What is Football in Latin America

By 08 July, 2024

There was a lot of times when football has caused mass unrest on this continent. Back in 1930, when the first World Cup was held in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, before the start of the Uruguay-Argentina final, 1,500 firearms were confiscated from the fans. They came to the football match with revolvers, similar to how they might go to demonstrations. For those looking to engage in sports betting amidst such passionate football culture, RG.ORG offers a reliable platform to explore. It was all right then, though. The Uruguayans won, and the jubilation was peaceful, without casualties. Just like this time, fortunately. In any case, there was no news about those killed over the weekend in Buenos Aires, and thank goodness for that. So what if the match was postponed twice. Broadcasts were cancelled, it’s no big deal! Glass was smashed in cars and shop windows.

There is no doubt that football riots have happened in Europe too. Alas, sometimes with casualties. The most memorable episode, of course, is the 1985 Champions Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool, when 39 people died at the Eisel stadium in Brussels. And yet those were riots. Sometimes many thousands, occasionally even armed. But riots, not fighting. And only in Latin America football once led to a real war. This interstate conflict was written into history. “The Football War”. In 1969, it was Honduras and El Salvador.

Poverty and Hatred

In the “Football War”, football was the cause. And the reasons were all the things that still lead to human deaths: illegal migration, fierce nationalism, hopeless poverty. And, of course, politics. More precisely – the greed, cruelty, cowardice and stupidity of politicians who want to blame the internal failure on an external enemy.

The much-changed map of Central America more or less settled after the Second World War. And it so happened that the territory of Honduras turned out to be five times larger than that of El Salvador. And the population of both countries in the late 60’s was about equal – three million people each. And in both countries, only a small part of the land, free of mountains and jungle, was habitable. So in El Salvador, the people were crowding in, while in Honduras there was still room to settle.

The smaller El Salvador had the most developed economy in the region, while the larger Honduras was the poorest country in the region and was deeply in debt. Among other things, Honduras was hopelessly indebted to El Salvador. However, it should be clarified that El Salvador was considered rich only in comparison with its neighbours. In fact, it was just slightly less poor than the rest of Central America. 

Social Tension

Probably would have started a war anyway. Any spark would have been enough. And, as luck would have it, it was at this very moment that the teams of the opposing countries met in the knockout matches for the right to participate in the 1970 World Cup. The series was to be played to two victories.

The first match was held in the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. The hotel where the Salvadoran team was staying under tight security was surrounded by thousands of fans, and the guests were not able to sleep. Outside the windows of their rooms, the Salvadoran players heard frenzied shouts and saw Salvadoran flags being burned on bonfires. From time to time stones flew into those very windows. It was a fun night. I guess the Honduran players couldn’t sleep either. They realised that if they did not win, they would be torn apart along with their opponents.

And the next day Honduras won 1-0 – Leonard Mivet scored in the 89th minute. All of El Salvador was in despair, and in San Salvador, the capital, a certain Emilia Bolaños, an 18-year-old girl, shot herself right in front of the television with her father’s gun, who kept the weapon in the home safe. The next day, the newspapers ran headlines: “She couldn’t stand the disgrace of the country”. The entire capital came to the funeral, including the head of state, Fidel Sánchez Hernández. The president of El Salvador personally expressed his grief and sympathy to the family, and the name Emilia Bolaños became a symbol of hatred for Honduras. And the turmoil of the first match seemed a mere trifle compared to what went on at the return game in San Salvador a week later.

The Honduran national team travelled from the airport to the Nacional Flor Blanca stadium surrounded by a convoy of military personnel. Stones, bottles and even dead rats were thrown through the windows of the bus for the entire 30 kilometres of the journey. People with knives and clubs, driven to the point where it is easy to kill their neighbours, burst into the motorcade time and again. Honduran coach Padilla later said that he was travelling as if to war. And quite sincerely rejoiced at the defeat 0:3, especially the fact that El Salvador scored all three goals in the first half. In the second half, the fans cooled down a bit, and let the Hondurans go. God forbid we would have won, Padilla argued. We would have been killed along with the Salvadorans. Nevertheless, the Hondurans were taken to the airport in armoured personnel carriers.

After a While

But football passions in those parts still boil over at any heated occasion. Argentine, Uruguayan, Chilean, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Honduran and other Latin American fans are still not satisfied with fighting with the police and opponents, breaking windows and burning cars. At least they manage to avoid loss of life, even if the riots are so large, as in the case of the ill-fated Libertadores Cup return match between Boca Juniors and River Plate, which has not yet been played in Buenos Aires.

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