It's 1978 and this is exceptional.
Argentina 2-1 Hungary
Ignacio Piñeyro, 12 years old
We all stood.
Oíd, mortales, el grito sagrado
Blue and white ticker tape fell from the heavens for Argentina.
"¡Libertad, libertad, libertad!"
Well, everyone but my cousin Gonzalo stood. He was always being silly about things these days. I could see Papá frowning at him, so could Mamá. She looked at me and smiled; Gonzalo saw her and smiled too. Papá didn’t smile though.
Oíd el ruido de rotas cadenas,
I had been waiting so long, but today, the Mundial was finally here!
Ved en trono a la noble Igualdad.
Papá had made us learn the words when we were young. Even before we were learning to count he would have us singing the national anthem. Mamá and Papá, Grandma, little Gaby, my brother Alfredo and cousin Gonzalo, all crammed into our living room. Papá said we would watch every match together because he couldn’t get tickets to El Monumental. I didn’t mind, I could see better on the TV. I always missed the goals at La Bombonera because of the big guys jumping around in front of me.
Nyilasi and Torocsik were about to kick-off for Hungary when the ref stopped them and El Monumental fell silent.
“Those Gallinas are always so bloody quiet,” shouted Gonzalo.
Alfredo and I fell back in our chairs laughing, but Papá wasn’t laughing, he looked angry.
“¡Ay, boludo! Show some bloody respect for General Actis.”
Gonzalo sat back and muttered something about the Militars again. I thought the Hungarians looked sad, they wore black armbands and the cameras showed their coach Baroti who looked sad too. Our coach Menotti looked nervous and very serious.
I asked Papá how many Flaco will smoke tonight? He laughed and said it depends if we win.
“He better win,” chuckled Gonzalo. “Videla’s watching…”
“Close him down!” screamed Papá.
Zombori smashed a left-foot volley across our goal. Fillol dived to save, but his parry fell straight to Csapó. “¡Gol!” screamed the commentator. ‘¡Gol de Csapó!’
“What the hell was Olguin doing? Getting sucked inside like that,” shouted Papá, who really knows his football.
“Oh no, my love,” shrieked Mamá, turning to little Gaby. “What now?”
“She doesn’t bloody know,” snapped Papá.
Mamá scowled at him and he quickly retreated into his armchair. Gonzalo and I giggled quietly.
It didn’t matter in the end. We were level 10 minutes later. Kempes smashed a free-kick and Leopoldo Luque poked in the rebound. We drank maté and had beef sandwiches on our laps while we watched the match. Even Grandma was shouting by the end. She was going on about Di Stéfano again, telling us how if he was playing we would win it all. Papá laughed and told her she didn’t know anything and that she just repeated whatever Grampa used to say.
With about five minutes left we were starting to get nervous, but then we did it. Bertoni was Alfredo’s favourite player and he scored. The Hungary keeper crashed into Luque, “PENALTY!” we all screamed. The ball squirmed loose, straight to Bertoni. ¡GOOOOOL!
We were on our way.
“Vamos Argentina, Vamos a Ganar” (Nemara y Rimasi)
2 June 1978
Argentina 2-1 France
Alfredo Piñeyro, 15 years old
I have to admit, I was nervous about this game, more so than the opener against Hungary. The days of Puskás, Kocsis and Hidegkuti were long gone by then, so I knew we’d have no problems beating them. But France were another proposition. I met a French journalist in town yesterday and he told me that Dominique Bathenay was fit to play and that he would dominate our midfield, giving Platini the protection he didn’t have against Italy in their first match. I would never admit it to my Pa, but I loved Platini and was secretly delighted that he would have more chance to shine tonight — even if it was against us. He was beautiful, elegant, an artist. No matter where he was or how many were around him, he always had so much time on the ball.
“He plays with so much freedom,” I said, as Platini waltzed away from Gallego down the right.
“He’s a lucky man,” said Gonzalo, sniggering.
“Nothing lucky about it, he’s an artist,” said Ignacio, who was always copying me but kind of missed the point.
Pa said how Flaco had them all fired up again, that Kempes and Luque look possessed: “They’re Argentines, no doubt about it.”
Mamá and Grandma didn’t seem as interested today as they did against Hungary. They were making the sandwiches again and sent little Gaby in just as Six crossed for Rocheteau to nip in front of our keeper Fillol. Papá screamed and poor little Gaby nearly jumped out of her skin, sending his sandwich flying. Ignacio and I fell back laughing. Gaby started crying.
“Gabita, forgive me,” said Pa, scooping her up and plonking her on his knee. She saw us smiling and dried her eyes.
“PENALTY!” we all screamed. “Handball, definite handball,” shouted Pa. Kempes had played in Luque and as he shot Trésor had fallen and the ball had struck his arm. El Gran Capitán Daniel Passarella smashed it home to give us the lead. Half-time, and we were one up. Their keeper Demanes got injured after about an hour; he smashed his back against the post tipping an incredible volley from Valencia over the bar, meaning Baratelli had to replace him. As he was stretchered off, Pa said we’d won this now, but I wasn’t so sure, and France were level just four minutes later: Platini. It wasn’t the type of Platini goal I had hoped to see, but he was there when it mattered. Lacombe had lobbed Fillol and the ball bounced back off the bar for Platini to smash it in from a few yards.
France should have won really. Our penalty was harsh but the one they had turned down was crazy, and Six missed a number of chances that Platini served him up on a plate. Our winner came on 73 minutes, Luque smashed a volley in from outside the box and we all went crazy. The girls had joined us by then and Grandma was dancing as we jumped around. AR-GEN-TINA! AR-GEN-TINA! We all screamed as Gonzalo walked out the front door saying he would be late for work. ¡Carajo!
Two games, two wins. Perfect start!
"El gol debe ser un pase a la red" (César Luis Menotti)
6 June 1978
Argentina 0-1 Italy
Gaby Piñeyro, 9-and-a-half years old
Everyone loved the Mundial. It seemed like the whole country was Argentina mad. I had watched every game so far because of my Papá and brothers and my cousin so I knew what was happening. The boys at school were very impressed that I said Kempes would win the Golden Boot. Papá had told me that.
They said we had to win tonight to stay in Buenos Aires, but I wasn’t worried because the whole school was saying we would win. We had history and the new teacher Señor Diaz has us writing a Mundial diary. We had to write how we felt watching the games and who we watched them with and what everyone said and thought. I didn’t like Señor Diaz. Our old teacher Señor Darín was much nicer. He used to ask us how we were every morning and he was very handsome. All the girls loved him. Alicia and I cried when Señor Diaz told us he had left. We had both got apples from our Mamás for him that morning and left them on his desk. When Señor Diaz walked in and sat in his seat and took a bite out of my red apple my heart felt like it sank in my tummy. He said Señor Darín had left for a new job. We were so angry: he could at least have bothered to say goodbye.
Señor Diaz spent the history lesson telling us how General Videla was making Argentina great again and how hard the new government was working to make the Mundial a success. It made me want to win even more. I don’t like football that much but I love Argentina. I told Papá about it when I got home and he was very happy with me. Gonzalo was mean but I didn’t care because my Papá was proud of me and our country. He told Mamá that I was going to watch the game on his knee so they would have to do without me in the kitchen tonight. We lost to Italy and I was so cross, but I didn’t cry. We would have to play in Rosario now but I didn’t care because we were going to win. I told Papá that now we must all really support Argentina because they needed us more than ever.
“Veinticinco millones de argentinos jugaremos el Mundial.” (General Jorge Rafael Videla)
10 June 1978
Argentina 2-0 Poland
Rosa Piñeyro, 67 years old
I’ve always loved football. Well, I don’t really love it as much as I have love for it. My husband though, boy was he obsessed. I don’t really mind what happens with this Mundial, I’m really just grateful for how it has brought us all together.
I can’t remember the last time I saw so much of my grandchildren. Roberto (we named him, or rather Jorge named him, after the famous Boca striker Roberto Cherro) would only bring one to my house each week when he would visit. His wife María had asked me to stay and help her during the Mundial; even though she didn’t really need my help. She is so beautiful — too beautiful for Roberto really, with her long flowing brown hair and cheek bones that half the women in Buenos Aires would kill for. Those green eyes lit up entire rooms, and little Gaby was her spitting image, only smaller.
The boys screamed “Kempes!” and leapt around the living room once again. María smiled, I looked across the room at her family, at my family, dancing together for Argentina and clutched her hand. As I sat there, feeling so much joy and love, I couldn’t help thinking of those less fortunate. Roberto said they were subversives and that I shouldn’t believe a word they say. But I could see it in their eyes. A mother knows. A mother can always see. I leaned to María and told her I had seen the Madres earlier. Her green-eyed gaze instantly dropped to my feet.
“You know, don’t you, María?” I asked.
“You know. I know you know. You can see it in their eyes as sure as I can. Can you even imagine not knowing where Alfredo was? Or Gaby?”
“Don’t, Rosa. I don’t want to think of that,” she said, refusing to lift her bowed head.
You see, I’d seen all this before. I’d seen coups and juntas, I’d seen General Uriburu and I’d seen Peróns come and go. I’d seen it all. But it was somehow different this time, something is happening. Young Gonzalo can see it; he’s smarter than Roberto thinks.
Kempes scored again later which apparently meant we were home and dry. Everyone was so happy. To see your family smiling is all one can ask at my age. I had the Mundial to thank for that. ¡Vamos Argentina!
“Alguna vez, en una de esas razones mías, recuerdo haber dicho: ‘Algún día todo esto cambiará’ y no sé si eso era ruego o maldición o las dos cosas juntas.” (Eva Perón)
14 June 1978
Argentina 0-0 Brazil
Roberto ‘Cherro’ Piñeyro, 42 years old
What a day! I was sure we would beat Brazil, we’re better than them. I had planned to take Ignacio and Alfredo to this game too, but thanks to those damn Italians we were playing in Rosario. The fans are better in the City; if we played here we would surely have won.
Luque was back, though he was struggling. His shoulder was still clearly a problem and his brother had been burned to death in a car ‘accident’ just a week ago. That’s when I got into it with that foolish boy Gonzalo. He noticed my intonation on the word ‘accident’. I told him it was probably those subversives who don’t want Argentina to win the Mundial, who don’t want Argentina to be great again. He tried to tell me he was a Perónist! Can you believe that? I said “Alright, Che,” and laughed in his face, telling him how idiots like him don’t understand the word. María started bitching, telling me this was not the time for politics, but I had had just about enough of this kid. I asked him if he remembered how it was under Isabelita? If he remembered how the whole street mourned José’s little girls after that car bomb? Reminding him that Videla saved us from that. From the chaos. He actually asked me if I “remembered 55?” The stupid boy wasn’t even alive. That’s when he lost it. Screaming “Fuck Videla, fuck them all!” He started telling me how he’s searched by a man with a machine gun every day at university. How his name is checked against a list and that his friend Juan’s name was on that list one morning and that he hadn’t seen him since.
“Montoneros scum, probably” I said, reminding him, “this is El Proceso. ”
“Juan was just a boy and read Perón and Galeano and would go to see River,” he said.
I asked him why he was speaking in the past tense and that’s when he overstepped the mark. Shouting how he knew more than me, how Juan’s mother Cándida was on the Plaza de Mayo now.
“You don’t know anything, ignorant fool,” he yelled.
Did he really think for a second that I would let him speak to me like that in my own house?
“She’s one of them too, is she? Hell, get out! Out! You’re not welcome here anymore” I told him. Damn right too.
Alfredo jumped up and told me to calm down. I smacked him back down in his chair. This is my house! I told Gonzalo he should have gone to Uruguay with his subversive parents. This is Argentina.
I told María to shut her whining, bring my maté and get the rest of the kids to bed. My mother was looking at me down her nose, like Papá used to. I asked if she wanted to leave too. She looked away.
“Por la defensa de la civilización Cristiana”( Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera)
18 June 1978
Argentina 6-0 Peru
María Piñeyro, 40 years old
I hadn’t seen Gonzalo in three days, nobody had.
“¡GOL! ¡GOL! ¡GOL!” the boys were screaming. Goal after goal after goal.
How could he be so calm? It was him who forced my sister’s boy out of my house to God knows where. I sat in the kitchen with Rosa while little Gaby sat on Roberto’s knee cheering each goal like one of the boys.
“Where is he, Rosa?” I asked. “He would have come back by now.”
Rosa didn’t say anything, but I could see in her eyes that she knew something was wrong.
“Easy as that, I never doubted them for a second,” chimed Roberto — who had been utterly miserable all day as he told anyone who would listen that Argentina had blown it — dancing across my kitchen floor.
“You need to go and find Gonzalo,” I told him.
He rolled his eyes and told me to calm down and that he was probably plotting a revolution at some coffee house. But Roberto’s smile vanished when he looked into my eyes. He was still there, you know, every once in a while he would look at me and my heart would melt like when we were teenagers.
“Where am I going to look, for Christ’s sake?”
Rosa threw a glance of her own.
“OK, OK. I’ll check the coffee shops and ask some friends.”
He had better find him. How am I going to tell Alicia I lost her only boy?
“Mamá, Mamá, we’re in the final,” little Gaby screamed, running into my arms.
I held her so tight, so tight. My throat dried and my nose ran. Ignacio stood at the doorway with a smile from ear-to-ear; that boy’s smile is flawless, aside from the big gap where one of his front teeth should be. It’s like a window into my boy’s soul. Alfredo stood over him, frowning and picking at the peeling wall behind the refrigerator.
“What if we don’t find him, Ma?”
“Shut up!” snapped Roberto. “You and I are going to find the silly boy and bring him back here in the morning.”
“But what if we don’t?”
“You have to!” I looked at Roberto. “It’s Wednesday. I can’t be one of them tomorrow afternoon. I can’t.”
“Este es un asunto de poca preocupación para nosotros, estas mujeres están locas” (Official of the Office of the President of the Argentine Republic)
21 June 1978
Netherlands 1-3 Argentina
Gonzalo Baravalle, 17 years old
Argentina won the Mundial. I think it was 3-1, from the cheers that crept through the cracks in my dark, grey, rotting concrete box. I couldn’t really hear the radio, but I heard the guards’ screams.
“Ay, Montonero. 3-1, we won the Mundial,” one of them shouted, skipping past my room.
“You won the Mundial,” I muttered.
The door opened. The fat one took my blindfold off. Just the candlelight was enough to pierce my eyes and send pain shooting around my skull.
“Here,” he said, handing me a piece of bread and cup of water. I could hardly lift my arms to drink.
Time doesn’t really mean anything here, but the match told me it had been six days, though it feels like longer. Gordo, the guy who brought me the bread, though I once heard one of the others call him José, told me there wouldn’t be any tortures today. That “today we are all Argentinian: even subversives.”
I laughed, though not out loud. It’s funny how quickly you learn things here. Smiling wasn’t always worth the pain from the resulting cracks in my lips. I asked him who scored; he said Kempes got two but he forgot the others. I don’t know why I asked, I don’t think I really care. The bread would keep me going for a couple of days. It wasn’t that big, but I could make it last and Gordo had left me the cup, which meant I could ration the water, for today at least.
They took Juan away two days ago; I don’t think he’s coming back.
“Un día pasaron preguntando a quién se debía avisar en caso de muerte y la posibilidad real del hecho nos golpeó a todos. Después supimos que era cierto, que en una revolución se triunfa o se muere (si es verdadera). Muchos compañeros quedaron a lo largo del camino hacia la Victoria.” - Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
The day Argentina won the Mundial
Somewhere in my country
Por la memoria de Los Desaparecidos y sus familias
This article by Rupert Fryer appears in Issue Two of The Blizzard, which is out now. All issues of The Blizzard are available to download for PC/Mac, Kindle and iPad on a pay-what-you-like basis from as little as 1p per issue, and are also available in hard-copy. The Blizzard is a 190-page quarterly publication that allows writers the opportunity to write about the football stories that matter to them, with no limits and no editorial bias.