Collectively, the three South American footballing giants, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, have been crowned World Champions on nine occasions. Between them they have competed in 11 of the 19 finals played.
The inaugural FIFA World Cup finals were hosted by the eventual winners and reigning Olympic champions Uruguay, who were crowned World Champions in 1930 after a 4-2 victory against Argentina in front of a 95,000 crowd in Montevideo. Having not competed in the finals of 1934 and 1938, Uruguay made their post-World War Two return to the competition twenty years and two finals later, where they repeated their triumph of 1930 in another all South American final, defeating hosts Brazil 2-1 in Rio de Janeiro.
With Brazil going into the match as overwhelming favourites, the 1950 final would go down as one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history. The game would also be remarkable due to the attendance of 200,000 spectators; a World Cup record that will surely never be broken.
Brazil, of course, would go on to win five of the following 14 competitions, becoming the first country to win the trophy away from their own continent, as a 17-year-old Pelé took the 1958 Swedish finals by storm. Meanwhile, Argentina would have to wait until a Buenos Aires final, 20 years later, to lift the ultimate prize in football – a feat they repeated in Mexico City in 1986.
“Today there will be a football match at Palermo; we believe it will be the first kick off ever given in Buenos Aires, and we understand that half the town will be there if the weather proves favourable.” The (Argentine) Standard, 25 May 1867.
By the 1860s, there was a thriving British community in Argentina. The country, incorporated into the United Kingdom’s informal empire, had seen an influx of British settlers stretching back almost 60 years. However, it was British investment in the development of the Argentine railway system that paved the way for the arrival of tens of thousands of migrant Victorian construction workers and civil engineers to Buenos Aires.
Railway workers, James and Thomas Hogg, were amongst the many who braved the 7,000-mile ocean crossing to the promise of a new life. And it would be the Yorkshire-born brothers whom, on 20 June 1867, organised an Association Football match in the Argentine capital – the first official match to be played on the continent of South America.
Having placed a notice in the Buenos Aires English language newspaper, The Standard, seeking to bring together fellow migrants with an interest in playing the game of football, the brothers Hogg, alongside three fellow northern Englishmen and railway workers, Thomas Jackson, Thomas Barlow Smith, and Walter Heald, went on to form Buenos Aires Football Club.
The inaugural match, played at the Buenos Aires Cricket Club Ground, in the capital’s neighbourhood of Palermo, was contested between 16 players, with each team wearing red and white caps, respectively. The game kicked off at 12:30pm and, finishing two hours later, it was reported that James Hogg’s Rojos triumphed with a 4-0 victory over the Blancos, captained by his older sibling Thomas.
South American football was born.
Whilst it was the Hogg brothers who had laid the footballing foundations in the new world, according to the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino, the crucial building blocks that enabled the advancement of the game were put in place by “the father of South American football” Alexander Watson Hutton.
As one of around 500,000 immigrants who had arrived in Argentina within a two-year period, the Glaswegian-born Edinburgh University graduate disembarked in Buenos Aires in 1882, initially to oversee the running of St. Andrews School. There he would introduce Association Football as a fundamental component of the school’s physical education programme. Shortly after, Watson Hutton would go on to found his own educational establishment, The English High School, where eventually, the Gorbals-born schoolmaster would create the now legendary Alumni Athletic Football Club (pictured).
Between 1900 and 1911, Alumni would be crowned Argentine Primera División champions on no less that ten occasions, their only blip coming in 1904 as they finished runners-up to Belgrano Athletic. This impressive run of success was a fitting tribute to Watson Hutton who had, on February 21, 1893, reformed the Argentine Association Football League. It was the first league to be recognised outside of Great Britain, and one which Hutton would preside over as president until his retirement in 1911.
The first decade of the 20th century would see the branching out of the Argentine railway development into neighbouring Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and beyond. The expansion of the railway brought with it association football to those countries, which in turn would be the catalyst for the further spread of the game across a continent and crucially, for the first ‘international matches’ to be organised and held across South America.
The second wave
Seeking to build upon the growth in popularity of the game, both in participation and as a spectator sport, in 1909, the Argentine and Uruguayan associations devised an ambitious plan to invite professional English clubs on an official footballing tour of both countries. In March that year, Everton Football Club received a letter from Frederick J. Wall, Secretary of the English Football Association, cordially inviting the club, who had finished as runners-up in the English First Division, to embark on a groundbreaking tour of Argentina and Uruguay.
Everton were requested by the FA to select a team of first class players to participate in a series of games in South America against several Argentine and Uruguayan clubs, as well as the 1909 English Second Division runners-up, Tottenham Hotspur. The North London club, as Everton before them, eventually agreed to take up the FA’s extraordinary offer.
The invitation, documented within the 1908-09 Everton Football Club Minutes Book, records the South American FA’s offer of payment for first class travel to the continent, as well as covering all hotel expenses for 20 days for the teams, players and two accompanying directors of the club. In accepting the invitation Everton would, alongside the Spurs team, write footballing history as the first clubs to undertake such an epic overseas football tour.
In April 1909, Everton Football Club registered 13 players who would take the 14,000-mile round trip from Southampton to Buenos Aires. Travelling alongside the chosen players, the Everton directors leading the party to Argentina, were Mr E. Bainbridge and Mr A. Wade.
The secretary of Everton confirmed the club’s decision to go ahead with the series of matches, noting the duration of the tour in his minutes as “to last nine weeks (three weeks travelling each way & 20 days in Argentina).”
With the offer accepted, Everton received notice from FA Secretary Mr. Wall, of the booking of berths for a party of 16, on a ship set to sail from Southampton to Buenos Aires on 14 May 1909. The 16-strong Everton party left Liverpool Lime Street Station for London Euston on 13 May, arriving in good time at Southampton docks for boarding upon the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company ship, RMS Aruguaya.
The Tottenham team were less prompt; rolling up at the docks only to find the steamer had cast off without them. Reportedly leaving them no other option but to appropriate a Southampton registered tugboat to pursue RMS Aruguaya down the Solent. The steamer eventually slowed to allow the undoubtedly sheepish Spurs party the opportunity to board the South America-bound ship.
On 5 June 1909, after three weeks at sea, football history was made when, within hours of the teams’ disembarkation at Buenos Aires, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur played out the first professional football match in South America – a 2-2 draw in front of 10,000 supporters in Palermo, the exact same suburb of the Argentine capital where, 31 years earlier, the Hogg brothers had organised the very first game of football. A fortnight later, Everton would inflict a 4-0 defeat on the North Londoners. Spurs’ only reverse in their seven games on the tour.
In just 20 days, the English clubs would face a hectic schedule coming up against Alexander Watson Hutton’s famous Argentine champions Alumni, who fielded Hutton’s son in both games. As well as matches played against Rosario, Argentinos, and an Argentine Football League XI, both teams would also travel to Montevideo to face a Uruguayan league representative side.
Whilst the crowds flocked in their thousands to see the home sides take on the might of English football, it was left to Mr. Bainbridge to keep the ardent supporters back in Liverpool informed of the progress of their team on the faraway continent. With the Liverpool Echo’s coverage of the tour, including match reports, based on the Everton director’s telegrammed daily diary.
The nine-week tour of South America undertaken by Everton and Tottenham was deemed a resounding success for all involved. Those 32 men were the second wave of football pioneers, following in the footsteps of the Hogg brothers, Thomas Jackson, Thomas Barlow Smith, Walter Heald, Alexander Watson Hutton and many more besides.
Fast forward almost 115 years exactly from the day Everton met Tottenham in Buenos Aires and again, it was the South American continent hosting the greatest footballing show on Earth.
Thankfully for all disciples of the beautiful game, for all those who have, and continue to wonder at the skill, style and tenacity of South American football, it is to these men, who brought with them a love of the sport to a far-flung continent, the South American football pioneers, who we should all be eternally grateful. They certainly have a lot to answer for.
By Neil Adderley. Follow @deneils