One of the stranger and least defensible decisions of the people’s champ, however, was his regime’s commitment to military spending. It is said they spent some two billion dollars on Soviet equipment. The Chileans were worried, fearing a Peruvian campaign to retake the provinces lost in the War of the Pacific (1879 – ’83). No attack ever materialised, however, and Alvarado claimed his army had been bulked up solely for defence purposes, despite boasting that “the Chileans better stop their bullshit or i’ll be eating breakfast in Santiago.” Indeed, defence is the key word here, for it is the Peruvian defence in their infamous 1978 World Cup match against hosts Argentina that we are interested today in a story involving several fascist dictatorships and the execution of political prisoners.

The simple, repetitive task has always seduced pegamequemegusta. Polish the glass, pop in the ice, pour the fernet, open the coke, straw, serve, placemat, charge – far from being unrelenting drudgery, Sisyphysian frustration, it is liberating, giving the lie to that great obsession of soft-handed 20th century warblists whereby man must be rescued from the anaesthetising automaticity of the everyday. No, my dear gentle potential potters, Jesus was a carpenter, and twas whilst sanding an A-frame he coined that most famous phrase ‘The House of the Lord hath many rooms’. The body engaged, elbow-deep in swampy materiality, the minds wanders, blown about by the uplifts and depressions of its own lust and fancy. Yes, my pampered first world shirkers, work is freedom.

So felt Juan Velasco Alvarado as a lad, “living in dignified poverty as a shoeshine in Piura.” [wikiresearch] It even sounds like a song. Kneeling at the feet of Powerman, the ever-blackening boot shine was portal for the reveries of young Alvarado. He saw a new Peru, one taken out of the claws of the colonial oligarchy and restored to the Indians; a Peru where Quechua would have the same standing as castellano; a Peru where the poor would have land to work and the State would work for the pueblo. To that end he stowed away on a ship to Lima and took the entrance exam for the military, where he got the highest marks of all the applicants, they say. Unfortunately, when he did become leader of the country as head of a military government from 1968 to 1975, the sheen was harder to come by. Despite the wave of expropriations, nationalisations and the dedication to education, his bootblack dreams failed to materialise. Outside interference hardly helped in what was already a mammoth enterprise, and sickness also played a part. Alvarado lived as a semi-recluse in a military hospital for his last years and he had to have a leg amputated – the right one, obviously – owing to an embolism (?). Nevertheless, upon his death he was lauded by the Peruvians, who carried the one-legged corpse around on their shoulders for some six hours around the capital, we’ve chosen to believe.

One of the stranger and least defensible decisions of the people’s champ, however, was his regime’s commitment to military spending. It is said they spent some two billion dollars on Soviet equipment. The Chileans were worried, fearing a Peruvian campaign to retake the provinces lost in the War of the Pacific (1879 – ’83). No attack ever materialised, however, and Alvarado claimed his army had been bulked up solely for defence purposes, despite boasting that “the Chileans better stop their bullshit or i’ll be eating breakfast in Santiago.” Indeed, defence is the key word here, for it is the Peruvian defence in their infamous 1978 World Cup match against hosts Argentina that we are interested today in a story involving several fascist dictatorships and the execution of political prisoners.

As part of the successive Kirchner governments’ refusal to pardon genocide in the interests of a meek, bland democracy (Garzón? garçon!), courts in Argentina continue to investigate and prosecute crimes of lese humanity under the last military dictatorship (1976 – ’83). On Feb 1st last Argentine judge Norberto Oyarbide issued an order for the extradition of the former Peruvian dictator (1975 – ’80), Francisco Morales Bermúdez, over the sending of thirteen political prisoners to Argentina in 1978. Peru was not a fully signed-up member of the Condor Plan, which involved intelligence-sharing between the régimes in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, etc. leading to the rounding-up and elimination of leftist militants and sympathisers, yet in 1978 Morales Bermúdez requested his Argentine counterparts take care of thirteen enemies of the state. This was essential, he said, to Peru’s ‘transition to democracy’. It is unlikely Morales Bermúdez will be questioned in Argentina as he is now 90 years of age. One of the thirteen men, however, Genaro Ledesma Izquieto, testified in Buenos Aires in the last few weeks. He said they were flown from Peru to Jujuy in Argentina on the 25th of May 1978, Argentina’s revolution day.

Unfortunately for Morales Bermúdez, however, though perhaps somewhat predictably, the eyes of the world’s meeja were on Argentina as the World Cup was less than a week away. Family members of the kidnapped men had contacted human rights organisations, and these in turn got the attention of the Americans, Swedes and the French. Pressure was put on Videla’s mob regarding the fates of the thirteen political prisoners, now hidden away in Buenos Aires. One of the reasons these men received so much attention, unlike the thousands of others who were ruthlessly drugged and thrown out of planes into the Río de la Plata, was that among them were the secretary-general of the Peruvian workers’ union and two former members of the cabinet of our old bootblack friend, Velasco Alvarado. Videla’s junta had invested a great deal in presenting their phony image of Argentina for the World Cup and they weren’t going to let thirteen scaldy Peruvians mess that up. Hence, they agreed to send them off to France on condition that the French pay for their passage, Iberia’s low low bargains not being available at the time.

Thus goes the testimony of Ledesma Izquieto to Oyarbide, more or less. It’s a horrible tale where a brutal gang of genocides decide to stave off their banal bloodlust so as not to be spoken ill of in high society for a few weeks. Pegamequemegusta’s pointed little ears pricked up, however, when Ledesma alleged that part of the deal concerning their transfer to Argentina was murkier than the sum of Río Ferdinand and Kia Joorabchian’s respective sock drawers: Peru had to throw their match against Argentina at the World Cup.

Pekerman's joke before Argentina v México 2006 (in which Heinze should have been given a straight red... ahem)

For at that time, dear suntanned, sociable, outdoorsy reader, the World Cup had a different format. Instead of the knockout stage that now follows the initial group phase, a second group stage followed. There were two groups of four the respective winners of which would face each other in the final. This meant that a team could be out of the running in the final match despite being up against against a team looking for a place in the final. It also meant goal difference could come into play. Both of these circumstances combined in the final game of Group B in 1978 as Brazil and Argentina faced Poland and Peru respectively.

Both matches should really have kicked off at the same time. However, the Argentine organising committee (viz. junta) had insisted all of their games kick off at 19:15 “so that all Argentines could watch the people’s World Cup”. Thus, before the match kicked off, Menotti’s team knew that following Brazil’s 3-1 win over Poland that afternoon they had to win by four. No mean feat on paper, but at least it was clear. (It was only after Spain ’82, where Germany and Austria connived to progress at Algeria’s expense, that FIFA began to insist that final group matches kick off at the same time). Besides the kick-off time, the Peruvian players were also subjected to a pre-game visit in the dressing room by Henry Kissenger (oh jaysus) and General Videla himself, who apparently gave them a speech touching on the theme of South American brotherhood. Plus, Peru’s goalkeeper, Ramón Quiroga, had been born in Argentina and played for Rosario Central. Argentina won 6-0, with the Peruvian defence exhibiting some of the least convincing defending since Socrates toasted Aesclepius’ cock. It was fishier than a swamp monster’s fishnets after a weekend supping brine juice from Davy Jones’ crock.

In 1998, Quiroga said that he suspected the commitment of some of his teammates was not what it should have been. (Indeed, some of his teammates had requested he not play himself!) He questioned the fact that some of the normal starters had not begun the match and implied that some of their challenges had been less than robust. Moreover, he pointed to the untimely deaths, in car and plane crashes, of several of the players as well as the manager. These were the ones who had taken money, he alleged, although he later retracted his statements. Other players have denied flat out that there was any direct interference in the result of the game, merely citing tiredness and a lack of motivation. While at least one player, José Velásquez, has claimed, along with some in the Brazilian press, that the Argentine players were drugged up to the eyeballs for the entire tournament. 

The allegations of match-fixing for this particular fixture are far too varied and fun too leave it there, though. Argentine journalist Ricardo Gotta wrote a book titled Fuimos campeones [‘We were champions’] a few years ago entirely dedicated to the subject. He says that Morales Bermúdez rang the captain of the Peruvian team before the Argentina game and told him “never mind the result tonight, we’re all very proud of you.” Never mind the result, he repeated. Intriguing, though the idea that a dictator would make a personal call to the team’s captain in order to fix a result and then talk in code sounds a little more farfetched than the idea that a team containing Kempes, Ardiles and Passarella could beat by a comfortable margin a team they had beaten 3-0 only a few months previously.

In another book, an autiobiography titled The Chess Man’s Son Vol. 2 [El hijo del ajedrecista 2], the son of one of Colmbia’s biggest coke barons, and the nephew of another, Francisco Rodriguez Mondragón, wrote that the game was thrown indeed – but it had nothing to do with the dictatorship’s PR. Rather the Cali cartel bribed the Peruvian players in order to get Brazil knocked out of the competition. (Mondragón furnishes neither figures nor proof of any kind). Proof there was, however, according to article penned by Gonzalo Guillen in the Miami Herald in 2007, when one of the many suitcases constituting payment, with some $250k in cash, was lost in transit and ended up in New York. That article postulates, furthermore, that the bung paved the way for Argentina becoming a friendly spot for Colombian drug money, with Videla’s consent. Why else, the journalist asks, would Pablo Escobar’s family have been able to take refuge there after the kingpin’s death in 1993? 

On the pitch, in any case, none of the Argentine players noticed anything particularly unusual. Argentina only got their first goal after 20 minutes, by which time Peru had hit the post with one chance and gone close with another. The second goal doesn’t come until the stroke of half time. It’s in the second half that the Peruvians, with nothing to play for (or were they playing in their second strip to avoid shaming their real jersey…?) lose two goals in a minute, securing Argentina’s passage to the final. There were no penalties, no offside goals, and according to the testimony of everyone at most at most possibly one or two Peru players may have been bribed or in some way coerced – without anyone ever saying anything either damning or coherent. Ever.

Ozzy Ardiles reckoned it was kosher, as did Victor Hugo Morales, who commented on the game, citing stage fright as a contributing factor in the Peruvian collapse (the voiceover on that clip, incidentally, should be used in journalism classes as a textbook example of how to make an earnest and respectable interviewee sound like a camp used car salesman – shocking stuff). Leopoldo Luque, of the broomhandle moustache, later said: “Football players aren’t actors, you can always tell if they’re just going through the motions. [….] We played our best match of the tournament up to that point. We went out there fully fired up and prepared to flatten our opponents.” He added that it was ‘painful’ to continue to hear allegations regarding a match that “had nothing to do with the dictatorship.” Luque did lament, however, the single-mindedness of the squad in not paying attention to what was happening in the country at the time: “We were stars, we were only concentrating on the World Cup. We never lifted our heads to look at what was going on around us.”

Pegamequemegusta can’t help but feel that at least part of the lingering resentment towards Argentina’s triumph in 1978 comes from the fact that their win came against that Holland team. Such a great group of players coming off second best in two finals meant they were either losers, which they didn’t seem to be, or they were jipped. Whichever it was, it had all the ingredients of a splendid myth. Add to that the complete ignorance and suspicion of all things South American in the West, as well as the dictatorships, and it becomes a certainty – the World Cup was stolen.

The Dutch were quite upset with the pre-match delays and the Argentine complaints over one of their players wearing a bandage. So upset that they began the contest with a series of reckless fouls. (Pegamequemegusta can’t remember the last time that happened to a Holland team in a World Cup final…) Even without Cruyff, however, – who, contrary to urban legend, had not refused to play because of political convictions, as well he might, but because of a completely unrelated kidnap affair some time before the tournament, – they finished the 90 minutes the stronger team. Rensenbrink hit the post in the last minute in a move no-one could control. It took Argentina until extra time to make the final push and win 3-1.

In effect, Holland seem to be bitter at the fact that the final wasn’t held in some neutral territory: once again they went down to the hosts. A shame. Though then again, out of the eight finals that have been contested by the host nation, the away team has only ever won twice. Pelé’s Brazil beat Sweden in Stockholm in 1958, alleviating the pain of the tremendous Maracanazo of 1950, when Uruguay stunned twenty Tallaght stadiums of Brazilians (although technically that wasn’t a final, rather a final pool game, in which Brazil only needed a draw). Were World Cup ’98 to have taken place in a country of less prestige than France, perhaps we would still be hearing nefarious tales concerning Ronaldo’s fit.

Yet, dear gentle one, this post is not intended to deny that nothing untoward has ever happened in the southern cone. Our mission, as always, is to shed some light on the narratives that take hold of certain stories, whether they are justified, how they are refracted through socio-cultural lenses and are filtered through communication systems and  distorted by political agendas. After all, Genero Ledesma testified about ten days ago yet we only heard about it this Monday morning (‘pon returning from a long night of gloriously repetitive tasks) when Simon Kuper was on BBC Radio 4’s Morning programme (from 1hr 20mins in). The presenter’s introductory script wondered whether, on foot of the allegations, Argentina would be stripped of the World Cup. Such a question must be interpreted in the light of the heightened tensions between the United Kingdom and Argentina over las Malvinas.

After all, if Ledesma’s allegations had been made in a normal trial as opposed to a tribunal, the opposing barrister would have objected immediately on the grounds that they were utter hearsay. “The junta needed a triumph to boost their image,” he says. No shit, but one thing does not necessarily entail the other. The timing in this seems to be all mixed up: the men were flown to Argentina a month before it was even dreamed that Argentina would be playing Peru. While it was only shortly before kick-off that it was known that they would have to win by a particularly large margin. Then we have the stories of the personal interventions of the two dictators, Videla and Morales Bermúdez. It is always tempting when such personages are involved to conclude that they are all-powerful, as if they were able to stop time with their bloodied leather gloves and ridiculous overcoats. Yet when we hear the stories of their supposed interventions, Morales Bermúdez’s cryptic phonecall, and Videla’s visit to the Peruvian dressing-room accompanied by Kissenger, the allegations appear to have less consistency than hobo soup. Is this how they wielded their power? We’re inclined to impart too keen a perspicacity, too much charisma to people who in the next breath we’re wont to dismiss as idiots. It’s the same insecurity and inability to read that allows us to be suckered into accepting bad governance in the first place.

Other parties point to the unfreezing of Peruvian bank accounts by the Argentines as well as the shipment of grain to Peru in the months following the match. Yet these could just as easily be explained by any number of aspects of the relations between the two régimes, not just football. To that end, the biggest revelation of Ledesma’s testimony is really that Peru was part of the Condor Plan, which heretofore they weren’t thought to have been. 

Besides, the accusation is not even new. In 2004, another of the kidnapped men, Ricardo Napurí Schapiro, made the same statement in an interview with Argentine newspaper Página 12: “Peru’s defeat was the result of an agreement between the two governments and we were part of the deal.” It’s all so Keyser Söze, but, considering all the factors we’ve gone through here, pegamequemegusta is tempted to say there was no coke on that boat.

No, but the BBC’s jocular little morning interview with Kuper has quite a bit more spice to it than that. As the interviewer joshes heartily about Archie Gemmil’s pointless screamer against the Dutch, auld Kuper intones in his erudite way the shame that all involved felt at the shenanigans of June 1978:

The Argentine players, interestingly, do seem to accept that something may have gone on. Leopoldo Luque, a striker in that team [he scored twice against Peru] said later ‘With what I know now, I can’t say I’m proud of my victory.’ And that’s quite a thing to say for a man who won a World Cup.”

That’s quite something alright. It’s shocking, almost heartbreaking. There is proof (somewhere); all were victims of unstoppable forces, and Kuper, whose book Football Against the Enemy features a piece on Argentina ’78 so he knows what he’s talking about, is just sorry the world isn’t a better place. 

Except Luque was not referring to a dark secret about the Peru or Holland games, which is what the interview was about. He was referring to the basic fact of playing the World Cup while 30,000 of his fellow citizens were being slaughtered. He was lamenting that his desire to achieve his own dreams and that of his countrymen blinkered him to the reality that was milling all around. He was sorry for having been unwittingly complicit in the triumph of a dictatorship, not because the dictatorship bought it but because the immaculateness of a World Cup win should never be sullied by contact with such filth, let alone serve to keep them in power, albeit for a short time longer. Celebrations and disappointments have a similar duration; shame lasts longer, as anyone who’s ever mixed WKD with a polo neck will tell you. The Argentines were more robbed of that World Cup than the Dutch.

Pegamequemegusta spoke to Simon Kuper about the quotes and he informed us that they have been doing the rounds in the Dutch media “since Luque began expressing regret re: ’78.” No doubt they were used in good faith – however, Luque’s quotes are not new: they appear to come from a 2008 book titled Voetbal in een vuile oorlog [‘Football in the Dirty War’] by Marcel Rozer. (This would explain the fact that they are nowhere to be found in Spanish). It appears Luque is getting the AP/Carlitos Tevez treatment in the Dutch newspaper AD, whereby context is dismissed as irrelevant and a useful line is used – either disingenuously or out of ignorance – to clothe a ragged story. A minor part of Ledesma’s testimony is seized upon and presented as authoritative proof, multiplied through syndication, forging a new myth, just like the many others we’ve covered in this post.

Clichéd though it may be to say it, understanding this process is important as, unlike the simple repetitive task that liberates us even as it occupies us, our thoughts turning to ash as the smoke taps the tray, journalism is a purely meditative engagement that should liberate us somewhat from the ghosts sent to occupy our minds. Unlike the simple repetitive task, there is no chance of happiness. Its goal is truth. Truth is Kempes, Luque, Ardiles, Bertoni, Passarella, Fillol and Menotti in 1978. Legends all. Myths, however, have the nasty habit of repeating themselves, often through journalism.