This article originally appeared in Issue 7 of The Football Pink which is available by clicking HERE
MARK GODFREY takes a look at the influence British immigrants had on the development of South American football, and more specifically, the familiar words and names that litter the game there.
Some of the most visible legacies left behind by the far-reaching clutches of the British Empire are the ubiquitous Anglo-Celtic names bestowed upon towns, cities, features and people in ‘honour’ of the countless politicians, industrialists, generals and slave owners who contributed to the appropriation of the many former colonies stretched across the globe.
However, one significant region of the world where the British largely failed to impose its will and wealth in the name of conquest was South America.
From the end of the 15th century when, with Papal approval, Spain and Portugal – the nautical superpowers of the day – drew up the Treaty of Tordesillas granting control of all lands outside Europe to them alone, South America was completely annexed by the two; their conquistadors first settling, then plundering the land and its natural resources for the benefit of their respective crowns.
Their rule lasted until the early 19th century, having spent 300 years quashing the diverse collection of Native Indian peoples and imposing the Latin language and culture throughout the continent. After the Wars of Independence – led by Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin – were won, the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 virtually guaranteed that no European country could aggress upon or interfere with the fledgling nations of North or South America without incurring military intervention from the United States. This, in turn, meant that the US were bound by the same agreement in respect of any existing European country or colony. While the doctrine was created primarily to protect the interests of the United States, it also worked out very nicely for the British who saw it as a way to develop and strengthen trade with the New World without having to devote considerable military resource to do so.
Although Britain’s exports to Latin America actually decreased after the Wars of Independence, trading between the two economic blocs remained hugely significant. A continual flow of British business people and migrant workers swapped home for the promise of riches on offer in the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Chile – South America’s three biggest importers of goods from the British Empire.
As thousands decamped from the motherland for a new life on the other side of the world, they took with them another import. It was nothing they could trade or manufacture, but a past time to bring some kind of semblance to the old country in this new, alien environment; a game that had disseminated rapidly through popular Victorian and Edwardian life – association football.
In the century following the Independence Wars, there were very few corners of South America that were untouched by the British and their culture in one form or another. The locals, much like the people of continental Europe before them, took an instant fascination with this unusual, but exhilarating sport. The expansion of the game was significantly aided by the fact that it required minimal equipment and could be played virtually anywhere – something that helped the game to spread not just through the educated and wealthy in private schools and elite social circles, but also amongst the poor who could improvise games in the streets and on wasteland in the more deprived areas of larger industrial towns and cities.
Nowhere was the British presence felt more than in Argentina where, even today, towns, districts and their football clubs bear the names of those who helped the proliferation of the game in its infancy.
Probably the most famous use of English terminology in Argentine football belongs to River Plate of Buenos Aires. The story goes that dock workers handling wooden crates bearing the words ‘River Plate’ – the Anglicised version of Rio de le Plata – would down tools and play impromptu games, inspiring the name to be chosen for a new club that arose from the merger of two others, Santa Rosa and La Rosales. Incidentally, clubs named River Plate are to be found in virtually all of the South America nation states.
Also in the Buenos Aires region are Velez Sarsfield and Banfield; two of many clubs that took inspiration from prominent figures in society around the time of their foundation. The town, and subsequently the team, of Velez Sarsfield was named after a politician and lawyer of Irish descent who drew up the Argentine Civil Code of 1869 – much of which still applies to this day. Banfield – the town named after Edward Banfield, first General Manager of the British-owned Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway – were formed in 1896 by Daniel Kingsland, a cattle exporter, and accountant George Burton, primarily as a cricket club until the burgeoning popularity of football quickly persuaded them to change focus.
In the city of Rosario, Colchester-born teacher and football pioneer Isaac Newell was responsible for the creation of the Colegio Comercial Anglicano Argentino and the Newell’s Old Boys Football Club named directly in his honour. From its early days of ex-teachers and pupils of the school making up the numbers it’s now more celebrated for being the club where the embryonic playing career of Lionel Messi was conceived.
Other clubs in Argentina to retain a British connection through their names include Claypole, Temperley (after textile merchant George Temperley) and Guillermo Brown, who were named after an Irish-born, Argentine admiral whose naval successes in the Independence Wars and his role in the creation of the Argentine Navy earned him national hero status. Sticking with the military theme, Club Atlético Douglas Haig were formed on Armistice Day, November 11th 1918, and carry the name of the controversial Field Marshal and senior First World War British commander who will forever be linked to the mass casualties and slaughter of the Somme, the Third Ypres and the ‘Big Push’.
Down in the Patagonia region in the south of the country, the influx of Welsh livestock farmers during the 19th century established a significant Welsh-speaking community (approximately 25,000 people still count the language as either their first or second language). The very Welsh-sounding town of Trelew has been the home of Racing de Trelew since 1920.
Across the Andes Mountains in Chile, the O’Higgins club of Rancagua were the product of merger in the 1950’s but retained the name of Chile’s founding father and Independence leader, Bernardo O’Higgins, whose paternal lineage can be traced to County Sligo in the north-west of Ireland. Smaller clubs carrying British surnames such as Carlos Walker and Tomos Greig can be found in the lower, regional leagues. Aside from clubs named after prominent – or otherwise – individuals, two famous football names from the great cities of Glasgow and Liverpool find themselves in Chile’s top divisions; Rangers from Talca (founded by a Scotsman) and Everton, who added the name of their home city Viña del Mar in 1950. It’s widely accepted that they named themselves after the Goodison Park club following their tour of Argentina in 1909.
Speaking of Liverpool, the Uruguayan version of the Merseyside Reds play predominately in blue and, as you can probably guess, were also given their moniker in deference to the English giants. They’re one of a number of clubs from Montevideo with British links; others being Montevideo Wanderers – the oldest in the country – and Albion. The latter was founded by 18-year-old Henry Lichtenberger, a devotee of Englishman William Leslie Poole – the father of Uruguayan football, first President of its football league and a man who encouraged the integration of the country’s diverse ethnic groups through participation in sport.
In Brazil, the continent’s largest and most inhabited country (it has experienced higher and later growth than its neighbours. Since 1920 it has risen almost sevenfold, from 30 million to its current figure of 203 million), the British influence in the early development of football is less obvious today. The belief was that Charles Miller – a Sao Paulo-born son of an ex-pat – introduced the game into Brazil after returning home from schooling in Southampton. However, revisionist theory states that in fact it is Scottish textile worker Thomas Donohue who should receive the credit for giving ‘jogo bonita’ to the Brazilians six months before Miller.
During Miller’s own playing career he turned out for the famous London amateurs Corinthian Club. It was their style of play that impressed a group of Sao Paulo railway workers enough to form what is now one of Brazil’s most famous clubs, Corinthians. In the same city, two now defunct clubs were formed in the Scottish community; Mackenzie College and Scottish Wanderers. Both competed in the Campeonato Paulista but as professionalism was forbidden, the professional Wanderers were banned in 1916 and folded almost immediately as a result.
The Bolivians adopted a different tack with their utilisation of the English language for their football clubs. Rather than using the names of people or places, they decided it would be more fun to go straight for the motto and the sobriquet; Always Ready, Blooming, Destroyers and the rather boastful The Strongest.
Elsewhere in South America you’ll find amateur sides Deportivo Wembley and Fair Play (Colombia) as well as Star Club (Ecuador).
As yet, no evidence can be found to support any British involvement in the naming of Peruvian club Deportivo Wanka.