Have you been staying up until 2am, maybe even gone 3? I have. The Copa América has been on the box and its good stuff. Peru’s timeless shirts, Marathon doing bits for Ecuador’s offerings, and Wuilker Faríñez doing God’s work in goal for Venezuela – or God doing Faríñez’s work, it has often been hard to tell. In La Vinotino’s first two games, they managed to concede five times without the opposition actually being able to convert goals into numbers on the scoreboard. Four were ruled out by our lord and saviour VAR and one for a foul in the build-up. But we’re not here to talk about the Copa, not really. More how that lovely continent, filled with its politically engaged fans and scintillating football culture, has every now and then blessed us below the Premier League, as well as our esteemed partners in Ireland.
So here’s The Terrace’s top three brushes with Latino Footballing Royalty…………………….
3. Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna Lynch and Cork
If you have ever played FIFA or Football Manager long enough to be graced with regens, you’ll notice their coded inability to provide us South Americans with the much easier to remember nicknames we are familiar with, such as Pelé, or condensed names like Lionel Messi instead of Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini. We have Spanish naming customs to thank for the string of first and surnames but said customs may mean you missed out on Che Guevara’s Irish ancestry. That’s right, the Argentine revolutionary who is famed for his exploits in Cuba, Congo, and Bolivia, had veins in which “flowed the blood of the Irish rebels,” said his father, the great-great-great-grandson of Patrick Lynch.
Patrick Lynch was an Irish landowner in Rio de la Plata and he left some legacy and a whole host of notable descendants, the most famous of which was Che Guevara, who had a strong affinity with his Galway roots. In 1962, Jim Fitzpatrick, most famous for producing the iconic image of Che, met him in a bar in Kilkee. “I asked him about his Irish roots because he told me his granny was Irish,” Fitzpatrick said. “his great-granny, Isabel, was from Galway but he told me his ancestors were from Cork.”
Cuba was a particularly popular destination with football teams in Latin America during that era, and in 1963, Brazilian side Madureira SC toured Cuba, winning all five of their matches on the island. The club from Rio finished their tour with a 3-2 win in Havana, watched by the man himself. Fifty years later, Madureira released an anniversary shirt to celebrate their famous meeting.
In what is now known as Che's Motorcycle Diaries, he noted down that he had coached football throughout his travels around South America to fund his journey, and he himself was a goalkeeper, taking part in a game in a Peruvian leper colony he and his travelling companion, Alberto Granado, were volunteering at.
2. Sócrates – Garforth Town
In 2003, Simon Clifford bought Garforth Town of the Northern Counties East Football League First Division and said he wanted them from the tenth tier of the English football pyramid to the Premier League. Sixteen years later, the club play in the Northern Counties East Football League Premier Division. It is safe to say the ambition was unfulfilled. Clifford himself stepped aside from the project after three years of managing them, though he did admirably achieve two promotions in his time in charge. Most impressively, however, was one signing he managed to make. One that stood out far and beyond any others.
As Andrew Downie recalls in his book Doctor Sócrates, “in November 2004, in one of the more memorably interludes, the 60-year old Sócrates came out of retirement to play for Garforth Town in the ninth tier of English football. Garforth’s owner Simon Clifford was a keen Brazil fan and devotee of futebol salão or futsal.
“Sócrates signed up to play a few games but the bitter cold got to him and his only appearance came during the last 13 minutes of Garforth’s 2-2 draw against Tadcaster Albion.
“The pair travelled around the British Isles giving football clinics every day and drinking every night, and together they plotted a revolution in world football.”
In September 2005, Sócrates and his then-wife Maria Adriana Cruz had a baby boy and named him Fidel after the Cuban president that he held in such high regard. Six years later and now married to Kátia Bagnarelli, Sócrates went to Cuba for his honeymoon and had planned to meet with Castro to discuss coaching the national team and interview Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, but neither materialised. Perhaps if it had, Sócrates could have regaled Castro with his tale of his time in Garforth and Castro his once sidekick and confidant’s Irish roots and brief forays into the sport. Imagine that, two Latin American giants discussing the lower echelons of British football.
1. Diego Maradona – Sheffield United
Also frequenting Cuba around the time was another Fidel and Che devotee, Diego Armando Maradona, adorned with the former’s face tattooed on his leg and the latter on his arm. Twenty years earlier, however, and it wasn’t Havana and Latin American socialism appealing to Dieguito, but Yorkshire and The Blades. That’s right, the proponent of the Hand of God nearly turned out at Bramall Lane in red and white stripes.
In 1978, Harry Haslam, who managed the club from 1978-1980, was impressed by Maradona whilst on a scouting expedition to Argentina. The Argentine was just 17-years old and the £200,000 deal would have been excellent value for money – somewhere between Martin Peters’ British transfer fee record of the same amount in 1970, and West Brom’s £500,000 purchase of David Mills from Middlesbrough – but the additional fees were deemed too much by the club. Maradona went on to win a cup double at Barcelona, two Serie A titles, two domestic cups, and the UEFA Cup at Napoli, and the 1986 FIFA World Cup. David Mills, despite becoming the first half million-pound footballer, moved to Sheffield Wednesday for just £30,000 three years later and never pulled the shirt on for England.
Thirty years later, Maradona was again being linked with a move to an English club, this time as a Director of Football. It was reported by Arabianbusiness.com that Maradona’s lawyer Angel Oscar Moyano had exchanged emails stating his client had offered “his mediation for signing players of top level, who with the support of Diego Armando Maradona, will be ready to come to Portsmouth.” A couple of days later, El 10 rebuffed the claims, saying, “in no way would I abandon ship.”
So there we have it, the top three Latinos on The Terrace: Che Guevara and Cork, Sócrates and Garforth Town, and Diego Maradona’s dance with Sheffield United and Portsmouth.
Who did we miss? Who was your favourite Latino in the Football League?
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