Saturday, May 5, 2012

Peru more or less ranks fifth in South America, but let move them one place up the scale: Peru won the 1975 South American championship. A cluster of stars made the Peru successful since 1969, but what was behind Cubillas, Sotil, and Chumpitaz? Well, Peruvian clubs played quite well in Libertadores, although not exactly contenders. To the world, Peruvian domestic football was largely unknown. In the Andes the game suffered the universal South American problems: lack of money, exodus of star players, outdated tactics, old stadiums, and tendency of concentration in one-two big cities. In 1973 the Peruvian federation decided to enlarge the first division in order of having more provincial clubs at top level. Very likely the real idea was to help the big Lima clubs, rather than the official line of helping development of national football: big clubs playing at provincial towns normally increase attendance, hence, the revenue. However, in South America this is more of a wishful thinking for resolving chronic financial troubles: travel was expensive and difficult, and going to the provinces hardly ever brought money to suffering clubs. National federations have forever to maneuver between the demands of the big clubs and the pressure of the many provincial clubs, who feel under-represenation and administrative suffocation. Anyway, Peru increased the top league from 18 to 22 clubs for the 1974 season, and 6 teams were promoted in 1973 to fill the new spots plus the two vacated ones by relegated teams. Union Huaral was among the newly promoted – it was sheer luck, for they were did not end first or second, the normal promotion spots at the final table. After the increase, the league was reduced – to 16 clubs in 1976 – but the new boys managed to escape relegation. Escape? There was no escape – Union felt at home in First Division. More than at home: they won the championship! Actually, it was not easy victory - the provincials were tied up with Sport Boys (Callao) at the end of the season and final championship play-off was scheduled. This match Union won 2-0 and took the trophy to Huaral.

‘Naranjeros’ are relatively young club – founded in 1947, which is years after the ‘grand’ Peruvian clubs were established. New clubs very rarely have big impact in countries with old football clubs, and for years Union Huaral played the expected role – small, insignificant provincial club. Usually such clubs have occasional success only in difficult times, when the big traditional powers suffer major economic decline. To a point, it was the case in 1976, which makes it difficult to really figure how good were the champions. Just like in Uruguay, it appeared to be a lucky occasion, largely due to big clubs weaknesses. And similarly to Uruguay, although not on the same scale of importance, the year was historic in Peruvian football: the chance given to provincial clubs proved worthy, they were competitive enough, and the young club from Huaral won their very first title, breaking the tradition.

Brave new champions: top, from left: Carlos Campaña, Eusebio Acazuso, Hipólito Estrada, Walter Escobar, César Cáceres y Luis Pau.
Bottom: Mario Gutiérrez, Pedro Ruíz, Víctor Espinoza, Alejandro Luces y Eduardo Rey Muñoz.

No famous players here, so it is impossible for an outsider to estimate the strength of the team. Most likely, the boys were relatively equal to most Peruvian teams, and enthusiasm propelled them to final victory. The club was not to become major force in Peruvian football, but rather mid-table first division team. Even if only that, it was great – they managed to establish themselves among the top Peruvian clubs. For young provincial club – well done. Peruvian football history added one more name to the list of champions.