Monday, May 7, 2012

It was really a year of surprises, shaking traditional establishment – new champions in Uruguay, in Peru, and Chlie did not lag behind. The bottom of the table shuffled familiar names: Rangers (Tacna), Naval (Talcahuano), and Deprotes La Serena (La Serena) were relegated to seond division; Nublense (Chillan), O’Higgins (Rancagua), and Audax Italiano (Santiago) were promoted to first. The whole group of teams changing leagues was interesting: all of them were primarily top league clubs, some quite successful in the past. The very fact that such clubs were playing, even occasionally, second division football suggests major changes occurring. The military dictatorship was probably direct and indirect reason: reshaping of Chilean football started as soon as General Pinochet’s junta took the power in the country. Political pressure perhaps declined some clubs, but there were economic results – unlike the rest of Soith American military rulers, the Chilean military was economically effective and economic improvement led to the rise of unlikely provincial clubs from industrial towns – Cobreloa and Cobrasal are the prime examples. Yet, this was to become really a few years later – so far, the more likelier case was the decline of leaning to the Left clubs: Colo-Colo suddenly was not so great as traditionally it was. There was already a champion, who never won anything before, so the changes in Chilean football started earlier than those in Uruguay and Peru. They started, but they hardly positive – it was more a case of using the vacuum left after traditional powers declined for whatever reason. And the nickname of the 1976 champions jokingly suggests precisely that: ‘Ruleteros’ (the Roulette players, the gamblers) won. That is Everton (Vina del Mar).

The name clearly indicates origins: back in 1909 a group Anglo-Chilean teenagers dreaming football at the Chilean Pacific coast organized their own club and named it after the club supported by their very English fathers. In theory, the Liverpudian derby can be fully recreated in South America: only Everton has to travel to the Atlantic coast and to another country, to challenge Liverpool (Montevideo). In reality, they had to settle for more immediate rivals, which in Chile, like everywhere in South America, often have English names. Everton’s derby developed with their neigbours: Santiago Wanderers (Valparaiso). It represents bitter rivalry between old and poor city, Valparaiso, vs rich and glamorous one, Vina del Mar. But that is local – on larger scale, Everton were just one more provincial club dwarfed by the ‘grands’ from the capital.

But Everton were special – they won 2 Chilean championships in 1950 and 1952, becoming the most successful provincial club in Chile and very likely in the whole South America. Their victories were ancient history by 1976, so the Chilean championship mirrored Peru and Uruguay this year. Everton played well enough, but ended with equal points with Union Espanola (Santiago). Just like in Peru, final play-off was scheduled to decide the new champions. Again like Peru, the final opposed smaller, yet, traditionally stronger than provincial clubs, team from the metropolitan (Callao is separate city, but really merged with Lima) to true provincials. Unlike Peru, but like the Uruguayan Liverpool, the intruders were old club, alaways in the shadows of bigger rivals. In Chile, like Peru and Uruguay, small clubs and particularly provincial ones excited largely for variety. But not this year: the first final ended in a 0-0 tie and second one was played, which Eveton won 3-1 and grabbed their third title.

Union Espanola – fighting to the end, but failing. Clubs from capital cities were doomed to failure in 1976.

Champions after almost quarter of a century. Second row, from left: Humberto Lopez, Angel Brunell, Erasmo Zuñiga, Julio Nuñez, Guillermo Azocar, Leopoldo Vallejos. Bottom: Sergio Gonzalez, Guillermo Martinez, Jorge Spedaletti, Mario Salinas, Jose Luis Ceballos.

Vina del Mar may have reputation for glamour and sophistication, but these boys a pretty much a cliché of Latin Americans with so many moustaches. No doubt, their long hairs helped winning the title.

The real strength of the team is hard to evaluate. Mario Galindo, Julio Nunez, Humberto Lopez, Leopoldo Vallejos, Carlos Caceres, Mario Salinas, Jose Luis Ceballos… surely legends in Vina del mar, but unknown outside Chile. Sergio Ahumada was the only known name, providing class. Ahumada is perhaps unique player – wherever he went, he won a championship, and he frequently moved from club to club. Despite their origins, there was not a single player with English name in Everton.

By itself, glorious season for Everton, but there was something more – they contributed to the reshuffling of South American football. Smaller and provincial clubs were rising and breaking old hegemonies in Peru, Chile, Uruguay. 1976 is significant for that long lasting change. The new champions may have been accidental, but their example was to be followed by others.