Week’s reading revisited – Golazo

Having intended to write daily or almost daily to allow me time and space to reflect upon what I’ve been reading or watching or listening to, I’ve already fallen badly behind. This has mostly been down to having cricket on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the first two days watching the 2nds and 3rds start their indoor season well with good wins, and Thursday being a training session with the ‘elite’ performers. There is some talent around, and the attitude is good. Long may it continue.

So let’s start the weekly review with a look at Golazo, by Andreas Campomar. This is essentially a look at football history in Latin America chronologically from its very early origins, through to the most recent world cups (prior to Brazil 2014). Campomar is Uruguayan, and is perhaps at his best in this very interesting book when discussing aspects of Uruguayan history, identity and just how much of a social impact football has had on Uruguay’s sense of national pride and unity. There is very little else that Uruguay is famous for, and the tales of the 1924/28/30 Uruguayan sides carrying all before them in the Olympics and World cup is stirring stuff.

As with most of the books on general South American football history, or Latin American football history, this is very little on the origins of the game in certain areas. He does not go into the same amount of detail and has not researched how the game developed in countries where football was not immediately successful for instance.There is a lot on Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil in particular, and Chile to a lesser extent but not on Colombia, or the central American nations for instance. Something it is clear that I will need to research is the development of the Colombian game. It strikes me that the process will have been somewhat different from the Southern Cone countries, and for various reasons. Here are some of the most striking:

  1. the topographical impediments to a ‘national’ development of the game. I suspect in Colombia there will have been significant regional developments at different paces. Although in the Southern Cone, football development seems mostly associated with the capital or major cities, in Colombia there will have been distinct outposts, namely Barranquilla, Medellín, Cali and Bogotá in particular, and then other cities such as Manizales, Santa Marta etc. I wonder who was responsible for the game in each area?
  2. Was the game originally a game for English elites as it was in the South? Or was it imported and appropriated first by creole elites who had sent their sons to England? There is an article about football in the capital in Colombia as being the earliest starting point (Santos Molano), in which the person introducing the game is an American, Colonel Henry Rown Lemly, which gives a very different perspective to those who cite English cultural imperialism as being the reason for football’s rapid diffusion in Latin America. The routes for Colombia seem different. Or at least the route in Bogotá was different.
  3. The lack of touring teams from Europe. These would have influenced the spread and popularity of the game, particularly with social elites and Presidents attending. Did any teams visit Colombia? perhaps they were only South American ones from the River Plate, which would mean Colombia would always have bee looking towards the south at their continental counterparts for inspiration and models, rather than towards Europe.
  4. The lack of international participation. Colombia could not judge itself against anyone in Europe and the continent given geographical issues. There was no point of comparison in the early years, and so little reason for national prestige and therefore identity and success to be gleaned.
  5. Urbanization and communication happened a lot later, given the coffee boom.
  6. A comparative lack of populist politics in the early years of the 20th Century meant that football was not sponsored, partly due to their not being large urban masses of workers to entertain and mobilise.

It should be noted that this is not just a blow by blow description of football matches and a wistful description of the great names of Latin American footballing legend. These aspects are in the book of course, as it is aimed at a wider audience than solely other academics, but Campomar is aware of the role that football played in the development of national identities and the construction of nation, as well as the impact that social and political forces played on football. Campomar discussed the creation of chilenidad, argentinidad, brasilianidade at various times, but much less so on colombianidad, ecuatorianidad, mexicanidad, for instance. Processes were very different, and Latin America is not a generic continent where everything occurred in a similar way at a similar time. When he discusses el Dorado and the growth of football around La Violencia for instance, he does not stop to consider how problematic football would have been as a nation building device if it even was. Was it purely bread and circus as most seem to assert? Was there any resistance to the game being taken over by foreign mercenaries. Did it matter? Was Colombia’s national confidence so non-existent that a circus was better than achievements of national players? Was football not in the position to be a point of construction of national identity given the lack of success of Colombian players and no likelihood of it being achieved? Was there any move to make Colombians more participative in the league? Given the domination of foreigners, it is unlikely that links could be made between player and citizen, no point of identification, apart from as Latin Americans. This event may only have hindered and slowed football development.

Something too I need to look at is the role of El Gráfico. It is cited as having a hugely important role in articulating national style and identity through sport, marrying supposed national characteristics and the game, envisioning Argentines and defining Argentine play in contrast to the European ‘founding fathers’. It appears to have had an impact across the continent too, being read in Colombia as well. With authors and journalists as well as radio commentators (less researched and discussed by everyone) having a central role in identification and self description purposes, which authors, writers and radio presenters had a similar role in Colombia? Was there anyone and any news or sports magazine that performed a similar role? This is a big hole in research in my view, something I must try and do. Who is the Colombian Borocotó?

As Campomar does reflect regularly on the need to develop and articulate a national style and identity, he raises the issue that no city or republic was entirely satisfied with its national identity prior to this. Any redefining or asserting of a new identity implies dissatisfaction with the previous notions of identity or the lack of one. Campomar says football was very important for this process: ‘Football allowed many countries in the region to create a discrete psychological identity, where previously one had not existed. (Uruguay’s garra charrúa, Brazil’s futebol arte, Argentina’s la nuestra, and Peru’s el toque would later reflect aspired identities rather than actual ones.) ‘- this is a nice idea – like the idea of the discrete national identity performed or imagined on the football pitch. To what extent are these created myths and to what extent are they actual interpretations? I believe that generally there will be more of an imagined myth as to what characteristics can be interpreted on the pitch. When did these first become noticeable in Colombia? was it as last as 1985, or perhaps 1987 with Maturana? Had it ever been attempted before, or was the political struggle to create nation and identity replicated on the football field and related journalism? Was it easier to create ideas around cyclists for example? Who were more successful?

Some other key lines I’ve highlighted about national identity proposed by Campomar:

p.100: ‘each republic providing its own version of a super race in footballing terms. Football still desperately needed an ‘other’, against which to define itself.”

p.103:  plaudits from abroad were more important than those at home – the need for international approval and validation crucial

p.108: success abroad brought with it not only a place in history but also a mythology to capture the imagination of future generations’ again this is where Colombian football would lag behind for so long – none of this could be achieved compared to the southern cone teams. This validation would still be vital

I quite like Campomar’s idea of a cultural quarantine; he refers to Bolivia, but Colombia, or parts of Colombia, would have faced the same issues, given the topography and transportational issues.

Campomar, as do all serious Latin American historians, refers to Gilberto Freyre, and the idea of mulattoism, and how mulatto traits were recognised, or imagined, and attempted to be integrated into the sporting imaginary. The sporting / footballing charactersitics that Freyre endows the black players with, is similar to the traits that Maturana attributes to them. This does suggest a very generic approach to negritude sporting roles, one might even say simplistic or derogatory, as they fail to receive credit for hard work or team work, only creativity, unpredictability or physical flair. Which black Colombian footballers first allowed this to be imagined? Did it exist before the 1987 generation with Rincón etc?

Something I certainly will explore is the ‘stray dog complex’ the ‘vira latas’ complex proposed by the Brazilian Nelson Rodrigues. This inferiority complex of the Latin Americans toward the European ‘pedigree’ is an interesting aspect to explore. Not only does it present the civilisation / barbarism debate in one form, it also attributes street-wise survival skills, perhaps more toughness and viveza criolla to the Latin American players. Does this same viveza criolla exist in Colombia? is it more aimed at the pedigree of the Southern Cone countries rather than Europe? Have European nations really only been an occasional measuring point since 1990?

Two more good quotes on conspiracy theories and the over-importance of football in Latin America:

Ryszard Kapuscinski ‘Latins are obsessed with spies, intelligence conspiracies and plots’
303 ‘Latin American football had now become prone to nineteenth – century barbarities. Failure to understand that it was only a game, and not a matter of life and death, confined to haunt the region.’ This quote particularly is relevant. For Colombia, it became much more than a game, because they had to compete in some way. Continental hierarchy was on the line. And then it become much more than just a game with narcofootball.
330: (about Uruguay) Obsession with its lack of local history had allowed football to fill the void. The game had given the country meaning, but it failed to solve all its problems.’ Colombia’s situation is similar. The difference is a lack of pride in local history, football was a new meaning, but it could not solve the problems.
374: Menotti: ‘A German team can’t play like a Spanish team, or vice versa. Every nation’s football has different characteristics… You can’t ask players to do something they’re not born to. You couldn’t ask Sinatra to sing a tango better than Gardel, any more than you would have asked Gardel to sing ‘Strangers in the Night” better than Sinatra.‘ – good point to ilustrate why Colombian football had failed and why it needed an identity. Colombia had always been focused on being Argentinian on the football field. I would love to ask Maturana if he had studied Latin American football history and nation, and really thought identity was important. Or if identity had tried to be established before but had failed given the lack of quality players or success.
417:  quote from Rayuela by Cortázar, maxim of Jacques Vaché: ‘Rien ne vous tue un homme comme d’etre oblige de representer un pays. (Nothing kills a man as much as having to represent his country.’) – this is a great quote for the book regarding Escobar, or even the ‘somos jodidos’ comment
This is such an important quote by Eduardo Arias, which sums up everything: Eduardo Arias (Col journo) thought Col football had hitherto suffered from a lack of identity. ‘Selección Colombiana de Fútbol. These three or four words mean much, little, nothing, make us laugh or cry, embarrass, are a source of pride…But history as such does not exist. it is a quilt of fragments, stitched [together] with contradictory threads, patches that, for the most part, have been minor stories of success and defeat, ephemeral and isolated…To start all over again. Above all, to start over whenever we leave the stadium dejected and with lowered flags; or whenever we turn off the radio or television embittered by defeat, but with the secret conviction that the Colombian players are good.’ This could have been written about the nation as well. Colombia is such a quilt of fragments, with no continuity, disaster after disaster, pain quashing hope, a lack of togetherness always being cited as a reason for failure.
463; Galeano:  tell me how you play, and I’ll tell you who you are. Is this true? Could this be achieved? Was it ever the case in Colombia?

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