Buenos Aires, Argentina. 1882. The children of Scottish immigrants who arrived in the port of Buenos Aires were encouraged to attend Saint Andrews Scots School, a preparatory academy where they received instruction in English, British history, and the Presbyterian faith of their ancestors. Newly appointed headmaster Alexander Watson Hutton, fresh off the boat from Edinburgh, decided to introduce the new sport of association football as part of the school’s athletic curriculum. By 1891, Hutton had organized the city’s first tournament, which was won by Saint Andrews. In 1893, he established the Argentine Association Football League (the precursor to AFA). He formed the Alumni Club, which was the most successful soccer team of the amateur era in Argentina, and also represented Argentina in some of its earliest international matches.
Whether he knew it at the time or not, Hutton had started a sports revolution in South America. Within 20 years, several of the continent’s most successful clubs were founded, including Boca Juniors, Peñarol, and Santos. Soccer quickly became the most popular sport in the Southern Cone. By the 1920s, the Uruguayans had established themselves as the best soccer nation on earth, winning two Olympic gold medals and the first World Cup in 1930. As an aside, soccer never really caught on at Saint Andrews, where rugby is the sport of choice to this day (I should know. I played forward there for three years).
Now, why have I bored you half to death with bygone tales of old fuddy duddies? Because players like Di Stéfano, Pelé, Maradona, Francescoli, Valderrama, Messi, etc. didn’t just magically appear ex nihilo. They were bred by a continent that is passionately in love with the game (excuse me while I reach for some kleenex). Over the last century and some change, South American players have contributed many of the plays and skills that led soccer to be known as “the beautiful game”. The bicycle kick. The diving header. The “rabona”. And on and on. This is why you tune in every week to watch the game. Sure, some of you get off on tactics and disciplined formations, but we all want to see some magic happen on the pitch.
South Americans have also contributed some of the more notorious aspects of the game. Diving, faking injuries, and all the other shenanigans associated with cheating in soccer have been elevated to an art form by South American players. The fans have done their part as well, turning stadiums into smoking cauldrons and transforming historic rivalries into violent street wars fueled by irrational fanaticism.
This brings us to the curious word in the post title. If you hit up Wikipedia, you’ll find that quilombo (pronounced kee-lombo) means different things to different people. Where I come from, it’s a common slang term that’s used whenever there’s a big, chaotic mess. There’s always some quilombo happening in South American soccer. Pitch invasions, riots, projectiles being launched from the stands. You know the kind of stuff I’m talking about.
Correction: As it turns out, my assertion in the stricken paragraph above that the word quilombo means many things to different people was selling it a bit short. As noted in the Wikipedia post I linked to, the word quilombo in Brazil refers to historic communities of African freed slaves. I would never want to infer that Brazilians of African descent are to blame for hooliganism in South American soccer. In the context of contemporary Buenos Aires slang, it simply means “a big mess”, without any racial connotation. Obviously, this blog doesn’t exist within that narrow cultural context. My apologies if anyone was offended. You won’t see it used on this blog in the future.
My goal at Four Five Two is to blog about the South American game in all its aspects. The exciting stuff, the funny stuff, the scary stuff. Don’t expect objective journalistic coverage of every league or brilliant tactical analysis. Do expect playful mockery, sarcasm, and the occasional thoughtful opinion. And some raging irrational fanaticism.