‘The game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football in the history of the game…’ No, this wasn’t David Coleman talking about Sunderland’s performance against Burton Albion at home in 2018, he was referring to Chile vs Italy in the 1962 World Cup.
The 1962 World Cup had already got off to quite a brutal start. The first 8 games of the tournament generating four sendings off, three broken legs, a couple of cracked ribs, a fractured ankle and a partridge in a pear tree. And this was with no animosity between nations or warring factions in the press.
So on to the game that would be referred to in later years as The Battle of Santiago. A game where the fire had been stoked by the press from both Chile and Italy. The gauntlet had been laid down in the Italian newspapers before the tournament began by criticising the decision to hold the tournament in Chile. They also described the capital as a ‘backwater’ and claimed the Chilean population were prone to ‘malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism and poverty’. Wow. Could you imagine journalism like that in 2018? The Chileans were out for justice; the journalists involved had to flee the country and unfortunately an innocent Argentinian journalist was caught up in a bit of mistaken identity and got himself a beating.
To be fair, the Chilean press did retort to these slanderous statements and said Italians were ‘oversexed drug addicts’.
So it was game on. The press of the two retrospective nations were at war and vigilantes were running wild in Chile looking for Italians. But the game was going to be an exhibition of skill and flair. Wasn’t it? Football is bigger than everything, right? Wrong.
Twelve seconds into the game and the tone was set. The first foul was given. And we are talking 1962 here so it must have been a good clatter for a foul to be given. The Chileans were revved up but crossing the line, spitting in the faces of the Italians and provoking them to react. And it worked. After four minutes, the Italians were down to 10 men. English referee Ken Aston was taking charge of this one and he dismissed Ferrini for Italy in the early stages. However he refused to leave the pitch until armed police had to come onto the pitch and forcibly remove him. This was the first of four times armed police would have to enter the field of play.
Ahhh Ken Aston. Poor bloke. He was drafted into this game as a late replacement as the Italians weren’t keen on the Spanish referee that had been appointed due to the Hispanic connection with Chile. He was in a no win situation here, like trying to mediate in the middle of a battle at the O.K. Corral. Ken did think about abandoning the game but was too concerned for the safety of the Italians. One of the assistant referee’s he was given was also a Holocaust survivor. On his way to the gas chamber, a guard asked if anybody was a referee. He took his chance as a referee and survived the rest of the war. At least one good thing came out of it for Ken though, he went on to invent the yellow and red card system we see in football today.
So after a 10 minute delay while Ferrini was removed from the field by the rozzers, play continued. I say play in the loosest sense as there was no play here. This wasn’t a game. This was a war zone.
The Chileans had come to fight. Literally. Leonel Sanchez was the son of a professional boxer and was lined up for Chile that day. He struck in the first half. Oh, no, not a goal. A nice clean crisp left hook right on the nose of the Italian captain, breaking it in the process. He got away with it and no action was taken. That was Round 1 though. Round 2 came in the second half when he’s let his hands go again on the Italian right back, Mario David. This time though he’s provoked a reaction. David has retaliated with a tackle which has caught Sanchez in the shoulder. Whallop. Off goes Mario, too.
Chile did go on to beat a nine man Italy 2-0 in the game but not after they had kicked seven colours out of each other. A Chilean FA member said the game was like a rodeo with players having to take the aerial evasion action to avoid doing themselves a bad mischief.
It didn’t just end on the pitch that day either. Italians were banned from restaurants, bars and supermarkets in Chile, while the Italian Army had to be stations outside of the Chilean embassy in Rome to prevent further retaliation.
And that is why B is for the Battle of Santiago.
Anthony Giles – HFR Senior Editor