The influence of British clubs Everton and Glasgow Rangers resonates through football in Chile. Nick Rosano looks at an ongoing alliance.
Chilean president Sebastián Piñera wasn’t just playing nice when he emphasized the “deep historical roots” of the relationship between Chile and Britain on a recent European visit. From the Britons such as Thomas Cochrane who entrenched themselves in Chilean folklore during the struggle for independence, to Chile’s support of Britain during the Falklands War and the darker dealings between Augusto Pinochet and Margaret Thatcher, the two countries have always enjoyed warm relations. Even today, 4.5% of Chileans can claim British ancestry, and it is common to see Anglo-Chileans in nearly every sector of society, from politics to entertainment to finance to, you guessed it, football.
Unión Española starlet Kevin Harbottle, former Bradford City man Willy Topp and recently ousted federation president and FIFA delegate Harold Mayne-Nicholls are all recent examples of Anglo-Chileans to make their presence felt in the domestic game and abroad, but that does not come close to telling the full story of the English influence on Chilean football. While many countries can claim British ancestry when it comes to football, few have embraced it as much as Chile.
Part of the history is well known, as it shares a number of characteristics with the spread of football in South America and across the globe. The roots of the Chilean game can be traced back to British expatriates in the port city of Valparaíso, similar to the communities that spread the game in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, São Paulo, Rio and Lima. Likewise, it is little coincidence that football teams such as Wanderers, River Plate, Liverpool, Corinthians and Lawn Tennis (yes, Lawn Tennis) can be found in these cities.
Football in Chile can be traced back to 1880, just eight years after England and Scotland played the first-ever international match, and as was the case across the globe, brought to the country by British merchants and sailors. The local populace was drawn to Valparaíso’s historic Cerro Alegre to see the ‘gringos’ play their strange game and assimilated it just as quickly as their counterparts across Latin America. The Mackay and Sutherland School on Cerro Alegre, one of many British schools throughout Chile (many of which exist even today) was the first to feature football, allowing it to spread to the upper and middle classes of Valparaíso and nearby Viña del Mar.
Nine years after the game first appeared on the docks of Valparaíso, English journalist David N. Scott founded Valparaíso F.C., documented as the oldest football club in Chile. The club would soon change its name to Santiago Wanderers, which remains the oldest Chilean club still in existence (By that time there was already a Valparaíso Wanderers, but they decided to stick with the Wanderers name despite being located over 100km from Santiago.)
In 1895, six years later, Scott was at it again as he played a key role in founding the Football Association of Chile, the precursor to Federación de Fútbol de Chile. Around the same time, he porteños, as the residents of Valparaíso are known, soon found competition with their counterparts in the capital, Santiago F.C., a club that still maintains its legacy today as Santiago Morning after a 1936 fusion with Morning Star S.C.
All across the country British inspired clubs sprang up. Everton was founded by a group of Liverpudlians in Valparaíso and later moved to Viña del Mar, where they would establish themselves a force among provincial clubs. Scotsman Juan Greenstreet founded Rangers in the southern city of Talca in 1902 and Santiago Badminton FC as well as Green Cross established themselves as regular fixtures in the early days of professional football in Chile. With these new clubs came the Challenger Cup, the first competition to branch out from the regional leagues, even though teams from the Santiago and Valparaíso metropolitan areas still comprised most of the contestants.
Just as British economic influence started to dwindle in Latin America after the turn of the 20th century, so too did the British influence on the region’s football. While foreigners continued to play significant roles in shaping the economic and footballing fortunes of Latin America, local administrators started to lead the game in a their own direction in both fields. Prior to the Great Depression, Argentina rose to become one of the most powerful economies in the world, and the other Southern Cone countries such as Chile and Uruguay were not far behind.
Similarly, just as the Argentine Football Association became the Asociación de Fútbol Argentino, the Football Association of Chile evolved into the Federación del Fútbol Chileno, and as professionalism came into being in the 1930s, Chilean-founded clubs such as Colo Colo, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica rose to the pinnacle of Chilean football, from which they would never be dislodged. Meanwhile, clubs like Badminton and Green Cross underwent transformation, relocation and dissolution as Chileans began to embrace their own footballing identity.
Nonetheless, in a country that still prides itself on its British ties, Everton and Santiago Wanderers still play out the oldest derby in the land twice a year and you can still catch an Everton-Rangers match without having to pay over-the-top prices for a Champions League ticket. In a particularly special case, Everton’s links to its English counterpart remain as strong as ever, with top officials from the Merseyside club making their way to Chile to commemorate the Chilean club’s 100th anniversary in 2009. The Chileans reciprocated one year later, traveling to Goodison Park to face off against their namesakes in a preseason friendly, won 2-0 by the English side.
Though England and Scotland are not as dominant as they once were on the world scene, their influence remains evident throughout the world, and quite possibly more so in Chile than anywhere else. When shouts of “Ever forever!” ring out across the terraces at Everton’s Estadio Sausalito every weekend, the fans pay homage to their English heritage that in turn gave birth to an equally vibrant history in Chilean football.
You can follow Nick on twitter @nicholasrosano
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