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
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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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
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