Last night I attended a seminar at the Argentinian Embassy on ‘Football Diplomacy’. The theme was bridge-building through football and on the panel was Ossie Ardiles, one of the first overseas imports who made Britain his home notwithstanding the Falklands conflict.
Many years before him Bert Trautmann, a goalkeeper and German POW, was also accepted and acquired legendary status with fans of Manchester City in the 1950s.
His story is a epic one – a great middleweight boxer who earned the tag ‘The Mad Gaucho’ from our own and only recently passed away Terry Downes whose funeral he attended, and whose ring record is only bettered by his countryman Carlos Monzon.
He rated Dick Tiger as the best he very faced – “I hit him with my best shots, he did not go down, great fighter”. A shoulder injury that never went away meant he switched sports to football. Before Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, before Evita and the 1978 World Cup, he was part of the legendary Assassins FC de Montevideo that brought South American rhythmic football for the first time to these shores when they toured this country in 1977. Puffing on his trademark Monte Cristo, he allowed others to take centre stage but many like me – not least the senoritas – were in awe of the great man.
A Skype link was set up with Argentine national manager Jorge Burruchaga, 1986 Word Cup Winner, and Daniel Fresco the biographer of Sergio Kun Aguerro and a sports lawyer also spoke. It all got a bit confused when everyone seems to be translating at the same time but my very basic Spanish helped with some comprehension. It’s funny to think that back then in 1978 there were just the 2 Argentines and 2 Dutchmen at Ipswich, Arnold Muhren and Frank Thijssen playing at the top level.
Yet those that argue that the overseas invasion constrained our national team should take note that England did not even qualify for the 1974 or 1978 World Cups.
As the Argentine ambassador Carlos Sersale de Cerisano said, he was more of ambassador than him, to which Ossie quipped “I should get your salary then” …