first game) was bought into the squad. Leonardo Véliz and Guillermo Páez were both moved to the bench, meaning that neither had to take part in the charade.
The whistle is blown, and four of the Chilean players start to run down the field with the ball. Shuffling along at a jogging pace, the quartet pass between one another, almost as if none of them want to write their name into infamy. But the agreement has been made - Francisco Valdés, the national captain, already having scored eight goals in his career, will be the one who does.
Receiving the ball deep in the penalty box, Valdés moves to just before the goal line, before forcibly kicking the ball low and hard into the back of the net. Erich Linemayer, the referee who’d travelled all the way from Austria for the match, signalled a goal, just nineteen seconds after the start of the game. The match was over, and Chile were set to be awarded victory, but the celebrations were nowhere to be found. There’s little joy in a victory without a struggle, and this game was the most extreme example imaginable.
To avoid a complete no-show, the Brazilian team Santos had been invited to play a friendly against the Chilean team after the ‘playoff’. While the famed club was far from full strength - Pelé, as just one example, didn’t make the trip to Santiago - there was only ever going to be one result. Santos scored four goals in 14 minutes past listless players and for a speechless crowd, and could have easily kept going with more. When the match came to a close, the scoreline read 5-0, and everybody involved would happily never think about the match again.
Seven months later, football fans from all over cast their eyes to West Germany for the 1974 World Cup. This was, by any reasonable measure, the one that most lived up to the ‘World’ label at that point - almost one hundred teams took part in the qualifying tournament, and the sixteen teams that eventually made it (including four first-time qualifiers: East Germany, Australia, Haiti, and Zaire) had a significant international spread. The New York Times had reported on fears that, after the Santiago farce, other Soviet-allied nations would boycott the tournament. FIFA remained tightlipped, representative Rene Courte saying they would “deal with such a situation if [they were] faced with it”. In the end, it was all bluster, with nobody withdrawing.
As well as excitement for the tournament, organisers had a sense of fear about them, with the Munich Olympics of 1972 weighing on their minds. Having deliberately aimed for a more carefree security image to avoid comparisons to the Nazi propaganda that was the 1936 Games, the Olympic organisers were completely unprepared for Palestinian militants to take eleven Israeli athletes and coaches hostage, with the mismanagement of the situation leading to their deaths. To ensure no repeat, the World Cup organisers brought in thousands of police officers and trained for every possible scenario - bomb threats against the East German squad, the far-left Red Army Faction engaging in domestic terrorism with a rocket launcher, even rumours of the Irish Republican Army attacking the Scottish national team.
Fortunately for all, though, the World Cup was held with just one minor incident - a day before the tournament started, the Chilean consulate in West Berlin was damaged by a nearby bomb, causing minor injuries and some property damage. The perpetrators and motives are still unknown, but it was a clear indicator of the tensions existing around Chile, even as far away as Europe. While some may have been happy to let the coup sink into history, solidarity groups in Germany were not going to let that happen.
Wolfang Krauschaar, writing for Mittelweg 36 in 2008, said that these German groups resolved “to let no appearance by the Chilean team on the World Cup-platform pass without expressing their outrage in view of the world media”.With a crew drawing on disparate portions of the German left - SAK-JUR, a Chilean solidarity community and ‘socialist work collective’ from the activist hotbed that was the Free University of Berlin; GIM (Gruppe Internationale Marxisten), part of the pro-Trotsky Fourth International; varying Maoists involved in a league against imperialism - plans were made to buy tickets en masse and engage in protest during the games, hoping to make it unmissable.
The start of the campaigns for both the Chilean players and their supporters came on a Friday afternoon, the 14th of June, and with the biggest stage of all - the heavily favoured host team, and 81,000 of their fans. Shortly before the 4pm start of the match, while the Chilean national anthem was performed, the crowd burst up into noise. Varying protesters began to chant their catchphrase of “Chile si, junta no!”, while much of the opposition whistled and jeered to drown it out. Banners were unfurled, including a provocative one that replaces the ‘ch’ in Pinochet’s name with a swastika.
While the protests were successful, and were celebrated as such at an evening gathering, the game was less so for the Chileans. The famously bearded Paul Breitner, listed as a left back for the game but doing his trademark full-pitch coverage, scored a great long-distance goal in the 18th minute, and the Germans retained their lead through the rest of the game. The best remembered aspect of the game, though, is Carlos Caszely entering the history books for seeing the first red card in World Cup history - already on a yellow for a challenge in the first half, the forward’s retaliation for a clumsy attack from Berti Vogts saw him booked a second time by the referee, and sent off the field and into the history books. This incident is perhaps still what some know him for, as opposed to his long career as a talented forward and political activist.
Between the games, the footballers stayed put in West Berlin to prepare for a match against East Germany, but the protestors were even more active. Supported by the British Pakistani author Tariq Ali, who helped them organise at a speech of his, and the Uruguayan singer Daniel Viglietti, a comrade of Jara, thousands of supporters marched through Berlin before arriving at a hotel housing many of the World Cup’s organisers. Some members of the march managed to enter the hotel and talk with officials, proposing that they stop trying to suppress the anti-Pinochet protests.
Unfortunately, the setting for the next game stopped that, with the visiting East German fans (bused in by the hundreds) being put under extremely tight watch. All of the pro-Chilean banners were confiscated, but - not to be defeated - yellow raincoats were given out and arranged to form another large swastika, to no response from the rest of the crowd. Perhaps the slightly more interesting game drew their attention; both teams scored on their way to a 1-1 draw.
The final match of the World Cup for the Chileans came on Saturday the 22nd, a sparsely attended gameagainst an Australian team that had played bravely, but been solidly outclassed through the tournament. While Australia was already eliminated, there was still hope for Chile - a win would have pushed them to 3 points, leaving them tied with East Germany and hoping for a comfortable victory to the West Germans in the later game.
The match was not good. Having been comprehensively outplayed when trying to hold their own against the two German sides, and missing former captain and spiritual leader Johnny Warren to a foot injury, Australia was focused on playing a dull and defensive game that the Chilean attack was unable to push through. As if things weren’t miserable enough for everyone on the field, especially those players with eyes on home, it started to rain fifteen minutes into the match and didn’t stop for some time. The rain caused police officers to run for cover, giving the protesters a chance for their final success just after half time.
A poor VHS recording exists of the game, but it shows the protest in its completeness. As the rain picks up, a group of eleven jumps over the trench around the field, running onto the wet grass at full speed. Moving towards the centre of the field, close to the TV cameras, the group holds a large Chilean flag between them - written on the white representing the Andes is the all-caps word “CHILE”, but the slogan on the red is unclear on the broadcast. The red on the national flag represents the blood spilt in the fight for Spanish independence; this red was now emblazoned with the word “SOCIALISTA”, a group who were themselves murdered in their hundreds by an autocratic opposition.
Avoiding the players, who seem to make little reaction to the protest (the Chilean player with the ball even attempts to play on before the referee stops him), there is a brief moment where the group attempts to lift the flag upwards towards the camera. Dozens of police officers swarm onto the field, three to a man, and drag the group onwards and into temporary detention. The last officers are still on the field when the referee drops the ball on the ground, letting one of the worst World Cup matches in history resume. The few limp Chilean attacks are easily repelled by the defence, and after Australian midfielder Ray Richards is sent off late,any remaining interest in trying to do more than get through the game unscathed is killed. The match ends 0-0, and for the second time, Chile return home from a World Cup winless.
In one sense, the protest achieved its aims - after accepting their arrest and being kept in the Charlottenberg police station for the day, the eleven student protesters learned that the match was being broadcast live on television in Chile. The junta’s television authorities acted swiftly, although not swiftly enough, and the television broadcast was pulled a few minutes later.
However, the situation back home remained bleak. On the Thursday after the match, Pinochet declared himself ‘Supreme Chief of the Nation’, setting himself up to officially become President - and have sole executive power over Chile - in December of that year.
The FIFA organising committee’s official report on the 1974 World Cupnoted that “Chile’s defensive style could not quite win through against the strong European teams”.
The next World Cup, held in Argentina in 1978, was arguably even more linked to politics than the Chile-Soviet Union playoff - at the very least, more brutal. Argentina had been selected as hosts for the tournament in 1966 in a deal with Mexico, although preparation was slow. By 1974 all that had been agreed upon was a logo, deliberately styled after Juan Perón’s famous two-armed salute to crowds.
Perón had died that year, and his death led to a vacuum of power. Isabel, his widow and the new president, struggled to control communist rebels throughout Argentina, eventually signing more and more power over to the far-right Argentine Anticommunist Alliance, a paramilitary death squad that made dozens of high-profile assassinations throughout the 1970s.As the new president failed to take charge of the country, the military split up and came to secretly lead varying areas. On March 24, 1976, Perón was forcibly removed from the presidential office and the new leaders - chief among them Jorge Rafael Videla - were announced on the radio.
The subsequent Dirty War, which lasted for a decade under the National Reorganisation Process, saw some of the worst brutality ever committed by men to their peers. Ten teenagers were kidnapped on what became known as the Night of the Pencils and later tortured - eighteen year old Pablo Díaz had his toenails ripped out and his penis electrocuted, seventeen year old Emilce Moler was “beaten senseless” by a man twice her size. Pregnant women were imprisoned until they gave birth, where the children were then stolen and given to childless soldiers. Dozens of bodies that had been dismembered and decapitated washed up on the shores over the years.
Unlike in Chile, where the United States had set the dominoes up and egged on Pinochet to push them, there was active American participation to support and condone the NRP. The US Army School of the Americas, founded in 1946,taught several notable figures in the Dirty War - three of the Argentinian presidents during the Junta graduated - and is argued as an influence on their specific tactics of torture. Congress granted $50 million of aid in April 1976, with another $30 million coming two years later, in addition to many millions more in military spare parts and direct training.
Much of this can be pinpointed directly at the feet of Henry Kissinger, US secretary of state and a winner of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize. Kissinger regularly praised the new regime, calling their targeted oppression of leftist figures “wiping out terrorist groups”. In October 1976, a meeting in Washington between Kissinger and Argentine foreign minister César Augusto Guzzetti saw the American secretary say that “the human rights problem is a growing one”, but still saying “the quicker you succeed the better”.
One thing Argentina was going to succeed at, no matter what came in their path, was their home World Cup. Most sources agree that, if any World Cup had been fixed, 1978 was the one. It was clear that the rules of fairness at football tournaments were somewhat malleable, and they exploited that for all they could. Argentina played all of their games at night, eliminated the strong French team in their first round group, and got a softer draw in the second round. And that says nothing about the refereeing of the games themselves (a blatant handball against France wasn’t given, with some claiming the referee told Argentinian captain Daniel Passarella to not do it again lest he actually have to give a penalty; and the initial final referee, Abraham Klein of Israel, was swapped out for Sergio Gonella of the much more supportive Italy) or the stalling tactics for the final (the Dutch team was given a scenic route through Buenos Aires on their bus to the venue, made to wait on the pitch for five minutes for Argentina, and then further delayed after defender René van de Kerkhof was forced to take off his plaster cast).
The most egregious example comes from the final second group stage match against Peru - going into the final matches, Argentina were tied on points with Brazil and one behind on goal difference. Argentina’s match was delayed so that they could see what they’d need to do,letting them watch Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Poland. Needing a four-goal victory to overcome the goal difference, the Argentines did two better, a 6-0 victory sealing a spot in the final. While it’s possible that the Argentinian team may have actually been that good - strikers Leopoldo Luque and Daniel Bertoni are still considered greats, Mario Kempes won the Golden Boot and Ball in a dazzling display of prowess as an attacking midfielder, and manager César Luis Menotti had revolutionised the squad tactically to help them become a flowing, swift unit - theories abounded, and still do, to explain the extreme result.
Early critics pinpointed the blame on Ramón Quiroga, the Peruvian goalkeeper who happened to have been born and raised in Argentina, starting his football career in Rosario. Utterly offended by the claim, Quiroga wrote an open letter to defend his team’s honour. Others suspect the military intimidating the Peruvian team as a whole, the government delivering a large shipment of grain, or even the release of a dozen Peruvian prisoners.
It didn’t matter, though, with Argentina winning the final in extra time in front of a home crowd in Buenos Aires. Videla handed the World Cup trophy to Passarella, who lifted it aloft to the cheering stadium - less than a mile away from the Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, a school turned torture chamber where the basements perpetually stunk of blood, semen, and feces. Almost five thousand people were murdered during the years of the junta, including dozens during the World Cup itself; the acts inflicted on some of the prisoners meant that death was almost a welcome escape.
The guards, sadistic to the last, saw a golden opportunity to use the tournament to mock their captives. On a tiny black and white television, about twenty prisoners watched the final, and were then taken to watch the celebrations without being able to take part. Graciela Daleo, speaking to Will Hersey in 2018,remembered the “moment of terrible solitude” of seeing jubilant crowds from an armoured vehicle, knowing she had no way of sharing her truthful view of the trophy-holding general.
No longer secretary of state after Gerald Ford had lost the 1976 election, Kissinger - a lifelong football fan - was a guest of honour of Videla. The two had gone on a pre-match journey into the Peruvian dressing room ahead of the last game in the second group stage, with a rumour that the general had very heavily implied how important a win would be to Argentina, complete with reference to “Latin American solidarity”.
Absent, though, were the two countries that had caused such a furore in 1973. The Soviet Union still attempted to qualify, cautious of starting another major incident, but failed to do so, falling to second in a group with Hungary and Greece.Chile didn’t make it out of the first round, losing the deciding game to Peru in March 1977.
The biggest tragedy of the South American atrocities of the 1970s is that, while thousands of victims suffered and continue to suffer, those responsible have largely been able to live without facing repercussions. The neoliberal economics installed in the period meant that almost half of Chilean families lived below the poverty line at the end of Pinochet’s regime,and the inequality has continued through to the present day despite the supposed success of the nation’s economy - this triggered the eruption of protests in late 2019, which have continued on a smaller scale since and led to a new constitutional convention in 2022. But even if Chile’s economy had become a world-leading utopia, it would mean nothing for the 2,279 dead through human rights violations and political violence, and very little for the 30,000 tortured.
Pinochet, after losing a 1988 referendum to decide on whether he would serve as President for another eight years, reluctantly left office in 1990, but remained a senator for life under his own rules. Travelling to London in 1998 in order to receive medical treatment, the former dictator was arrested under an international warrant ordered by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. Through a series of legal judgements and international decisions over eighteen months, it was eventually ruled that Pinochet had immunity from conviction in a foreign country - a decision that met with varied reactions.Pinochet spent the whole affair under ‘house arrest’ at a golf club that hosts the European PGA headquarters, returning to Chile at the conclusion and passing away in 2006.
Many of those responsible for murder and torture in the 1970s were never charged, relying on a Pinochet-era amnesty law that gave all members of the military immunity from prosecutions for actions from 1973 to 1978. Many of those who served in bureaucratic roles under Pinochet remained in public life in the country, some being involved in the cabinet of 2010s president Sebastián Piñera.Kissinger is still alive at the age of 99.
It speaks volumes to how much some have neutralised and sanitised Pinochet’s reputation that almost fifty years after the coup some are willing to use him to enhance their own reputations, treating him as a Reaganesque figure where Hitler would be more appropriate.José Antonio Kast, a far-right lawyer who reached the runoff in Chile’s 2021 presidential election, had campaigned to extend Pinochet’s rule during the 1988 referendum and proposed that elderly officials from that period - which, considering the time gap, is all of them - be pardoned of their crimes. Leaning further on the issue, Kast had described the 2021 election as a battle between “liberty and communism”, and had even insisted during a previous presidential run that Pinochet would have voted for him.
Kast was beaten in the second round by Gabriel Boric, a left-wing student activist born during the Pinochet years. In a speech after the first round of voting in November, Boric declared to the crowd that "if Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave". Many would hope that his words hold true.
Unsurprisingly, there was little interaction between Chile and the Soviet Union during the years under Pinochet - whatever business had to be done was conducted via neutral embassies, usually India’s or China’s. Perhaps the only person to travel from one country to the other was communist leader Luis Corvalán, who had been arrested in 1973; the Soviet government campaigned for his release and struck a deal in 1976 to exchange him for imprisoned dissident Vladimir Bukovsky in Switzerland, a highly symbolic chapter of the Cold War.The day that Pinochet left office, the rapidly dying USSR re-established relations with Chile, relations that have continued through with the Russian Federation - four of Chile’s five full-term presidents have visited Russia in some capacity since 1990, while Vladimir Putin’s visit for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2004 was the first time a Russian leader had arrived in South America.
In the years since the 1978 World Cup, Chile and Russiahave rarely crossed paths over their journeys through international football - while all but two of the World Cups since have featured at least one of the teams, only one World Cup featured both. After making the second group stage at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the Soviet (and later Russian) teams were largely insignificant to the overall path of the tournament. Chile, meanwhile, regularly failed to qualify from the strong South American confederation - when they weren’t banned from participating - and wouldn’t win a World Cup game until 2010.
The mid-2010s, a generation after the collapse of the Pinochet regime,saw a new golden era for Chilean football. Under the leadership of small and powerful striker Alexis Sánchez, the team beat the reigning champions Spain in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, and pushed host nation Brazil to penalties. The next year, on home soil, Sánchez scored the winning penalty in the Copa América final as Chile finally claimed a victory in that tournament, finally being able to claim themselves as the best of South America. For good measure, they defended their title in the Centenario in the United States the next year.
Winning the Copa América also qualified Chile for the afterthought of the Confederations Cup, and ultimately the last one. With the 2018 World Cup being held in Russia, the two countries played a friendly as a warm-up for the Confederations Cup - the first meeting between the two countries in forty-four years. The game was fairly average, Chile controlling possession and Russia taking more shots, and the two teams settled for a 1-1 draw that pleased the home team more. Chile wouldn’t qualify for Russia 2018, nor would they for Qatar 2022.
While Russia played well in their home World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals, they wouldn’t return. With the European playoffs still yet to be played, Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, a war that is still continuing at the time of publication. Faced with intense pressure from their possible opponents - Poland, Sweden, and Czechia all announcing they would boycott any match against Russia - FIFA and UEFA took the unprecedented step of suspending Russia from their competitions in early March, leaving them barred from the World Cup and Euro 2024.
FIFA has suspended teams from its qualifiers before, but they were usually small players in Asia and Africa. The problems are, of course, that the rules are always nebulous and malleable - while the statutes prohibit government interference in a country’s football association, heaven help you when it comes to deciding on a consistent interpretation of that rule. While the 2022 boycott of Russia is justified and FIFA has given the expected result, what differentiates this from the Soviet Union in 1973? What about Arab countries refusing to play against Israel, a situation so thorny that FIFA classifies the Middle Eastern country as European?
Let alone allowing questionable countries to play in their tournaments, FIFA allows them to host them. It’s always been this way, the first ever World Cup in Europe was in fascist Italy and used as an excuse to showcase Mussolini’s control of the state. Russia, who were awarded hosting rights for the 2018 World Cup in 2010, likely bribed their way into that position - it’s a more defensible position than FIFA allowing a country with mass levels of racism in football and wider society, authoritarian police, and aggressive military presence to host a tournament all above-board. Qatar in 2022 ramped up all of those issues, including the last-minute decision to ban beer at the entire tournament. Even the United States, set to host most of the 2026 tournament, are a questionable host - look at the high numbers of police killings, the pathetic response to COVID, the blatantly racist bans on citizens of Muslim countries entering,and the attempted coup in January 2021.
Over its history, FIFA has tried to be staunchly apolitical - yet being apolitical is itself a political choice, and picking one’s battles is perhaps the easiest way to see an organisational stance. When it comes to a situation like Santiago 1973, the only feeling FIFA should have when looking back is a feeling of regret - regret that the situation in Chile degenerated in such a way, regret that thousands of innocents would die over the 70s and 80s, regret that FIFA still thought it was feasible or appropriate to try and hold a game in this scenario.
Since 2011, a small section of the Estadio Nacional has been kept as a permanent tribute, surrounded by barbed wire. The quote that opened this essay is inscribed on a wall there, and one hopes that with every visitor who sees that message, the victims of the regime will be remembered and honoured. Chile will always bear the scars of 1973, but they tell just a chapter of a story still being written.
“A people without memory is a people without a future.”
“You can’t scare me with your threats / you masters of misery / the star of hope / continues to be ours”. The song title translates to ‘Winds of the People’.
The full report is available as a free PDF download: https://www.equidem.org/assets/downloads/Equidem_Qatar_World_Cup_Stadiums_Report_Final.pdf
Both of Chile’s Olympic gold medals are in tennis - Fernando González and Nicolás Massú combined to win the men’s doubles at Athens 2004, with Massú also winning the singles gold (González earned bronze).
Adimark, a Chilean market research company, reported in 2018 that 43% of the country were supporters of Colo-Colo, twice as many as their nearest rivals Universidad de Chile. The majority mentioned in the text comes up once you strike out the 19% of those who indicated they were not supporters of a team. https://chile.as.com/chile/2021/09/24/futbol/1632496090_795130.html
El Salvador, Atacama has a population of approximately 7,000 - the Estadio El Cobre hosts 12,000, presumably leaving Cobresal very reliant on away support.
The last comes as one of the more interesting quirks of global football, Chile hosting the largest Palestinian community outside of the Arab world (by some counts as many as half a million). Having arrived in the country shortly after independence by fleeing the Crimean War, small Palestinian communities grew throughout the country and began integrating through shopkeeping and shared religious interests (there are more Palestinian Christians in Chile than anywhere else). The club Palestino was formed in 1920, has won two titles (1955 and 1978, the latter undefeated), and recently garnered international headlines in 2014 after its players wore shirts that replaced the number 1 with a map of Palestine’s historical borders.
Argentina had undergone a military coup in September 1955, with president Juan Perón being exiled to Madrid; in contrast, Chile had been a mostly stable presidential republic for thirty years.
"Porque nada tenemos, lo haremos todo". Some sources say that this comment was given during his speech at the 1956 Congress.
Why a foreign copper company had an entire stadium is a pretty big question. The stadium still exists - renamed to the Estadio El Teniente after president Eduardo Frei Montalva nationalised it in 1967, the O'Higgins Fútbol Club plays home games there.
Some propose that Arica - which is less than twenty kilometres south of the border with Peru - was chosen so that if Chile’s northern neighbours had qualified for the World Cup, they could play their group games there and give some more fan support. Surprisingly, though, Peru failed to qualify, losing a two-leg playoff to Colombia. The Colombian team, playing in their first World Cup, took part in the match of the tournament - coming from 3-0 down inside twelve minutes to draw 4-4 with the Soviet Union, midfielder Marco Coll scoring the only Olympico goal ever seen at a World Cup.
Of course, as defensive professionalism continued to rise, World Cups became lower-scoring to the extent that 2.78 is now in the top half of goals per game averages; only one of the last twelve World Cups (Spain 1982) has had a higher figure than that.
The full text is something to behold - Corrado Pizzinelli and Antonio Ghirelli described Santiago as a city where “the phones don’t work [and] taxis are as rare as faithful husbands” in La Nazione, labelling the Chilean population as full of “malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism[, and] poverty”. The Chilean media was not pleased, pushing the tensions up so high that an Argentinian journalist was assaulted on suspicion of being Italian - although, considering the historical relations between the two countries…
It didn’t work in the slightest; the first foul came twelve seconds into the match.
Coleman later added that he hoped the two countries would never play each other again - and yet, at the very next World Cup, the two were drawn to play each other in the same group. Only four players from the 1962 match - Sandro Salvadore (Italy), Lionel Sánchez, Luis Eyzaguirre, and Alberto Fouilloux (Chile) - were still playing, and while the match was poorly tempered, nobody was sent off and the Sunderland crowd was content to watch a 2-0 Italian win. Neither team qualified for the knockout stage, Chile finishing last in the group and Italy famously losing to North Korea.
While some of the games at the 1954 and 1958 World Cups had been broadcast live in Europe, there wasn’t enough technology to broadcast live from South America at the time - the first satellite television broadcasts came in July 1962, a month after the World Cup. Games were filmed and flown to Europe at the most rapid pace possible, where they could then be broadcast in full or edited down to the highlights.
Sánchez was somehow not sent off during the match; although one of those he punched - Mario David - was, after attempting to kick him in the head.
Brazil, having won the 1970 World Cup, received automatic qualification to the finals under the rules of the time.
The only CONMEBOL country to never make the World Cup, it would take until 1981 for Venezuela to win their first game in qualifying.
Full disclaimer: I was born in 2002, so I’ve never known a world without the impacts.
Chile’s constitution forbids any one person from holding office for consecutive terms.
Reports suggested that 82 of the 200 deputies in the National Congress were set to support Allende, 75 were for Tomic, and just 43 were for Alessandri - presumably the CIA was begging that Tomic’s supporters would move rightwards.
In October 1969, Viaux and the rest of his Tacna regiment had holed themselves up inside the barracks to demand an increase in wages and an upgrading of equipment - initially, some feared that the rest of the military would join Viaux’s movement and could overthrow the government, but those fears were quickly assuaged.
Overnight, Valenzuela’s group had received a shipment of weapons from the CIA, but never had the opportunity to use it - Viaux wasn’t receiving any direct support from the United States, although they were in contact with him.
Although he was critical of some aspects of the Allende government, Castro was largely complimentary towards Chile and its people, and was met with a positive reception during his tour of the country. Allende wold later seek advice from Castro during the buildup to the 1973, and the gun he used in his suicide was a gift inscribed ‘To my good friend Salvador from Fidel, who by different means tries to achieve the same goals.’
Five of South America’s twelve countries had had military governments in the last ten years, most recently Uruguay in June 1973.
Anders Leopold, a Swedish journalist, wrote a book in 2008 alleging that Olof Palme, former Prime Minister of Sweden, had been assassinated in 1986 by a former member of the group as a response to his government offering asylum to Chilean leftists.
The audio of the speech is preserved here: https://archive.org/details/LtimoDiscursoSalvadorAllende11sept197344100Stereo
An English translation is available on Wikisource: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Salvador_Allende%27s_Last_Speech
Osvaldo Romo, a member of the secret police force Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, said in a 1995 interview that “throwing them into the crater of a volcano would be better”. Romo, who later fled to Brazil to take part in death squads there, was extradited back to Chile in 1992, dying in prison and having nobody attend his funeral.
Plus supposedly left-wing YouTuber Jordan “FriendlyJordies” Shanks, who has used a painting of himself in the style of Pinochet as a profile picture on Facebook.
Gutendorf wrote his name into the history books as somewhat of a manager for hire, having very short spells with an incredible fifty-five different teams. Chile was the second country Gutendorf managed, after a few games in charge of Bermuda some years previously - the next three decades took him to the national teams of Bolivia, Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda, Botswana, Australia, New Caledonia, Nepal (twice), Tonga, Tanzania, Fiji (twice), São Tomé & Príncipe, Ghana, China (twice), Mauritius (twice), Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Samoa. Not to mention the Iranian Olympic team.
Significant debate exists on whether political views can be a valid base for a genocide - the United Nations definition does not mention it, but a draft ruling initially did before the Soviet Union vetoed that aspect of the motion. Varying Argentine judges in the 21st century have declared the Dirty War as consisting of a genocide, something borne out with both the prison sentences given to surviving leaders and a variety of research papers (see Daniel Feierstein’s 2006 paper "Political violence in Argentina and its genocidal characteristics" and Emilio Crenzel’s 2019 writing "The Crimes of the Last Dictatorship in Argentina and its Qualification as Genocide: A Historicization", published in Journal of Genocide Research and Global Society respectively); applying a similar view to Chile could be justified.
Including some by Pablo Neruda - more explicitly communist than Jara, Neruda also has a higher reputation amongst poets, winning the 1971 Nobel Prize for literature. Neruda’s death in September 1973 was not directly linked to the new regime, the poet likely dying of prostate cancer, but many hold that he was poisoned.
Michelle Bachelet, who would be elected president of Chile in 2006 and re-elected in 2014, temporarily lived in Australia before moving to East Germany.
In his book Football in Sun and Shadow, the legendary Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galleano commented on Pinochet and his Bolivian counterpart Luis García Meza - “Football is the people, football is power: “I am the people”, these military dictatorships were saying.” (My source for this quote is Mark Fried’s 2003 translation, although edited - the American translator uses ‘soccer’ rather than ‘football’, and I’ve used the latter throughout this essay for consistency.)
It’s somewhat ironic that a regime like Pinochet’s, which stole tens of thousands of hectares of Mapuche land and introduced anti-terrorism legislation still used against them today, would adopt said club and their famous crest.
The previous year, Peruvian club Universitario had made the final and lost to Independiente. Pacific clubs would fall at the final hurdle seven times in the next fifteen years (including Santiago club Unión Española in the last year of Independiente’s quartet, the Calama-based Cobreloa twice in two years, and three consecutive losses for the Colombian team América Cali), before Atlético Nacional’s penalty victory in 1989 finally notched one up for Colombia and the entire continent’s west. Colo-Colo’s victory in 1991 is the first and only time a Chilean team has won the tournament, but none from the country have made the final since Universidad Católica in 1993.
Future president Sebastián Piñera went one better, actually owning one-eighth of a share in the club.
Most football clubs fell into financial difficulties under Pinochet. With the exception of Cobreloa, a northern club backed by the newly-reprivatised mining industry that won four titles and came runner up another four times during the dictatorship, most of the league struggled and Colo-Colo increased their dominance. The biggest sufferers were Universidad de Chile - David Goldblatt described them as “the team of Santiago’s intelligentsia”, which is presumably part of why they fell even further apart when Pinochet’s military decrees began impacting the university they were based at. Finally separating in 1980 after the university was completely restructured, the club went from runners-up at the start of the decade to relegation in 1988.
Caszely refused to shake Pinochet’s hand after the Santiago qualifier, responded to a joke the general made about cutting his red tie with direct disapproval, and starred in a powerful advertisement during the 1988 plebiscite - Caszely’s mother detailed being kidnapped and tortured during the aftermath of the coup, followed by her son entering the stage and encouraging a ‘no’ vote.
This was one of 37 Soviet gold medals in Melbourne, although they were not well received - three countries boycotted the Games after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and the water polo semi-final between those two countries ended in a famous (and almost literal) bloodbath.
The only game Chile played outside of Santiago for the tournament, the match was held in Arica - conveniently also the base camp for the Soviet Union, who’d topped their group. Chile took an early lead and countered a Soviet equaliser to be up 2-1 at the half-hour mark, a scoreline that held for the rest of the game. This came after the team, bizarrely, indulged itself in a pre-match drink of vodka - having beaten Italy in the group stage after eating spaghetti, and Switzerland after eating Swiss cheese. An effective psychological strategy, although one that probably wouldn’t fly today.
Thank you to Kat for helping me out with transliterating Ukrainian names!
That said, considering FIFA’s general reputation at the time, it makes a lot of sense that they wouldn’t have been willing to pick a referee from any of the weaker continents.
The championship was declared split and both teams held the title.
At the time of writing, only sixteen football personalities have received a knighthood, with Rous being the second (Charles Clegg, former president of the FA and a player in the first international match, had achieved the feat in 1927). More cricketers (twenty-two) have earned the honour, which says something about the intersection between sport and class in Britain, but that’s a story for another time.
Reportedly, one of the proposals made by the South Africans was to field an all-white football team at the 1966 World Cup, followed by an all-black one in 1970 - it’s surprising that it took as long as it did for the country to be suspended from more international events.
This comes from a fascinating article about Yidnekatchew Tessema, an Ethiopian footballer and administrator who fought tirelessly for African football for decades. This only scratches the surface, the full story can be seen here: https://liyusport.com/?p=1177&lang=en
Recently, when conversing with my father, we suggested the possibility that a Mediterranean confederation, taking in southern Europe and northern Africa, could be an interesting way to spice up sections of the international football world - Spain and Italy would be essentially guaranteed World Cup qualification, teams in sub-Saharan Africa would be able to qualify for the tournament easier by having most of the stronger countries taken out, countries like Algeria and Egypt would be able to compete with better opposition more regularly…just sort out Israel, racism, and what you do with some of the edge cases (France? the Balkans?) and you’d have something awesome.
Pelé claimed in his autobiography that Rous had encouraged the referees to take a hands-off approach to fouls throughout the 1966 tournament, thus giving European teams licence to attack and injure him as much as they could manage. The Brazilian legend, who had missed playing in much of the 1962 World Cup after being injured early, wrote that “I have heard it said since, and I firmly believe it, that Sir Stanley Rous instructed referees to go easy on the ‘virile’ game played by the European teams”. (Quoted from https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/mar/04/stunning-moments-no4-battle-of-santiago)
According to https://atthematch.com/article/corrupt-to-the-core, Rous conducted the draw under the watch of a West German and South African delegate. The Spanish delegate claimed to have been there wasn’t at the time; while representatives of Uruguay, Argentina, and the Soviet Union arrived after the draw had already been done.
Not being able to speak Spanish, I’ve had to rely on the autotranslated version of https://arogeraldes.blogspot.com/2007/03/1973-el-gol-ms-triste-de-chile.html, which is an excellent article with lots of otherwise-unseen details.
The communists certainly have a way with words!
Quoted from the excellent article http://grantland.com/features/corruption-murder-beautiful-game/
Some were able to milk Havelange for their own promises even before the vote; Irish footballing owner and businessman Louis Kilcoyne promised the vote of the Republic of Ireland if Havelange could arrange a game between Brazil and a united Irish team.
Issa Hayatou, a Cameroonian, served as acting president for four months from October 2015 to February 2016 after Blatter’s suspension.
Many thanks to this article for going in depth into the election’s buildup and subsequent results: https://www.fourfourtwo.com/features/election-changed-football-when-joao-havelange-unseated-sir-stanley
That is to say, completely corrupt. This started right from the beginning - Dassler founded the organisation International Sports and Leisure, which served as an intermediary for selling off World Cup rights and advertising, and set its offices almost directly next to FIFA. Havelange made out like a bandit as president, setting the stage for Blatter to take over as his successor and ratchet up the levels of farce; this includes the awarding of the upcoming 2022 World Cup to the utterly unsuited country of Qatar. This article, by Vox writer Libby Nelson, is a very readable summary of the mess that FIFA have made over the years: https://www.vox.com/2015/5/28/8676185/fifa-corruption
To the best of my knowledge, the only other international match that has been ‘played’ with only one team taking part was the infamous qualifier for the 1998 World Cup between Estonia and Scotland. The game was scheduled for 6.45pm on a Wednesday night in Tallinn, but when training at Kadriorg Stadium the night before the Scottish team argued with administrators that the floodlights weren’t fit for purpose. Jean-Marie Gantenbein, the FIFA administrator in charge, initially upheld the start time before calling for superiors, with an emergency meeting declaring at 2.30am on the morning of the match that it should be moved to a 3pm start. The Estonian team, which was made up of both part-time employed players and professionals at a training camp an hour away, objected greatly. Estonian FA president Aiver Pohlak, claiming the Scots were acting “very, very unfairly”, declared his team’s plan to protest by sticking to their initial plan and showing up at 4pm. Lots of tit-for-tat came throughout the morning, both sides sticking grimly to their believed time and hoping to call the bluff of the other.
On the afternoon of the game, Scotland arrived at the stadium to find (as expected) the Estonian team hadn’t arrived. Despite the thoughts of the Scottish manager Craig Brown, which was that the game would be delayed and eventually played late, the referees instead decided to start the match for the newly scheduled time. To the amusement (and bemusement) of the thousand-strong, mostly Scottish crowd, Scotland and the referees lined up for the national anthem, stand-in captain John Collins won the coin toss, and Scotland got into formation. Miloslav Radoman, the Yugoslavian referee, blew the whistle, leaving striker Billy Dodds to pass to Collins, whose run towards the goal was cut off after three seconds from another whistle, the end of the match.
Collins and a few other Scottish players put their arms up in a tongue-in-cheek celebration, making the assumption that the match would be awarded 3-0 to them - by failing to show up Estonia had forfeited, the logic went. When the home team arrived at their scheduled time, they found nothing but Scottish fans having a kickaround on the pitch, the visitors being back at their hotel room and ready to fly back to Scotland.
However, a FIFA committee took an alternative view of the situation, meeting a month later and declaring that the match was to be replayed on neutral ground. The Scots were not pleased, with some suggesting that the leader of the committee, UEFA president Lennart Johansson, was trying to make the situation look better for his native Sweden (not only were the Swedes in the same group, but the next match for Scotland was against them - if the original match was declared void, then Scottish captain Gary McAllister would have to miss the Swedish game through suspension rather than the Estonian one). Regardless, the eventual replay was held in February 1997 in Monaco, ending in a 0-0 draw and providing a boost in profile for the Estonian team (especially goalkeeper Mart Poom, who signed for an English Premier League club soon after). Scotland won the return fixture at Hampden Park 2-0 and went on to qualify for the World Cup in France, their last appearance at the tournament to date.
A BBC report, complete with the entirety of the match, is available on YouTube:
“Youth and Sport Unite Chile Today”.
Sources disagree on the crowd at this game - Wikipedia lists 15,000, a Santos fansite suggests 25,000; but Carl Worswick’s article on this game proposes 17,000 and that’s the figure that I’ve chosen to run with.
This is the only appearance of the country now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the World Cup to date, and the first appearance of a sub-Saharan country at the tournament. The story of Zaire’s appearance is the other noteworthy case of political authoritarianism bleeding into the game in 1974 - Mobutu Sese Seko, the kleptocratic and omnipotent president who had been installed with Western support, had invested heavily in football over the previous years as part of his campaign for legitimacy. Supporting the national team with mountains of infrastructure (and forcibly recalling his players from Europe), Zaire had almost immediate success, winning the African Cup of Nations in 1968 and 1974 and with Zairian teams winning the African Champions Cup multiple times. Mobutu’s patronage of the players extended to awarding them houses and cars after tournament success, but the good times would have to eventually come to an end at the 1974 World Cup.
Despite little interest being taken by the media (and significant racism, the Montreal Gazette joking that Zaire would have ‘a witch doctor on the sidelines and three plane-loads of monkeys flown in to provide food’ - see Matt Robertshaw’s 2016 article ‘“Die schwärzeste Elf, die es je in Bayern gab”: Haiti and Zaire at the 1974 FIFA World Cup and Growing Pains in World Football at https://www.academia.edu/37658726/_Die_schw%C3%A4rzeste_Elf_die_es_je_in_Bayern_gab_Haiti_and_Zaire_at_the_1974_FIFA_World_Cup_and_Growing_Pains_in_World_Football), the Zairian squad impressed in their first game against Scotland, threatening early and only conceding two goals (both in a ten-minute patch). However, it emerged that (living up to his colonial predecessors) Mobutu and his cronies were taking the money intended for the players, causing understandable discontent amongst the squad. Initially intending to forfeit against Yugoslavia, the players reluctantly went on with the game - either through playing limp or just being the weaker team, they were down 3-0 within 20 minutes, and 6-0 within 35 after goalkeeper Kazadi Mwamba was substituted off for the 5’6” Tubilandu Ndimbi (reportedly a favourite of the Mobutu regime, and to this day the only goalkeeper substitution at a World Cup not for injuries or penalties). Eventually losing 9-0, the players were physically threatened in the rooms afterwards, told that if they lost to Brazil by four or more goals they would have hell to pay. Bravely defending themselves (although some, including defender Mwepu Ilunga, claim that the match was fixed, Brazil needing a three-goal margin to qualify for the second round), Zaire restricted the Brazilians to 3-0 in a match most fondly remembered for Ilunga breaking out from the free kick wall to kick the ball downfield. Derided at the time as “a bizarre moment of African ignorance”, Ilunga later described it as an attempt to get sent off in protest.
The football team (minus manager Blagoje Vidinić, who returned to his native Yugoslavia only to later coach Colombia) returned to Zaire to be greeted with an empty army truck, escorted back to the presidential palace and met with an angry Mobutu. The footballers were banned from leaving the country and largely fell into poverty, while Mobutu moved his interest into boxing and hosting the Rumble in the Jungle fight later in 1974.
Courte was evidently FIFA’s go to man for these situations, making a very similar statement in 1982 as the possibility of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and New Zealand withdrawing as part of the Falklands War (or Guerra de las Malvinas, if that’s the side you take).
This ignores the reality that the IRA never had any interest in attacking Scotland, with the exception of a small bombing in the Shetland Islands in 1981.
This is sourced from Toby Axelrod’s translation for the Eurozine website, an invaluable article: https://www.eurozine.com/chile-si-junta-no/
With this, he shares some solidarity with Indian cricketer Vinoo Mankad, who had a decade long career as a legendary all rounder but is best remembered for once running out Bill Brown at the non-striker’s end. Seventy years later, Australians (and now the rest of the world) still refer to that as a Mankading, a perhaps unfair treatment of a cricketer who scored a Test double century, has many first class ten-wicket hauls, and was described by John Arlott as “the best slow left-arm bowler in the world”.
The match was held in West Berlin’s Olympiastadion, which had a measured capacity of 86,000, but only saw 17,400 attendees - granted, this is more than Australia’s earlier game against East Germany.
He was given a second yellow card by referee Jafar Namdar, making him the first Australian to be sent off at a World Cup. Bizarrely, Richards was apparently not noticed as having already had one until assistant referee Clive Thomas grabbed the attention of the linesman, who passed it on to Namdar and had him sent off four minutes later.
https://digitalhub.fifa.com/m/14d9c0888be56019/original/wnzpp4kcraivkmgremag-pdf.pdf, it’s quite a fascinating read if you want to see what the powers of 50 years ago thought of football tactics and what should be done for future tournaments.
The AAA was no longer necessary after the military coup, and several members relocated to Spain, where they would continue to kill any leftists they came across (including Argala, the Basque seperatist who led the assassination of Franco acolyte Luis Carrero Blanco and launched the Spanish space program).
And still active today, just under the new name of the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation”.
Directly quoted from a declassified memo: https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB104/Doc6%20761007.pdf
Not quite the same as the 1982 Disgrace of Gijón, but no doubt a factor in the subsequent decision.
Before the tournament, there was criticism that the Argentinian squad didn’t include a teenaged attacking midfielder named Diego Maradona, who had been greatly impressing for Argentinos Juniors in the Primera División. In response, some journalists argued that there were already enough footballers playing his role in the squad; after Kempes’ efforts nobody had any regrets.
In a brave move, Menotti publicly declared his allegiance to left-wing ideals and incorporated them into his football coaching - commenting that “a team is above all an idea”, the freeform nature of his squad’s tactics contrasted heavily with Osvaldo Zubeldía’s dour and hard-edged thoughts that won games but didn’t look pretty doing them. Describing that form as “right-wing football” that “produced useful idiots”, Menotti was content to fight against it, telling his charges to win “for the butchers and teachers of Argentina” rather than the military junta.
https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/a21454856/argentina-1978-world-cup/ was a fascinating and useful article that goes into this angle of looking at the World Cup; I wouldn’t have been able to write this section without it.
Much like their Chilean counterparts, several players later spoke out against the regime as the truth of the nightmare Argentina went through emerged. Midfielder and future manager Osvaldo Ardiles regretted his prior beliefs in the regime’s propaganda, longtime friend and teammate Ricardo Villa accepted that his team was “used politically”, and striker Leopoldo Luque went all the way to suggesting the tournament should have never been played. Alberto Tarantini, a blunt and aggressive defender, had his own way of showing his displeasure for Videla - shaking the leader’s hand with one that had just been touching his genitals.
Ironically, this was again the group that was drawn to play a South American side in a playoff - Hungary went on to beat Bolivia (a country which was, in an all too familiar story, led by a CIA-supported military figure in Hugo Banzer) 9-2 in a two leg playoff.
In Naomi Klein’s excellent book The Shock Doctrine she suggests that this was by design; much of Chile’s economic plan immediately following the 1973 coup derived from El ladrillo, a document written up by a group educated under Milton Friedman’s theories at the University of Chicago. Klein writes that “[i]t was the Chicago Boys’ vision of a total country overhaul that appealed to [Pinochet’s] newly unleashed ambition”, and he dutifully appointed Friedman acolyte Sergio de Castro to head the economy. At the time of publication, de Castro is alive at the age of 92.
While Chile is the country with the second-highest average income in Latin America, behind only Uruguay (https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/median-income-by-country), it has the third-worst statistics for Gini coefficient and Palma ratio in the OECD, beating only Costa Rica and South Africa (https://data.oecd.org/inequality/income-inequality.htm). The situation has improved since the publication of The Shock Doctrine in 2007, which was a year into the presidency of the left-wing Bachelet.
As bad as these figures are, Argentina’s are even worse, with 9,000 deaths and disappearances a conservative estimate for the total death toll.
One of the most positive ones came from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had strongly allied herself with Chile and Pinochet during the Falklands/Malvinas issue. Some of Thatcher’s few public appearances after 1990 came to defend Pinochet, including a speech at a Conservative Party conference where - with no sense of irony or parody - she said that Chileans “should understand the deep sense of shame and anger we feel at the way in which Chile - its honour, its dignity, its sovereignty and its former ruler - have been treated.” The full speech is ‘worth’ reading: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108383
More personally, she sent the imprisoned dictator a bottle of scotch, saying it was “one British institution that will never let you down”.
This notably doesn’t include his older brother José, who did work for Pinochet and helped to privatise Chile’s region-leading social security but has a variety of political disagreements with Sebastián.
Before you mention it, Godwin’s Law doesn’t actually state that whoever mentions Hitler first loses the argument - it merely suggests that he will be mentioned eventually. I did have some thoughts about this comparison, but when you tally up the similarities (concentration camps, book burnings, ideological rewriting of the country’s constitution, and targeted persecution of political opponents) it’s a perfectly valid thing to say.
Much like Piñera, Kast’s brother Miguel had been labor minister for Pinochet. (To say nothing of his father Michael, who served for the Nazi military in the Second World War and fled to Chile with the help of Vatican ratlines.)
The other notable right-wing figure of the era, Donald Trump, clearly had an influence as well; many of Kast’s supporters wore “Make America Great Again” caps and Kast’s campaign slogan was the barely-even-trying-to-be-original “Make Chile a great country”.
The story is a fascinating one - mediation had to be done through the United States, a country that had relations with both; the Soviets refused to call the meeting an exchange and described it as a “simultaneous voluntary release”; Corvalán and Bukovksy were so arranged to that they could never be photographed together (the two men never met); Corvalán led the Communist Party of Chile in exile for seven years before getting facial surgery and sneaking back into the country in 1983; and Bukovsky spent much of the rest of his life in England, occasionally doing things like “run for President of Russia” and “be sought for prosecution on charges of child pornography”. See the automatically translated page of https://aboutswiss.ch/people/tsyurih-1976-kak-obmenyali-huligana-na-luisa-korvalana/
I know, Russia ≠ Soviet Union, but as far as FIFA’s concerned they do.
Chile were banned from qualifying for the 1994 World Cup after an appalling display during a qualifier in 1989. Needing a victory against Brazil to qualify for the World Cup in Italy, goalkeeper Roberto Rojas cut himself with a hidden razor blade and blamed his injury on a flare thrown by a model in the crowd. The flare was miles off (see http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/17/sport/football/brazil-chile-world-cup-scandal/ for the whole fascinating story), and when the ruse was discovered, Rojas was banned for life (though pardoned in 2001), alongside five-year bans for captain Fernando Astengo and coach Orlando Aravena.
The two youngest players in Chile’s 2014 squad, Felipe Gutiérrez and Miiko Albornoz, were 23 years old and not born during Pinochet’s rule.
Their other group stage win was against Australia - the historical links between the two led to a very moving article by Guardian writer Joe Gorman: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/jun/11/socceroos-chile-world-cup-2014
At the time of publication, the Russian Football Union is planning a vote on whether or not to move to the Asian Football Confederation, who would be more likely to accept them into qualification for tournaments such as the 2027 Asian Cup (although the overlap between that and qualifying for the 2026 World Cup might cause some headaches). The football writer Martin Lowe has written an in-depth opinion piece discussing the options available from such a move, with the note that most of the likely dissenters (Australia and South Korea the most prominent) are in the East Asian bloc and so even more likely to inflame existing tensions within the AFC. https://www.theasiangame.net/opinion-afc-must-soon-confront-the-looming-question-over-russia/
Including Iran, who have qualified for three consecutive World Cups and are very likely to make a fourth with the addition of extra Asian spots for 2026.