Last year’s World Cup in Brazil conjured up images in the imagination of the European football fan of head-tennis on Copacabana beach, the voluminous bowl of the Maracana, the glorious canary yellow jerseys of the Seleção. The ideas and notions we hold about South American football help create comforting stereotypes of the Brazilian jogo bonito, Argentinians being fabulously unpredictable in their dribbling and their temperament, all spinning in that interior mental carousel of sun-drenched blues, whites and yellows blanched in the Mexican heat of 1970 or 86, Carlos Alberto’s fourth against Italy, Maradona’s hand of god.
These idealised, mythologised notions of South American football that tend to dwell the minds of British and Irish fans did not begin, however, with the World Cup of 1970 but long before, initial interest being piqued by the exceptional displays of the great Uruguayan sides of the 1920s and ’30s. The first chance, however, that British and Irish fans got to see of South American footballers in the flesh was way back in 1933. It was the first time that a South American side had ever visited Ireland or Britain – they came from the land of the Andes and the Pacific. This is an attempt at their story, and the story of the team they would encounter on an October afternoon on the north side of Dublin City.
The side that was to visit Ireland was a select squad made up, not of Brazilians, Argentinians or Uruguayans but of players from the Peruvian and Chilean leagues. With the squad being dominated by players from the Lima based Universitario side, with reinforcements from Alianza Lima (the Peruvian champions at the time), Atlético Chalaco also of Peru, and Chilean side Colo-Colo. The team went by a number of names such as the Combinado del Pacífico and the less evocative Peru-Chile XI.
Colo-Colo were among the first sides who had embarked on a European tour a few years earlier in 1927 which was funded by the Chilean Department of Education as part a diplomatic and educational exercise that saw them take on Spanish sides, Atletico Madrid, Real Union and Barcelona. The tour would end in tragedy as Colo-Colo’s star player and club founder David Arellano died from peritonitis brought on by a rough challenge he received during a game. With this in mind it is perhaps understandable that only three Colo-Colo players would travel as part of the Combinado side. Much like Colo-Colo had done in 1927 the Combinado would also journey to Spain, however their first port of call for a game on this side of the Atlantic was Dublin and Dalymount Park, and their rivals would be Bohemian Football Club.
Bohemians were at the time strictly amateur and would remain so for another 40 years. The Combinado were titular amateurs back in South America but were provided with “tips”, sinecures and other payments (for example a teenage Lolo Fernández’s first contract was worth 120 soles a month, approximately €450 by modern values), they were however officially paid to take part in their European tour, and paid with good reason. Although teams like Colo-Colo, Nacional, Boca Juniors and others had previously toured Europe, the Combinado’s itinerary was truly immense by comparison with any earlier visiting side.
Their journey began in Panama with a win over local side Colón, then a trip to the idyllic Caribbean island of Curaçao and a comfortable 7-0 win in September of 1933 before departing for Europe, where, in total they would play games in Ireland, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Italy and Spain with the players finally returning home in the Spring of 1934. The results of the Combinado were mixed to say the least, there were victories over the likes of OGC Nice, Sparta Rotterdam and a selection of smaller Spanish sides and credible draws with Slavia Prague, Saint Etienne, Italy’s Pro Vercelli and West Ham.
There were however defeats to the likes of Celtic, Newcastle United, Bayern Munich and a 10-1 drubbing at the hands of a Madrid XI. In fairness to the Combinado this defeat in Madrid wasn’t helped by the fact that on the same day, half the squad, under the name “Chile-Peru” were losing 4-1 to Barcelona in their Les Corts stadium, while the remainder, playing under the title “All Pacific” were playing a combined Madrid side in the Chamartín arena. This was a Madrid side that featured the legendary keeper Ricardo Zamora of Real Madrid, while Atletico Madrid’s Julio Antonio Elícegui grabbed a hat-trick against the unfortunate South Americans.
Although the touring sides’ fortunes varied there is no doubt that there were players of genuine quality in their ranks. In goal was Alianza Lima’s Juan Humberto Valdivieso, the Peruvian national team goalkeeper at the 1930 World Cup, 1936 Olympics and 1939 Copa America. Nicknamed “El Mago” (the magician) he was renowned for his speciality at saving penalties, while during a game for Alianza after star forward Villanueva went off injured, Valdivieso took his place in the attack and proceeded to score seven goals in an 8-1 victory over Sporting Union.
Contemporary reports would describe him as one of best goalkeepers in all of South America and Valdivieso’s exceptionalism would continue through the generations; his son Luis is the current Peruvian Finance Minister while his grandson, a swimmer also named Juan Valdivieso followed in his grandfathers’ footsteps and competed at a Summer Olympics in both 2000 and 2004, something the grand old goalkeeper lived long enough to witness. Valdivieso’s Alianza club-mate on the tour was Alejandro Villanueva, who was nicknamed “Manguera” (Fire-hose) in recognition of his many outrageous moves on the pitch, indeed so well-known was he for his bicycle kicks that he was apocryphally attributed with the creation of that move. Rather than “Fire-hose” The Irish Independent preferred to give him the sobriquet of the “Peruvian Dixie Dean”. A veteran of two Copa Americas, one World Cup and the 1936 Olympics, Villanueva did not enjoy his erstwhile team-mates longevity, dying of tuberculosis in 1944 at the age of just 35. In testament to his enduring popularity and scoring exploits Alianza rechristened their stadium in 2000 as the Estadio Alejandro Villanueva almost 60 years after his death.
Although Alianza were represented by these two stars the majority of the squad as mentioned were from Universitario, to date Peru’s most successful club, winning 26 league titles and coming runners-up in the Copa Libertadores in 1972. Brightest among their firmament of stars was the young striker Teodoro “Lolo” Fernández. The famous Chilean sports journalist Renato González Moraga would praise the completeness of his game calling it as both “functional and beautiful” and describing Fernández as capable of striking a ball with ferocious power with both feet, being dangerous in the air, and capable of hitting precise long range passes to split open defences. History would know him as Universitario’s record goalscorer, a distinction he held for the Peruvian national team (with 24 goals) for over 30 years until his record was beaten by the current holder Teófilo Cubillas.
He would be the star player six years after his Dublin visit when he inspired Peru to their maiden victory in the Copa America in 1939; “Lolo” would end the tournament with the best player award and as the top scorer with 7 goals. Like Villanueva he was honoured by his club who played their home games in the Teodoro Lolo Fernández stadium from the 1950s all the way up to 2000. Although at the time of his visit to Dublin, The Irish Press’ correspondent, going under the bye-line of “Socaro” merely described the young striker as “a newcomer to big matches” but a “player of great promise”. He would be joined on the tour by his older brother and fellow Peru international Arturo.
Many of the touring players were young men like Lolo Fernández, players in their early 20s who were only developing the reputations that would later bring them fame. There were, however a handful of more seasoned players, nine of the squad including Valdivieso, Villanueva and Arturo Fernández had been part of Peru’s 1930 World Cup squad, as had midfielder Plácido Galindo who had the dubious distinction of being the first player ever sent off in a World Cup finals. Several of the younger members of the squad would form the core of the Peruvian team that would journey to Berlin to compete in the 1936 Olympics, while the Fernández brothers, Valdivieso and midfielder Carlos Tovar would be part of the Peru squad that would lift the Copa America in 1939.
Despite the obvious talents available to the Combinado and the interest created by this exotic side Bohemians were certainly not to be underestimated as opponents. The Bohs were in the middle of one of their most dominant eras, twice champions in the late 20′s the 1933-34 season would yield yet another league title under the shrewd tutelage of Bill Lacey, a versatile former player of both Everton and Liverpool. Lacey had won two league titles with Liverpool in the 20′s and had been part of the pre-partition Irish side that had won the Home Nations Championship in 1914. After his playing days he moved into coaching at Bohemians and also coached the National team of the Irish Free State on a number of occasions throughout the 30s, including a 5-2 victory over Germans in 1936. Bohs had also had some success on European tours of their own; they had won the Acieries d’Angluer tournament in Belgium which included the likes of Standard Liege in 1929, while also playing regular challenge matches in Dublin which included a draw with French side Stade Francais a matter of months before the visit of the Combinado.
Bohemians also included in their ranks a number of Irish internationals such as Fred Horlacher, Jack McCarthy, goalkeeper Harry Cannon and others such as Paddy O’Kane, Billy Jordan and Plev Ellis who would receive their debut caps within the following couple of years. Horlacher, the son of a German immigrant, Pork-butcher, bore some comparisons with his Peruvian counterpart Villanueva. Like Villanueva he was an exciting, versatile attacker, he was also a talented all-round sportsman, representing Ireland at Olympic level in Water Polo and was a fine amateur tennis player and golfer.
Sadly also like Villanueva he would pass away prematurely, dying a year before the Peruvian in 1943 only a month after finishing his career with Bohemians. A reminder that life in 1930s and 40s, even away from combat could be still be brutally short even for the fit, young sportsmen. Another member of the Bohemian side who had won representative honours was Johnny McMahon, born in Derry he was defender who also had an eye for goal, and was the last Bohemian player to be capped by the IFA when he was selected for a game against Scotland in Glasgow earlier in 1933. A league winner with Bohs in 1927-28 and 1929-30 the game against the Combinado would be one of his last for Bohemians after injuring his knee in that same match.
The game itself took place on Sunday October 1st 1933 in front of a full house of over 30,000 at Dalymount Park. The build-up to the game had seen the press tout the Combinado as clear favourites; with The Irish Times noting ominously that “It would be too much to expect Bohemians to overcome them”. Most contemporary reports at the time had been much taken with Uruguay’s earlier footballing successes in the 1924 and 28 Olympics, as well as their World Cup win in 1930 and the image of the skillful and exciting South American footballer was gaining a foothold in the popular imagination.
An example of this attitude can be seen in The Irish Times in one of its previews of the game. It would highlight the significance of the encounter and go as far as to call the match:
The principal event in Free State [now Republic of Ireland] football during the first half of the season…[and that] The South American Republics have taken to Association football as a duck takes to water, and their game now is obviously of a very high standard, since Uruguay has come through very strong opposition to win the last two Olympic tournaments.
This is the first visit of a South American team to the British Isles, and intense interest centres on it, since Spain and Austria have shown themselves capable of challenging English and Scottish supremacy at the game. The visitors are setting out to demonstrate that football in South America is of as high a standard as it is anywhere else.
Our friend “Socaro” in The Irish Press indulged himself so far as to say that the match was “of world-wide interest”, a most uncommon situation for a football match taking place in Dublin at the time. He further stated that the travelling side “must at least consider that they can teach us a thing or two of the art of football”. It’s clear from the reports that the match had created quite a stir, with the main papers devoting significant column space to previews of the match, including pen-pics of all 21 South American players who would make up the Combinado squad, with special mention of Valdivieso, Villanueva and Chilean international Eduardo Schneeberger, of whom much was expected.
The sole negative note in the coverage of the South American’s visit was The Irish Independent’s decision to reprint a cartoon caricature of the Alianza player Villanueva; the black striker is depicted with all the stylized grotesquery one might associate with 1930′s representations of people of colour. To further enforce the significance of their visit the South American party were afforded a Civic welcome from the Lord Mayor of Dublin, while it was noted that “Many public men, including Foreign Consuls have intimated their intention of being present” at the game. A band had been booked to play as a warm-up act for an hour before kick-off and “in order to follow the game with greater interest an official programme” was to be put on sale.
The teams lined out as follows: Bohemian F.C: Harry. Cannon (gk), Aloysius Morris, Jack. McCarthy, Paddy O’Kane, Johnny McMahon, Fred Horlacher, Plev Ellis, William Dennis, R. Rogers, Billy Jordan, John O’Dempsey
Peru-Chile: Juan Valdivieso (gk Alianza Lima), Alfonso Saldarriaga, Antonio Maquilón (both Atlético Chalaco) Alberto Denegri, Vicente Arce, Eduardo Astengo (all Universitario) Roberto Luco (Colo-Colo), Lolo Fernández (Universitario) Alejandro Villanueva (Alianza Lima) Carlos Tovar (Universitario), Eduardo Schneeberger (Colo-Colo).
The media had predicted a convincing win for the Combinado and it was the South Americans who duly struck first after “twenty five minutes of even play Denegri sent Luco away”, the pace of the Chilean getting beyond the Bohemian defence and though his shot was blocked it fell into the path of 20 year old Carlos Tovar who had an easy finish. Their lead, however would only last ten minutes, Bohemians’ Plev Ellis upon receiving the ball, cut inside his man and was able to fire in a cross, Valdivieso who would pull off a string of miraculous saves throughout the game missed the ball which fell kindly for Billy Jordan who tapped it into the empty net.
In the second half Bohemians attacked strongly but were somewhat hamstrung by the serious injury to defender Johnny McMahon about twenty minutes from time. This injury, which as stated would ultimately cause the premature end of McMahon’s career, forced a reshuffle, with Ellis moving back to right-half and Paddy O’Kane going in at centre-half. In a time before substitutions McMahon was compelled to hobble about out on the wing for the remainder of the game. As Bohs attacked more Valdivieso was forced into a number of saves and Eduardo Astengo had to clear from the goal-line on one occasion, though great praise was also reserved for the efforts of Harry Cannon in the Bohemian goal. Nevertheless, in the closing minutes the Combinado were presented with a chance to win the match but Villanueva shot wide from 6 yards out with only Cannon to beat.
The “interesting and exciting” game would finish 1-1 and Bohemians could reflect positively on their result in front of the bumper crowd who had just gained their first glimpse of South American footballers in the flesh.
Villanueva of all those on show provoked most comment, as a centre forward he was described as a “different conception of that position from British players. Instead of waiting well up the field for the ball to come to him he chases it all over the field”, he is several times described dropping deep and “feeding the wings with skill and precision”. Such descriptions would put one in mind of the type of role, variously described in the modern game as a deep-lying forward or False nine but being executed decades before the likes of Hungary’s Nándor Hidegkuti or even Man City’s Don Revie would popularise the position.
Pathé newsreel footage of the game can be found here.
Villanueva’s performance was somewhat representative of the teams’ style of play; while the reporters watching the game could not fathom his roaming about the pitch similarly they struggled to describe the style of play of the South Americans in general. “Socaro” noticed that they preferred to use their toe when playing as opposed to their instep and that though the Combinado were “adepts in controlling the ball…and with a fine sense of positional play [they]…failed badly in the matter of scoring goals” and that the “fine movements” and build-up play were wasted by their seeming reluctance or inability to finish off such pretty moves. The Irish Times correspondent concurred to an extent stating “they have speed and control the ball well, but… the forwards had not sufficient fire and dash near goal”. Bohemians for their part seemed to have set themselves up to play a counter-attacking game, sitting deep and trying to break quickly on the counter early on, while attacking with more confidence in the second half. “Socaro” despaired of this tactic which he dubbed disparagingly the “Wait and See” approach and went on to bemoan the “little or no charging” in the game.
This view of Peruvians as being a tad too elaborate in their play was not solely the view of the Irish media but one with more common currency. Uruguayan writer and journalist Andreas Campomar described how the sociologist Aldo Panfichi referred to the footballing neurosis of Peru as being the “history of near misses” with Peru producing great players and displays but being undone by individual overindulgence or by refereeing or bureaucratic interference.
In either case the Peruvian public could console itself that the team had played well, deserved to win but had been undone by others. In other words, the moral victory that so many Bohemians fans will be familiar with. Perhaps the most famous example of this neurosis in Peruvian footballing history would occur just three years after the match with Bohemians and featured many of the same players.
The Peruvians went into the 1936 Berlin Olympics with high hopes for victory, which were enhanced after they comfortably dispatched Finland 7-3 in the opening match, Fernández getting 5 of the goals.
In the following game versus Austria, Peru would go two goals down before rallying and drawing level to take the game to extra time. Although the Peruvians had the ball in the back of the net five times in the course of extra time the Norwegian referee only awarded two of them. But for Peru that seemed to be enough. They left the field believing themselves to be 4-2 winners. Austria however protested, arguing that the game had been unlawfully interrupted after spectators had come onto the field during extra time to celebrate one of the Peruvian goals; one such spectator was even reputed to have carried a pistol onto the field of play. The Austrians further alleged that one of the spectators had kicked one of their players and that these events caused a “decrease of the fighting energies of the team”. A rematch, which was due to be played behind the closed doors, was ordered but the Peruvians refused to turn up which resulted in a walkover victory for Austria.
The whole Peruvian Olympic team withdrew from the Games in protest, Colombia did likewise as a gesture of fraternity with their neighbours while other Central and South American nations expressed their solidarity with the Andean Republic. Austria would end up going through to the final but would only collect the silver as they were defeated 2-1 by Italy. Back in Lima the German consulate had its windows smashed while the general population of Peru convinced themselves (with no supporting evidence) that Nazi Germany, sympathetic to Austria had rigged the Olympics to deny Peru the gold medal that was destined to be theirs.
That the touring South Americans should have chosen Dublin as the venue of their first game in Europe might seem a mite strange to modern readers there are a number of reasons as to why this might not be as unusual as it first appears. There was a strong appetite from both Ireland and Peru to test themselves in International competition. Mountainous Peru on the shores of the Pacific was far more geographically isolated that than Brazil or the nations of the River Plate. Apart from the Chileans football in neighbouring states like Columbia and Bolivia was still developing, and despite the tragedy of David Arellano’s death the tour to Spain by Colo-Colo had help put football in this part South American on map.
It was obvious that competitive games against European opposition could provide Peru and Chile with quality opposition as well as boosting the image of the nations abroad. This was similarly the case for the Irish Free State. As The Irish Times noted at the time the “Free State football season suffers from a lack of representative matches, which makes it difficult to assess the true value of the play seen here” which showed how the nascent Free State association faced the same type of challenges as their South American counterparts.
There was of course the still raw topic of the 1921 split of the Dublin-based Football Association of the Irish Free State (which would later become the FAI) from the Belfast based IFA, credibility on a global stage was something that the fledgling organisation craved and was something that the touring South Americans could offer. As well as being the home of Bohemians, Dalymount Park was also home to the Irish Free State’s national team and staging the first game of the tour in Dublin was quite a coup for both Bohemians and for FAI General Secretary Jack Ryder.
It is also worthy to note that sports fans of 1930s Dublin were as big a bunch of event junkies as their modern counterparts. A glamorous touring side in a gala friendly could put bums on seats, over 30,000 of them in Dalymount Park; an attractive venue, and at the time one of the best stadiums in Ireland which had recently been upgraded by the famous stadium architect Archibald Leitch. Such were the crowds in attendance that surviving newsreel footage shows some hardy souls standing on the roof of Dalymount’s main stand to gain a better view. The gate receipts for the Dublin game were a very healthy £900 compared to the £250 taken in Belfast when Glentoran F.C. hosted the Combinado the following day.
Finally there was also an odd Irish connection with the Combinado that may have secured Dublin as the first venue for a game in Europe. The tour organiser/manager was one Jack Gubbins (or John Alejandro Gubbins Pastor) to give him his full name, a Peruvian businessman who along with Colo-Colo president Waldo Sanhueza helped to organise and finance the venture. Mr. Gubbins could trace his family back to Woodstown, County Limerick where his ancestor Joseph Gubbins had settled after arriving in Ireland as a Captain in Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army. Generations later it was from Limerick that Jack’s father had departed for Peru where the Gubbins family thrived upon their arrival, being especially successful in the rubber industry. An uncle of Jack’s; a John Russell Gubbins had been a director of the Peruvian Amazon Company, rubber manufacturers who had been castigated in the early part of the 20th Century by none other than Sir Roger Casement due to their barbarous practices towards the native Putumayo Indians who worked for the company.
As Casement commented about the Indians plight:
Whole families … were imprisoned-fathers, mothers, and children, and many cases were reported of parents dying thus, either from starvation or from wounds caused by flogging, while their offspring were attached alongside of them to watch in misery themselves the dying agonies of their parents.
Jack was not the only Gubbins to turn up in Ireland either, his brother Reginald (or Reynaldo) also arrived in Dublin, announcing himself as a candidate in Peru’s upcoming Presidential elections. Reginald was a close ally of Augusto Leguia, the recently deposed President. Leguia, (who had once appeared on the cover of Time magazine) was a businessman with experience in the Insurance industry, he had sought to revolutionise Peru’s outdated industrial sector, and set about ambitious infrastructural plans for drainage and health care.
His second term as President came though a Coup d’état and this term would take on a far more dictatorial style, with Leguia oppressing dissenting voices within the political opposition. With the onset of the Great depression and falling demands for Peruvian goods and raw materials his government was overthrown. Leguia’s eventual successor, Luis Sanchez Cerro had been assassinated only months before the Combinado’s departure for Dublin and Reginald Gubbins saw himself as the man to lead the country back to prosperity. He was not to be successful in his campaign however, and Óscar Benavides would become Peruvian president. Sometime later Gubbins’ company would be blacklisted for selling cotton to Nazi Germany in contravention of orders to refrain from trade with Axis powers during the Second World War, a blacklist from which the U.S. House of Representatives would later absolve the company. Such were the colourful Hiberno-Peruvian Gubbins family who surrounded the Combinado tour.
Ireland at the time was not without its own political worries and was wound up with its own paranoia about possible coups. There had been genuine, though unfounded fears earlier in the year that the Cumann na nGaedheal political party would refuse to relinquish power to the incumbent Fianna Fáil party of Éamon DeValera who had triumphed in the recent elections. While only a month before the Bohemian – Combinado game a planned march by the right-wing, quasi-fascist Blueshirts group, led by former Civil War General and Police Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy, had been banned over fears that any such march was intended to as a ploy to overthrow the government in a similar fashion to Mussolini’s infamous March on Rome.
By the end of 1933 the Blueshirts would be banned completely and by 1936 O’Duffy would be leading 700 members of an Irish Brigade to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. It was against this backdrop of national tension and Europe’s gathering storm clouds that this game would take place. Yet despite the proximity of these events, the civil disturbances in Peru or Ireland seem to have had little effect on the sportsmen of the Bohemians or the Combinado. Bohemians would be champions that season and again in 1935-36 while developing numerous players for the National side. Peru would go to the Berlin Olympics and experience joy, sorrow and bitter regret before players like Valdivieso and Lolo Fernández would write their names in their nation’s football history as victors in the 1939 Copa America and enduring icons for their clubs.