Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Travellers Tales - Santiago de Chile, Chile

    Regardless of where you go, you tend to find football grounds in the same place. You need to head out away from the city centre, away from the places popular with the upper classes, and out into the suburbs. Almost always as well, these suburban areas will be a little bit past their prime, and will definitely not be the type of places the travel guides tell you to go. These are not suburbs in the British sense, where the houses get bigger and more expensive with distance from the city centre. Instead they are residential areas for working people, and almost always the football ground is hidden away.

    In Santiago the Estadio Nacional is hidden away like this. Although the actual distance from the downtown area is not so great, there are no big shops and offices on the Avenida Carlos Dittborn. Instead there is high-density housing and flats - with lots of elderly people and lots of dogs - and then almost by accident you hit the Coca-Cola signs. Now you know you are near a football stadium. Like them or hate them, Coca-Cola has made their image synonymous with football and when you reach a major football venue you will see that famous red and white lettering.

    And here, at the junction of Carlos Dittborn and Marathon was a major football venue, one of only 16 very special places on our planet. This place - standing partially hidden by the dull grey mist, with the vast snow-capped Andes peeking through behind - had once held a World Cup Final. Sure, that was 40 long years ago, but the fact remains that Vava, Amarildo, Zagallo and both the magical Garrincha and Nilton and Djalma Santos had played here, and had seen off Czechoslovakia 3:1. And had won the World Cup. This place is as important to football history as the Bernabéu or the Azteca or the Maracana. And I was standing in front of it.

    Then the security guards came out. Someone did not like me being here, and certainly did not want me taking photographs. There were two guards - both armed with quite evil looking revolvers - and one of them was talking to me in Spanish. 'Turistica' I said, hoping that this would let me get through, or at least away. But it did not seem to work. About all I could understand was 'no photograph' and then 'documents'. Now I thought I was in trouble.

    The younger guard called on his walkie-talkie, and I saw a third guard riding over on a mountain bike. Was I being arrested?

    I had two reasons for coming here. First of all as I wrote above, this place had held a World Cup Final and therefore it was a place to visit. But this stadium was also famous - or infamous - for something else.

    In 1970, Salvador Allende had been elected President of Chile as the head of a loose Socialist coalition. For the next two years he set about remodelling Chile, nationalising the vast copper mining industries and redistributing land so that the millions in the desert and antiplano, oppressed by absentee landlords, could take control of their lives. His reforms were popular at home amongst the poor, but hated by the ruling classes and their American friends who were losing money everyday. But he could not control inflation, and as his coalition prevaricated over whether it was Marxist or simply socialist, the armed forces started to make plans to overthrow him.

    Late in 1973 they did just that, with American intelligence and military support, and with British made aircraft used to attack the Presidential palace, a coup d'etat was instigated. Allende himself was found dead inside the palace - suicide said the army, murdered said the rest of the world. Within days General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte had become supreme commander of Chilean forces and dictator of Chile. He would remain in total power for 16 long, brutal years, and even today his spectre hangs over the whole country. Taxi drivers still point out "Pinochet's Hotel" on the way to Providencia and Bellavista (the upmarket restaurant and business districts of modern Santiago) where countless hundreds of ordinary people suffered and many died at the hands of Pinochet's torturers and henchmen. But that came slightly later on, when even Pinochet could not conduct his barbarity in public.

    In the first few months of the dictatorship thousands of left wing teachers, students, trade unionists and workers were rounded up by military hit squads. What happened to thousands of these people remains a mystery - many were picked up by helicopter and flown to the arid far north where they were murdered within days as part of the insidiously named 'Caravan of Death' well out of the way of the mainstream media. But even more were herded into the Estadio Nacional.

    Inside the stadium, in the same place where Garrincha had made history just 11 years before, hundreds of men, women and children were imprisoned and interrogated. Pinochet's assassins were not particularly sophisticated in their methods. Protest singers had their fingers smashed and broken, and were then forced to play guitar for their captors. Women and children were raped in front of their husbands and fathers - even then though they could be considered lucky. Many, many more were taken from the pitch and stands down below into the bowels of the stadium never to be seen again.

    And now I was here, standing outside this former torture camp, taking pictures of what was obviously still a sensitive place, and for all intents and purposes in the custody of some Chilean Interior Security force. My mind raced through all the things I had written about Chile before, and remembered relating some of this story in passing before in an article about Havelange. Had the Chilean security services read that I wondered? Was I now on some sort of 'blacklist'?

    The guard on the bike ushered me forward and on towards the stadium main concourse. He was obviously talking to someone on his walkie-talkie about me, and again I picked up the words 'photograph' and 'no documents'. Once we reached the stadium I was taken to a locked gate and another guard pointed for me to go inside. Behind was an elevator, which I rather stupidly entered, not wanting to upset the gun toting guards in the slightest. No one got into the elevator with me, and I was quite relieved when the door slammed shut behind me.

    From outside I heard 'Quattro, Senőr' - I was more than happy to be going up in this place.

    The lift obviously was not used very much, and after much deliberation I pressed button 4. After some squeaking and some very slow progress I reached floor four, right at the top of the stadium. I stepped out very slowly; I was half-expecting more armed guards, but was greeted instead by Jaime, a tanned, happy man in his late 30's.

    Jaime was a very amiable, softly spoken man who spoke much better English than my appalling Castillan Spanish. He met me with a warm handshake and asked me, very nicely, what I was doing here.

    I explained - as politely as I could muster - that I was trying to take one photograph of the stadium, seeing as it was such a famous football venue. I mentioned the 1962 finals; I mentioned Garrincha and Nilton Santos and Elias Figueroa and Ivan Zamarano and anyone else he could have heard of. Just before I started going on about The Beatles, the Queen, Bobby Charlton and Michael Owen, he smiled and said "You need to sign form - photos are OK, but you cannot sell photos."

    Suddenly the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders - I was a free man again! It turned out that all the guards had been trying to tell me (a little too menacingly perhaps) was that photography was only allowed once I had promised not to sell the photographs I took. Two minutes later, I had signed a form promising just that, although at that point I would probably have signed a form pledging my soul to FIFA, my internal organs to Big Joâo and my ever lasting love to Man Utd (although I may have made a run for it rather than sign the last one…)

    Jaime then set about explaining that now I had a free and perpetual right to film or photograph anything in the stadium, I had roaming access to all parts of the complex, and could also have a potted history in Spanish and two rubber key rings. Seeing as I had come here to write an article for WCA about torture camps and South American fascists, had been convinced that the security guards were Secret Police, and that Jaime was about to pull my teeth out in his office, I was quite taken aback by this genuinely nice man and his assistant taking the time to explain to a crazy gringo tourist what was going on. Still I did not spend too long hanging around the stadium - especially near the security guards.

    After a quick poke around in the Presidential box (I had used the Presidential elevator it turned out) and some photographs outside, I flashed my newly acquired documentation at the gate house and returned to the street outside.

    Nonetheless, no matter what was actually going on, I still left the Estadio Nacional with quite a chill. Graffiti dotted around the ground seemed to tell a different story. The typical football stuff was still there - 'Colo Colo' being a favourite, especially painted about two metres high on the wall - but occasionally you could spot the word 'desaparecidos'.

    The desaparecidos are the 'disappeared', the victims of Pinochet who were never found, and once I had been to this still scary place there was really only one other place in Santiago to visit.

    The Cementerio General is about two miles north of downtown Santiago, in the rundown barrio of Recoleta. It could never be described as a pleasant walk - passing up a dusty, diesel filled street - but at least you get to see how the ordinary people of this most cosmopolitan of South American cities live.

    Just inside the secondary entrance of the cemetery stands one of the most impressive and moving monuments anywhere in the world. Surrounded by rocks, trees, shrubs and single, haunting dated photographs of people long lost, there is a huge slab of marble, naming all of the 'disappeared' and murdered victims of Pinochet - including Allende himself. I gave up counting at 3000, and instead focussed on the ages. Many of the people were still in their teens and early twenties, though some victims had also been much older.

    Surrounding the memorial is a peaceful red sandstone area, where people can sit and think about what the thing towering above them actually means. In a way I felt like an trespasser just being there, and felt as if I was intruding in the private grief that others there was obviously feeling. While I was there, an old man came by and simply stood and stared at one of the names; another man, visibly upset, parked his pickup truck right next to the memorial, tried to walk up to the memorial but then ran back to his truck and drove away, still unable to come to terms with what had happened.

    But I realised I had seen all this before, albeit on a smaller - but not less moving - scale. When I started this journey I had written about football in the north west of England where I live, and have written many times about Liverpool. There at Anfield is a similar memorial, this time to people who died at Hillsborough. Still from time to time you see people staring at the names remembering happier times, or people trying to face up to the memorial and what had happened, but failing yet again. There you see the same young ages, all eighteen's and the like, and it makes you think that there are things in life more important than this game. People often criticise Bill Shankly for saying that football was more important than life and death, but he did not really mean that. He meant that football is the most important thing in many people's lives, and to many, many people all over the world it is.

    After all this, I decided that I had had quite enough of football for a while, but that could not last for very long. On the way back to my hotel my taxi driver wanted to talk about the Intercontinental Cup, and especially Colo Colo against Milan ("We were robbed" was the gist of what he was saying), and I joined in by lamenting the fact that Liverpool had lost to Flamengo and Independiente. "Zico" he said with a smile….

    And in that afternoon I had seen the best and worst of football. On one hand I had been to a World Cup Final venue that had a part time job as a torture camp, but now could have an understanding with a man I had never met before as we wrung our hands at the failure of our clubs to win a pretty meaningless competition. Of course we could have discussed Star Wars or Coca-Cola or Andy Warhol or anything else famous around the world, but we didn't, we talked about football. And any of you could have the same conversation the whole world over. That is why I think I like, no I love, football.



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