The Battle of Montevideo

The first European Cup took place in 1955 and later that decade an equivalent competiton to decide the best club in South America was proposed. A number of such competitions had taken place previously, in particular the 1948 South American Championship of Champions which included the national champions, or the nearest equivalent, of seven countries. The tournament, held in Chile, was won by Vasco da Gama of Brazil and was considered a big success.

At the 1958 Congress of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) in Rio de Janeiro the President of UEFA, Henry Delaunay, put forward a proposal for a competition between the top clubs in Europe and South America, the Intercontinental Cup. But first a competition to decide the top South American side would be required. After numerous discussions between the various Confederation members it was agreed at the next CONMEBOL congress in Buenos Aires to create a tournament named after the important figures – Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, etc. – who had been involved in the wars of independence against Spain in the early 19th century. And so the Copa Libertadores was born.

The first Copa Libertadores was won by Uruguayan club Penarol, thanks to seven goals from their star striker Alberto Spencer of Ecuador. They would go on to play the great Real Madrid side featuring the likes of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo di Stefano, who had won the European Cup every season since its introduction. Real won the first every Intercontinental Cup thanks to a 5-1 win in Madrid following a goal-less draw in Montevideo. The first six  editions of the competition saw the involvement of some other great teams –Benfica, Santos, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Independiente – and players – Pele, Eusebio, Rivera, Mazzola and the standard of the football played was generally very high.

In 1966 the Copa Libertadores was expanded and runners-up were also allowed to participate. This decision upset the Brazilian FA clubs who argued the competition should be only for national champions. In protest they declared that their clubs, including Pele’s Santos, would not in involved in that year’s competition and instead decided to play friendlies, which were a lot more lucrative. The Brazilian clubs were also unhappy at the increase in violence used by many of the teams from Argentina and Uruguay, in particular.

The 1966 World Cup would also see the Argentina national team described as “animals” by England’s manager Alf Ramsey following a tempestuous meeting between the two countries in the quarter-finals in which Argentina’s captain Antonio Rattin was sent off.

The following year’s Copa Libertadores again saw Santos, the Brazilian runners-up, refuse to participate. This made Argentinean champions Racing Club’s path to the title slightly easier than it would otherwise have been and they won their 1st continental title, and Argentina’s 3rd in four seasons, following a 2-1 play-off win over Nacional of Uruguay in Santiago, Chile, following two goal-less draws in the home and away legs. In doing so they would travel to Scotland to face Celtic of Glasgow, who had become the first British club to win the European Cup.

Racing Club, from the city of Avellaneda which was located within the Greater Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, were one of the traditional “big five” of Argentinean football along with Boca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo and Independiente. The latter club also come from Avellaneda and were Racing’s big rivals. No club outside of these five had won a national title since a professional league was introduced in 1931. Racing won three consecutive titles between 1949 and 1951 and then in both 1958 and 1961 (resulting in the 1st appearance in the Copa Libertadores). However, with 14 games remaining in the 1965 season they were last in the Primera Division and club legend Juan Jose Pizzuti became their 7th manager in little over a year. Over the remainder of the season his team were unbeaten and somehow managed to finish in 5th place.

In 1966 Racing were also unbeaten in their first 25 games before losing 2-0 away to River Plate. This unbeaten streak of 39 games was a record that would last until 1999. The defeat by River Plate was the only one they suffered that season and they won the title with two games to spare, finally finishing five points clear of River Plate having scored 70 goals, and conceded 24, in their 38 games.

Pizutti team include the Argentina international Roberto Perfumo and Nelson Chabay, part of Uruguay’s 1966 World Cup team, in defence and Humberto Maschio (who played for Italy in the infamous “Battle of Santiago” versus Chile in the 1962 World Cup, as well as for his native Argentina) up front. Other members of the team – Alfredo Basile (who would go on to manage Argentina’s national side on two occassions), Juan Carlos Rulli, and Juan Carlos Cardenas – would go on to win international caps in the next few years. The following season they were further strengthened by the arrival of striker Norberto Raffo from Banfield and Brazilian midfielder João Cardoso. Raffo would finish at the top-scorer in the 1967 Copa Libertadores with 14 goals

Celtic were, along with their great Glasgow rivals Rangers, one of the traditional Old Firm clubs that dominated Scottish football. However, prior to the 1965-66 season they had won only one title, in 1953-54, since 1938 and their 20 titles trailed well behind Ranger’s 34. They had recently appointed Jock Stein, a former Celtic player, as manager. Stein, the first Protestant to manage the traditionally Catholic club, and only their 4th ever manager, achieved instant success, winning the 1965-66 Scottish title by finished 2 points ahead of Rangers as well as the League Cup. This would be the first or nine consecutive Scottish titles they would win.

The following season they broke all kinds of records. As well as retaining their title Celtic won the four other competitions they entered in the 1966-67 season, scoring a world record 196 goals in the process, with the majority coming from Stevie Chalmers, Joe McBride and Tommy Lennox. Domestically they were victorious in the Scottish Cup, League Cup and Glasgow Cup and they would also make their debut in the European Cup that season. After straight-forward wins over FC Zurich and Nantes in the first two rounds Celtic had narrower victories against FK Vojvodina of Yugoslavia and the Czech side Dukla Prague in the Quarter Final and Semi Final respectively. This set up a final against the Italian giants Inter Milan, twice winners of the European Cup and strong favourites to add a third title.

Joe McBride missed the Lisbon final due to a knee injury and resulted in him missing most of the second half of the season whilst Inter were at full strength. The Italians took the lead after only seven minutes through a penalty which was converted by Mazzola but second half goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers took the European Cup to the British Isles for the first time in its history. All but one member of Celtic’s squad, or the “Lisbon Lions” as the team become known, were born within 15 miles of their home ground with Bobby Lennox being the odd one out due to his birthplace of Saltcoats, 30 miles from Celtic Park.

The first leg of the 1967 Intercontinental Cup was played in front of 100,000 spectators at Hampden Park, Glasgow on 18th October. The only change in Celtic’s line-up from the European Cup final was John Hughes instead of Stevie Chalmers. Racing also had only one change from their Copa Libertadores play-off. It was a close affair that was settled by a 67 minute header from Celtic’s captain Billy McNeil. In the act of scoring McNeil received an elbow to the face which left him with a black eye in the days that followed. Racing’s players conducted similarly violent tactics throughout the match with tripping, elbowing, kicking and even spitting commonplace, even when Celtic didn’t have possession. At half-time Celtic’s winger Jimmy Johnstone returned to the dressing room with his hair soaked with Argentine spit. Celtic manager Jock Stein was forced to enter the field of play to remonstrate with the referee at Johnstone’s treatment, to no avail.

Just prior to the 2nd leg in Avellaneda Celtic were forced to play in the Scottish League Cup final, where they won 5-3 over Dundee United. The SFA also allowed Jimmy Johnstone, who was serving a 21-day domestic ban, to travel to South America. The few Celtic fans that travelled to the match were urinated upon by Racing Club fans in the upper tier. Celtic’s keeper, Ronnie Simpson, was then hit by a missile, either a brick or a metal bar which split the top of his head open resulting in him having to be replaced by back-up John Fallon. Simpson later alleged that it had not been thrown by someone in the crowd but by a photographer on the pitch.

Bertie Auld had been injured in the League Cup final and was replace by Willie O’Neill whilst Chalmers returned in place to John Hughes. For Racing Chabay played instead of Diaz and with centre-half Mori being taken ill Rulli was forced to drop into defence with Mori’s spot being taken by Cardoso. Halfway through the first half Celtic were awarded a penalty which was scored by Tommy Gemmell. They then had what looked to be a perfectly valid goal by Johnstone disallowed before Raffo equalised for Racing after 33 minutes. Cardenas added a second early in the 2nd half and the final score remained 2-1. Despite the win the Racing fans invaded the Scottish dressing room after the final whistle and both inside and outside the stadium Argentineans fought with Uruguayans who had attended the game in order to support Celtic.

As the away-goal rule was not in place at that time (Celtic would have won if it had been) the 2-2 aggregate score meant a third game would be required. It was decided that the location for the deciding play-off, to be played three days later, should be in what was supposedly a neutral venue, the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, Uruguay. Celtic chairman Bob Kelly wanted his team to fly home rather than play the match after what had happened in the first two legs but the rest of the board, and manager Jock Stein, preferred to stay rather than face being labelled cowards. Stein stated “We don’t want to go to Montevideo or anywhere else in South America for a third game. But we know we have to.” After what would become known as “the Battle of Montevideo” he probably wished he hadn’t bothered.

Uruguay and Argentina, as well as being neighbours, had a long football rivalry. The Estadio Centenario was the scene of the first World Cup final in 1930 when Uruguay beat Argentina 4-2. Uruguay had also just beaten Argentina in the final game of the 1967 Copa America at the same stadium which meant they overtook their southern neighbours to win the title by a point. Clubs from each country had also met in the final of the previous four Copa Libertadores with Racing’s win over Nacional a few months previously putting Argentinean clubs ahead 3 to 1 in terms of titles. In doing so they had achieved a goal-less draw at the Estadio Centenario.

Despite this relations between the two countries were good and they shared many economic, cultural and political and military ties with each other. Furthermore, there had been considerable immigration between the two countries since 1960. 30,000 Argentineans travelled the short distance across the River Plate to the Uruguayan capital and many of them paid a visit to Celtic’s hotel, the Victoria Plaza, in the early hours of the morning where their antics kept many of the Scots awake. When the players had first arrived at the hotel they were forced wait around for a number of hours as their rooms were not ready. Prostitutes had also allegedly been sent to the hotel by associates of Racing Club with the intention of soliciting Celtic’s players but after Jock Stein got wind of the plans and briefed his players of the situation the ruse was thwarted.

The rest of the 65,000 crowd in the Estadio Cenetario was made up of Uruguayans and both teams attempted to get the neutrals on their side by walking onto the pitch, which was in very poor condition, with Uruguay flags. Celtic, in their famous green and white hooped jerseys, had bought the biggest flag they could find but were met by almost total silence. They later found out that Racing’s players, in their light blue and white stripes, had carried a flag that was even larger.

Racing’s line-up was unchanged from the second leg whilst for Celtic Auld and Hughes replaced Chalmers and O’Neill. After their treatment in the previous two games Celtic this time decided to sink to Racing’s level and get their retaliations in first. Rodolfo Perez Osorio, from Paraguay, had been appointed referee for the game and was called into action after only four seconds when Racing’s Maschio was fouled immediately after kicking off. Celtic’s John Hughes then took out three opponents with a waist-half tackle before Chabay of Racing delivered a vicious kick to Johnstone’s belly.

Halfway through the first half Osorio called both captains, Oscar Martin of Racing and Billy McNeill of Celtic, together and told them any further fouls would be punished with him sending players off. His threats didn’t work and Osorio was soon out of his depth at the violence that played out in front of him with Celtic’s players certainly playing their part in the hostilities, although most of it was of a retaliatory nature.

After 35 minutes Johnstone was fouled by a viscous late tackle by Rulli which resulted in a five minute long melee involving numerous players from both sides. John Clark approached both Rulli and Alfio Basile with his fists up in the stance of a boxer but, in a case of mistaken identity, Bobby Lennox was sent from the field by Osorio along with Basile leaving both teams with ten men. Jock Stein kept sending Lennox back onto the field as he had had no involvement in the clash but Osorio kept sending him back off until eventually Lennox had to be escorted to the dressing room by one of riot policemen had entered the field of play to try and restore calm.

With only two minutes played in the second half Johnstone, one of the few players who was still showing some real skill in the match, became the 2nd Celtic man to be dismissed. After passing the ball to Wallace he was about to receive the return pass when he was taken out by Oscar Martin, who threw himself at Johnstone’s waist. Both players fell to the ground and as the struggled to get back up Martin suddenly started rolling about as if he had received a blow. Osorio immediately sent the Celtic winger from the pitch despite Johnstone insisting he hadn’t touched his opponent.

Racing now started to take real advantage of their numerical advantage and Rulli, freed of his previous role as Johnstone’s marker, became more and more influential in midfielder. In the 56th minute Cardenas, nicknamed “El Chango” (Spanish slang for “monkey” which was a common nickname for someone from the north or Argentina), sped past Hughes and Gemmell and put Racing ahead with a superb left-footed missile of a shot into Fallon’s top corner. After a moment of stunned silence the section of the crowd from the southern side of the River Plate burst into joyous celebrations whilst those from the northern side bombarded the pitch with a multitude of objects.

Celtic still hadn’t given up however and just a minute later Wallace had a great chance to equalise but Racing’s defence held firm. Cardena then could have sealed the game with his second goal but, after being set up by Raffo’s brilliant pass, he fell over and missed the chance when it looked easier to score. With a quarter of a hour left the time-wasting antics employed by Racing’s keeper Cejas became too much for John Hughes to bear and after punching Cejas in the stomach he then stamped on his foot resulting in the keeper falling to the ground. He followed up by kicking out at Cejas and the referee had no choice but to let Hughes join his two other team-mates in the dressing room.

He was soon followed by Rulli, Racing’s second dismissal, for what looked to be a fairly innocuous foul compared to those that had gone before. Tommy Gemmell somehow escaped punishment after kicking Rulli in the nether region but Bertie Auld didn’t, and became the sixth player to be sent off just before the final whistle. However, after Osorio told him to leave the field Auld simply ignored the referee and refused to leave the playing area. Osorio, who had now completely lost the plot, allowed him to remain for the full 90 minutes and later said he had allowed Auld to stay “to avoid any further trouble”. The final foul count was 30 against Celtic and 21 against Racing.

The Uruguayans in the crowd had initially been either neutral or had sided with Racing, due to shared South American loyalties against the Europeans. However, Celtic’s treatment in the first half led to more and more of them transferring their support to the Scottish team and this continued in the second half until by the end of the match they were showing outright hostility towards the team from Argentina. At the end of the game Racing attempted a lap of honour but were bombarded by the Uruguayan fans whose allegiance was now entirely with Celtic.

In the tunnel Racing’s defender Perfumo was approached Celtic’s captain Billy McNeill, and fearing some kind of retribution from the big, blond defender after what had gone on previously put himself on his guard. Instead McNeill extended his hand towards Perfumo with no sense of malice. Surprised Perfumo grabbed McNeill’s hand tightly then they exchanged shirts. Perfumo admitted that McNeill’s humility brought tears to his eyes as he thought of the hurt the Scot must have been suffering at that moment. Before departing McNeill smiled and wished Perfumo “good luck” in Spanish.

The Argentinean press criticised Racing’s tactics whilst giving very little condemnation to Celtic, admitting that they had little choice but to play as they did in Montevideo. One newspaper, Clarin, said Racing’s win had been a “bittersweet victory” with another, Cronica, describing the game as “not football, but war.” Every Celtic player who had played in the game were fined £250 with Celtic’s chairman Bob Kelly commenting that “for the reputation of British football the players must suffer for their conduct.” Billy McNeill accepted the fines on behalf of his players despite being innocent of any misdemeanours. On the other hand Racing’s players, who returned home to a hero’s welcome, received bonuses of £2000 plus a new car.

The debacle was also said to have cost Jock Stein a knighthood. He was originally due to receive the honour following Celtic’s European Cup as would happen to Matt Busby after Manchester United’s win the following season. But red tape meant that it wasn’t possible for him to receive the award prior to the events in Montevideo. A letter sent by the Scottish Office to the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson a few years later explained that his name had been removed from the honour’s list after “the unfortunate events in South America”. Stein would be awarded a CBE, one rank below a knighthood, in 1970 after Celtic reached a 2nd European Cup final, despite losing to Dutch club Feyenoord.

The reputation of the Intercontinental Cup, and Argentinean clubs, fell even further over the course of the next three seasons after Estudiantes were involved in scandalous matches against Manchester United, AC Milan and Feyenoord in which the likes of United’s Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton, Milan’s strikers Pierino Prati and Nestor Combin, born in Argentina but capped for France, and Feyenoord’s bespectacled defender Bjorn van Daele received particularly vicious treatment. Eventually European teams began to boycott the competition, especially if clubs from Argentina were involved. In 1980 the format changed from home and away legs to a single match that was played in Tokyo, Japan. In 2005 the Intercontinental Cup was replaced by the current FIFA World Club Cup. It has not been missed.


About Jeff Lawrence

Hi, My name is Jeff Lawrence and I'm a writer, photographer and Boro fan from north-east England who has an interest in football history, in particular that relating to Dutch (thanks to eight years living in the Netherlands) and Peruvian (thanks to a wife from Peru) football. Another interest is how English managers and players played their part in the development of football overseas, particularly in the early part of the 20th century.
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