Carlos Caszely: the Colo-Colo legend who fought in open rebellion against Augusto Pinochet

Carlos Caszely: the Colo-Colo legend who fought in open rebellion against Augusto Pinochet

SMOKE BILLOWED FROM THE PALACIO DE LA MONEDA in the heart of Santiago de Chile as fighter jets circled menacingly above. Salvador Allende was in the last few hours of his presidency, and ultimately his life, as the Chilean armed forces with CIA backing closed in.

Just three years into his term the economy was ailing, inflation rocketing, and strikes occurred on an almost daily basis. The enemies of the world’s first democratically-elected Marxist could smell blood. The embattled Allende declined all offers of safe passage and, in a final radio address to the nation, defiantly declared: “These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain.”

Rather than face the humiliation and inevitable torture at the hands of his enemies, Allende placed an AK-47 – allegedly a gift from Cuban president and friend Fidel Castro – to his chin and fired two bullets into his skull. This particular 11 September, in 1973, ushered in a period of brutal military rule that lasted almost two decades, with opponents of the new regime silenced in barbaric fashion.

Twenty-three years before that coup d’état that toppled Allende, Carlos Humberto Caszely Garrido was born in the Chilean capital. Caszely, who has Hungarian roots on his father’s side, started his youth career with Colo-Colo. His debut came at the age of 17, and over the next six years the prolific striker helped Chile’s most successful club to two league titles.

In May 1973, Colo-Colo almost reached the pinnacle of South America’s football mountain when they faced Independiente in the Copa Libertadores final. Guided by manager Luis Álamos, who had taken the Chilean national team to England for the 1966 World Cup, Colo-Colo faced the Argentines over two legs, first travelling to Avellaneda. Independiente were a fearsome force in the first half of the 1970s and the incumbents of South America’s most important club trophy. The first leg was a 1-1 draw, and the return in Chile’s capital once again produced a stalemate, this time a goalless one.

In the era before away goals counted, a third encounter was required on neutral soil. Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario, the scene of the first World Cup final in 1930, was chosen. The Argentines took the lead in the Uruguayan capital after 25 minutes, although Colo-Colo pegged them back just 14 minutes later. Caszely, the top scorer in that year’s competition, reacted to a flick-on before sublimely lobbing the advancing goalkeeper with his right foot from 18 yards.

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Sadly for Caszely, Independiente scored what would ultimately prove to be the winner with 107 minutes on the clock, breaking Chilean hearts after five hours of football across three countries. To underline their dominance, Independiente would go on to win the next two versions of the Libertadores, making them the only team in the history of the competition to win four titles in a row, a feat which surely won’t be matched in the modern era. Just six months after defeating Colo-Colo, they underlined their prowess by beating Juventus and claiming the first of their two Intercontinental Cups.

Luckily for Caszely, his ability offered an escape route, and he would spend the five years following the coup plying his trade in Spain, a country which at the time was ironically in the final throes of its own dictatorship. A year with Levante was followed by four seasons in Barcelona with Espanyol before he returned to the club of his heart in 1978 – Colo-Colo.

His second spell with El Eterno Campeón was arguably Caszely at his peak as he won three consecutive golden boot awards between 1979 and 1981. Three more league titles also followed, adding to the two won during his first spell, and more than a century of goals were notched as Caszely became a bonafide club legend. He enjoyed a brief spell with Ecuador’s Barcelona SC in 1986 before retiring. 

In 1969, just two years after his professional debut with Colo-Colo, Caszely earned international recognition with Chile, beginning a colourful 16-year association with the national team. To qualify for the 1974 World Cup, Chile had to overcome Peru over three games to advance to an intercontinental playoff with the Soviet Union – the first time a European and South American nation had faced off in such a manner. On 26 September, just 15 days after the coup, Chile travelled to Moscow and, upon arrival, were detained at the airport for several hours. A drab, goalless first leg was played out in freezing cold conditions, the temperature at one stage plummeting to minus four degrees. 

In November the two sides were set to meet to decide who would progress to the tournament in West Germany. The Soviets initially requested a neutral venue, refusing to play in the capital’s Estadio Nacional, which had become a de facto concentration camp in the first few months of Pinochet’s reign. At one point more than 6,000 prisoners were held in the stadium, with music blaring from the speakers to mask the terrified screams of those being tortured and bludgeoned to death.

In response to the Soviet claims, FIFA dispatched a delegation to Santiago to conduct an investigation that claimed that “life [was] back to normal”. The Soviets refused to budge; the Chileans were apoplectic with rage at the insinuations. Eventually, Spain was agreed as a neutral venue but the Soviets pulled out of the tie regardless.

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Still, formalities had to be obeyed, and with a sparse crowd in attendance, a Chilean side kicked off the game, passing amongst themselves before the captain rolled the ball into an empty net. The referee halted proceedings after less than a minute and Chile were awarded a 2-0 walkover victory, thus ensuring their passage to West Germany. “It was a worldwide embarrassment,” declared Caszely about the match.

Chile faced hosts West Germany in their opening fixture of the 1974 World Cup, losing the game to a solitary Paul Breitner strike. However, the game is famous for the awarding of the first red card in World Cup history, shown to Carlos Caszely after 67 minutes. The moustachioed striker, who rarely wore shin pads as he believed it slowed him down, reacted following a forceful tackle from behind, one symptomatic of the era in which tricky forwards received little protection from referees. A far-from-subtle flying kick was launched in retaliation at the assailant, although it happened directly under the nose of the referee.

Caszely writhed in assumed faux agony in an attempt to elicit sympathy before gingerly rising to his feet. The shock on his face was palpable as the card, the same colour as his kit, was thrust in his face. He stood bemused with his hands on his hips before bowing his head and trudging off. In his absence his teammates drew 1-1 with East Germany and, with his suspension lifted in time for the final fixture of the group phase, Caszely returned for a goalless draw with Australia. With Caszely painted as somewhat of a villain, the Chileans were eliminated at the first hurdle.

International redemption of sorts came for Caszely in 1979 when he was named the best player at the Copa América after scoring three goals and helping Chile reach the final, where they would eventually lose to Paraguay. However, at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Caszely was back in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

The Chileans were first pitted against Austria in Oviedo, with their opponents taking a 21st-minute lead. Later in the first half, Caszely was felled following a purposeful run into the box. He dusted himself off to take the penalty but, wearing the unlucky number 13 shirt, dragged his shot wide of the post to the goalkeeper’s right-hand side.

Two further defeats at the hands of West Germany and Algeria saw Chile eliminated once again at the group stage, this time without a single point on the board. Caszely finished his international career in 1985 as his club career was winding down, with an impressive record of 29 goals in 48 caps, yet with two lamentable blotches on his record. 

In his 2014 book Golazo, Andreas Campomar described Caszely as being “as outspoken politically as he was audacious on the pitch”. Ideologically he aligned himself with the left and was a supporter of the Popular Unity party, an alliance formed in 1969 under whose banner Allende was elected in 1970.

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Caszely’s first encounter with Augusto Pinochet came prior to the 1974 World Cup, when the Chilean team met the dictator prior to leaving for Europe. “When we were all standing there the doors open and there comes a guy with a cape, dark glasses, and a hat. A cold shiver went down my back from seeing this Hitler-like looking thing, with five guys behind him. When he started coming closer I put my hand behind me and didn’t give it to him,” Caszely reflected. It was to be one of the first open gestures of defiance against the regime. 

Eleven years later, in 1985, Caszely once again came face-to-face with Pinochet. Chile’s leader criticised the player’s red tie, the colour synonymous with communism, making a motion with his fingers that he was about to cut it. “You may do it,” Caszely remarked, “but my heart will forever remain red.” 

Caszely was perhaps one of the more high-profile figures that opposed the junta, and while his fame, popularity and visibility may have afforded him a safety net, plenty of distinguished names suffered including folk singer Víctor Jara and the poet Pablo Neruda, who mysteriously died just 12 days after the coup in 1973.

Two years after Caszely had hung up his boots, another key moment occurred in Chile’s history. A plebiscite was called for 5 October 1988 following internal dissent from within the Chilean armed forces and national police, and external pressure from business interests and the international community. A ‘yes’ victory in the campaign would grant Pinochet an unopposed eight-year term, in which he vowed to rid Chile of the scourge of Marxism once and for all. A potential ‘no’ vote would trigger free and democratic elections and herald a return to democracy after almost 17 years of brutal military rule.

The regime expected an easy victory and underestimated the power of television, used cleverly by the ‘no’ campaign. In one broadcast, an elderly lady, who never told her family what had happened, recounted having been kidnapped, interrogated and tortured after the coup. Her name was Olga Garrido. A man entered the shot and declared that he agreed with her sentiments and that the lady was his mother. That man was Carlos Caszely. The ‘no’ campaign won with 56 percent of the votes and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Pinochet stepped down gracefully. In March 1990, Chile officially regained the democratic governance it had so appallingly lost 17 years earlier.

In 2009 Caszely attended an event at CONMEBOL’s headquarters, just outside Paraguay’s capital, Asunción. The list of 28 – which included legends such as René Higuita, Cafú and Teófilo Cubillas, as well as Caszely himself – were honoured for their contribution to the advancement of football on the South American continent – a fitting tribute to a colourful life both on and off the pitch.

By Dan Williamson 

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