I’ve been looking into the history of Uruguayan football over the last few days as we scurry around to get UruguayNow ready for public consumption (less than a week to go!). Unfortunately my favourite story won’t be featured but it’s one I really want to tell so, I’m gonna tell it right here!
First off, a bit of background. Uruguay were the first team to ever feature black players in an international game, international tournament and in the World Cup. In 1916 they took two black players, both great grandchildren of slaves, to Chile and the tournament that would become the Copa America. When they defeated Chile 4-0, with Gradín, one of the black players, having an absolute blinder, Chile asked that the game be anulled. Their reason; because Uruguay had black players in the team. Notion ignored, Uruguay went on to win the tournament. When they went to Brazil in 1919 for another Copa America it was the first time that many of the black population in Brazil had seen a player of their own colour. Slavery had only been abolished in 1885 (fifty years after Uruguay, and England) and Brazil were well behind in terms of integration. Black players were completely banned from their leagues in 1910 and even when they were allowed to join a few years later they had to put rice powder on their faces so that the supporters wouldn’t realise. Flamengo, current champions in the Brazilian league, wouldn’t have a single black player on their books until 1936. Uruguay were well ahead of their time and Gradín who played in that tournament in Brazil became a massive hero, in particular, for Pelé.
After that, Uruguay found a new hero, a guy called José Andrade. He could play as a fullback, through the middle or on the wings, and having grown up on the streets, had a catalogue of crafty skills. In 1924 Uruguay went to Paris for the Olympics. They were the first team from South America to compete and absolutely stormed the competition. European football was all about strength and brawn, and this was something else entirely, they breezed through their opposition, scoring goal after goal. It is often thought that this is the beginning of modern football where the street skills of South America met the more tactical approach of Europe. José Andrade became a phenomenom during this tournament, being dubbed the ‘Black Marvel’ and the ‘Black Pearl.’ After the tournament ended he stayed in Paris where he became a fixture of the bohemian and cabaret circuit that was so popular at this time, showing off all the things he had learnt during Carnival in Montevideo. He was a master on the drums, violin and tambourine. He was also a complete alcoholic, which would eventually be his undoing.
This is Andrade serving up a couple of beers behind the bar
Uruguay would go on to win the 1928 Olympics and 1930 World Cup, both with Andrade in the side. It’s one of the things I really like about Uruguay, there seemed to be less division between classes. Even in the height of the slave trade whites would go down to the promenade where the blacks would be dancing and playing drums, and they would join in. The same seems to have happened with football. It was brought over by the English in the late 19th century but as soon as the teams (who were first constituted of bunches of students or railway workers or German immigrants) began letting anyone join they really did let anyone, as opposed to the Brazilians, and I’m sure many other nations.