The Opposition Doc of the Week

The Opposition

The story of a surreal episode in the history of the World Cup concerning the second leg of the play-off match for the 1974 tournament between Chile and the Soviet Union. What transpired were some of the most bizarre scenes ever witnessed in an international football fixture. BT Sport 2, Tues, Oct 3rd 14.00

The venue was the National Stadium in Santiago. The date was November 13th 1973, just two months after the violent military coup that swept General Pinochet to power. Chile was a country in turmoil. People lived in fear as the new junta rounded up anyone who they suspected of being sympathetic to the old regime. Thousands were taken in and held in centres like the National Stadium as tales of rape, torture and murder abounded.

It is against this backdrop that the bizarre events outlined in the The Opposition are played out. Directed by Ezra Edelman and Jeff Plunkett for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, it is both a sporting and a political tale. It reveals how much football means to all Chileans, what a unifying force it can be in times of trouble. It also reveals how much it meant to the Chilean team to represent their country and how difficult it was when some of them had relatives who had been imprisoned in the very place where they were due to play.


This remarkable story is largely told through the eyes of two of the most outspoken players in the squad, Carlos Caszely and Leonardo Veliz. Chile were playing off over two legs against the Soviet Union for a place in the World Cup finals which were due to take place in West Germany the following year. The first leg was played in Moscow just a few days after the coup itself. It ended goalless and was a massive humiliation for the Soviets who expected an easy victory on home soil.

Second leg

By the time the second leg came round in early November, the political temperature had gone up several degrees. Tales of rape, torture and murder had reached the outside world. Chile was fast becoming something of an international pariah.

It was well known that the National Stadium in Santiago was being used as a concentration camp to house Pinochet’s enemies. The Soviets voiced their disquiet about playing the game there and wanted it moved to a neutral venue in either Peru or Argentina. The Chilean football federation themselves even suggested that this might be a good idea, but Pinochet was determined to silence international disquiet with a show of normality – the game would be played at the National Stadium.


What followed was almost farcical and gives credence to the suggestion that the cancers afflicting FIFA in recent times are nothing new. Football’s world governing body sent a delegation to inspect the venue. They found nothing untoward even though it has since been proven that there were up to 7,000 political prisoners being held within the stadium complex at the time. The game was to proceed as planned.

Farcical

The Soviets were outraged and refused to travel. They sent a letter to FIFA explaining that "For moral considerations, Soviets cannot at this time play in the stadium of Santiago, splashed with the blood of the Chilean patriots". The result was one of the most unusual and farcical scenes ever witnessed on a football pitch as, with no opposition, the Chilean players rolled the ball into an empty net to book their passage to the finals. Both Veliz and Caszely, two of the most politicised members on the Chilean team, speak of their shame in being involved in the incident and how they felt they were just puppets of FIFA and the Pinochet regime.


Chile travelled to the finals in West Germany the following year but, after being drawn in a group with the hosts, Australia and East Germany, they failed to win a game and exited the tournament at the end of the first round. In a deeply disturbing sequence, Caszely reveals that his mother was tortured so he would not speak out against the government during his time in Europe.

For him now, and for a whole generation of Chileans perhaps, the red jersey worn by the football team is symbolic of the blood spilt during those dark times.

Images: Getty


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