Before I started this piece, I asked myself what I really knew about South American football. Unsurprisingly, the three words that came to the front of my mind were Pele, Maradona, and Brazil in no particular order.
Then, three more words came to me. Three words that are maybe even more revealing about football in South America.
H A N D O F G O D
For, despite all of the wonderful Latin American skill and flair that we are privileged enough to have seen ever since football came to our television screens, and the passion with which Latin Americans embrace the game, controversy eternally looms on the horizon and with it, damnation.
Nobody better encapsulates this enthralling, yet ultimately tragic story of success and sin than Diego Armando Maradona, the golden boy of Argentinian football.
The story goes:
Young boy with immense talent rises to fame, has the world at his feet, dazzles and inspires millions with outrageous skills, lets his success go to his head, hangs around with the wrong people, goes from hero to zero and, finally, is rehabilitated and reborn.
In the same way, Latin American football has soared to dizzy heights and then, moments later, plunged to depths to which only Latin American football can plunge.
Nowhere are fans so passionate about football, stadiums so full, football so high on the agenda of the people. So much so that Phil Scolari recently explained that "Pressure was when I was coach of the national team as everyone in Brazil is a coach."
Too often, the excitement and expectation of so many is destroyed by a sense of rage and folly.
On the one hand, this manifests itself in a commendable desire to win and a competitive nature that can lead to players overstepping the mark and becoming involved in gross sporting misconduct.
On the other hand, it is revealed by a passion and fervour that, in the heat of the moment under the scorching equatorial sun, flares over and often ends in tragedy.
Is this commonplace view of Latin American football a grotesquely sweeping, misunderstood preconception? I hoped to put this to the test with an admittedly microcosmic - but microscopic - study of Chilean side (Corporación Club Social y Deportivo) Colo-Colo:
1. Colo Colo was founded in 1925 in the Macule commune of Chilean capital city Santiago, where the club plays its matches at the Estadio Monumental David Arellano, named after one of its founding fathers.
2. Aforementioned Arellano led the club on what was the first tour of Europe by a Chilean football team. Unfortunately, the trip was to end in tragedy as Arellano suffered a fatal case of peritonitis, the inflammation of the membrane lining the abdominal cavity, following a challenge during an exhibition match against Real Valladolid.
3. The club badge (above) depicts the Mapuche Indian chief ('cacique') Colo-Colo, after which the club takes its name. The chief symbolised and embodied courage, strength and wisdom.
4. The club colours are also symbolic. White represents pure principles and intentions in victory, black represents a commitment and determination to always fight loyally for the cause.
5. A powerful earthquake in 1960, combined with a lack of support from Chilean governments unhappy about the private running of the club, conspired to delay the building of a proposed super-stadium with a capacity of more than 100.000 spectators throughout the 1960s.
However, transfer fees received from the sales of several key players allowed the stadium to be completed in time for its inauguration in 1975.
Yet the precarious state of the poorly irrigated pitch and the inadequacy of the stadium's facilities meant that the club were forced to abandon their home for years as it was restricted to hosting training sessions.
That was until another player sale (Hugo Rubio to Bologna in 1981) facilitated the reconstruction and completion of the stadium more than 20 years after the plans were originally drawn up.
6. Gen. Agusto Pinochet, the infamous Chilean dictator was named honorary Club President after his successful 1977 military coup and is, to an extent, responsible for the club's modern success (and even existence) having bankrolled Colo-Colo in times of near bankruptcy.
7. Despite not being renown for producing world-class individual players, Colo-Colo has, thanks to an unshakeable team spirit and work ethic, dominated Chilean football ever since its conception, with 28 league titles and numerous other honours to its name.
An intriguing story of success, albeit disappointingly lacking in controversy.
Next to the home of "soccer." Perhaps, my wish will come true as I travel directly north and cross the border into equally unknown territory.
Stay with me as I coincidentally shed some light on Columbus Crew FC. Ha ha! It's a small world...
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