First featured on the award-winning website on football & pop culture – Goalden Times.
The first line of Colo-Colo’s official anthem says, “Let us all sing from Arica to Magallanes, for Colo-Colo, an example of valour”. This perfectly summarises the expansion of club’s fan base in Chile from Arica in the north to Magallanes in the south. The team has a special place in Chile’s heart and helped Chileans hope for unity during years of political turbulence. Tamas Sinha at Goalden Times takes us through the extravagant journey of a club that became a part of Chilean folklore in five extraordinary chapters.
Chapter Four: The Battle of Macul
A quarter of a century has passed, but one can still sense the nostalgia for this match in almost every corner of the Monumental. It was arguably one of the worst-behaved football matches in history. Boca Juniors, the South American supergiants, had reached the semi-finals after getting past their arch-rivals River Plate, and two Brazilian powerhouses—Corinthians and Flamengo—in the knockouts. Undoubtedly, they were the toughest opponent Colo-Colo could have faced. The team travelled to Buenos Aires to play the first leg at roaring La Bombonera, the most feared ground in South America. (The name ironically means “chocolate box” in Spanish). The notorious Argentines pulled out every trick in the book to make it difficult for the visitors – even shutting off cold water so that the Chileans had to shower in the burning hot water. Reports also came in that the visitor locker room was stinking miserably. Despite all the hindrances, Colo-Colo performed extremely well in the match, losing it to the home side by a solitary penalty goal.
The repercussion of all this was expected from the Chileans, and when Boca players landed at the Santiago airport, jeers and insulting chants came flying around from every corner. Boca players evidently had always had a sense of superiority over the Chileans, and the insults prompted them to keep trash talking through the media. They especially targeted the lesser-known Argentine players playing for Colo-Colo. The atmosphere around the return leg was heating up and everyone in the city wanted to witness the battle. Scenes around the stadium were impossible that night: people were everywhere, with many fans roaming around the edge of the pitch – an area usually reserved for the security personnel and media people.
Boca had everything at their disposal—an expensive squad starring the confident guard Navarro Montoya, the budding superstar Gabriel Batistuta, and the first “New Maradona” Diego Latorre. Although the squad value was immensely different in two teams, Colo-Colo started the match in full strength with the Argentine duo Morón and Barticciotto, the legend Pato Yáñez, and Espinoza and Ruben Martinez in front. Their captain Jaime Pizarro was known as “El Kaiser” as his play resembled the great Beckenbauer. He was the national captain as well. The list of medications Boca submitted for its players was longer than usual. This made Colo-Colo officials curious and some still believe that Boca players played the match under the influence of those medicines.
The goalkeepers of both sides hardly broke a sweat in the first half that ended goalless. Although the early signs of ill-temper were clearly visible from both sides, Montoya was always at the centre of it. Then things quickly escalated when Ruben Martinez put Colo ahead at 64th minute from a Barticciotto cross. Barticciotto came into the frame again, when he put Colo further ahead with a second goal in two minutes. The 62,000-strong crowd went insane with every goal scored. People around the ground, media personnel—they all started celebrating with the home players, and began invading the pitch in great numbers. Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguayan tactician of Boca got angry with the invasion, and police had to interrupt and clear away everyone. Boca players were still in shock. It felt like an unexpected punch in the face that came flying from nowhere to almost knock them off.
After ten minutes, Boca came back into the match. Latorre put the ball into the net for Boca with a perfect cross from Batistuta. His celebration after the goal was farcical. The match had changed in a few minutes. This result would have taken the match to a tiebreaker. Colo-Colo were not confident about that, and Chilean teams have not-so-good-historyry with penalties. They even lost the previous year in a shootout. Above all, despite being a good goalkeeper, Morón was not the best choice in penalties, while Marcelo Ramirez, the second-choice keeper, was a good penalty saver. But they didn’t want to burn the quota (two players in a match) of substitutes for a goalkeeper. Pressure started mounting.
Just eight minutes later, Ruben Martinez scored his second goal of the night to put Colo-Colo ahead in the tie again! This time, the celebration went out of hand, and everyone around the pitch started getting inside the field again. The field had a dry moat around it that was used to help the ball retrieval procedure. Now after the third goal, someone came jumping into the pitch and grabbed a Boca player before tossing him into the moat. Carlos Navarro Montoya, the arrogant goalkeeper, lost his cool when some of the invaders got near him. From that very moment, Boca players began reacting violently. They completely lost their control, and started hitting whoever they saw, be it a Colo-Colo players, media, or security personnel. Everything could have justified but the biggest blunder they did that night was hitting the Chilean National Police – locally known as the Carabineros. They crossed all limits by hitting the police of another country they were visiting. This, incidentally, turned their hooliganism into an actual crime. Things kept on getting out of hand. Boca players kept on breaking cameras and destroying other equipment and a photographer was beaten so badly that he almost lost eye. Interestingly, the crowd never got involved in the fight and kept watching from the stand. Colo-Colo players tried to separate people, but to no avail. The night became unforgettable when a police dog bit an angry Navarro on the field. Monumental was a proud possession of Colo-Colo fans, who had waited over 40 years before having their own stadium. So, when the Boca players turned their pride into a war zone, fans felt personally insulted. The crowd at the stand never got involved in the fight—they only watched the madness of the Argentines from the other side of the fence. Hence, the fightback from Ron, the dog, became a symbol of their resistance. It was doubly good that Ron had attacked Navarro Montoya, the one who irritated the crowd most. Fans loved the fact that the big goalkeeper with a big ego, a big mouth, and an unbearable attitude got attacked, of all places, in the rear end. Ron did not bite Montoya’s leg, which could have damaged his football career. Fans on television also witnessed a dog chomping away at Navarro’s dark shorts. “The fact that Ron scored one for the underdog also makes his story more compelling among Chileans, who have long considered themselves the underdog at almost everything”, explained Sebastian Moraga, a life-long Colo-Colo fan. Though the dog died in 1992, fans still visit his grave – especially when a Chilean team plays Boca in Santiago.
“The fact that Ron scored one for the underdog also makes his story more compelling among Chileans, who have long considered themselves the underdog at almost everything” – Sevastian Moraga
Eventually everything simmered down on that fateful day, and the game resumed again. The Brazilian referee Renato Marsiglia had already sent Boca’s Blas Giunta and Colo’s Yanez back to the bench. Colo-Colo successfully held on to their two-goal-lead and advanced to play defending champions Olimpia, the Paraguayan squad known as “The King of Cups”. This fight with the national police had further repercussions, and the visitors found themselves in trouble with the law of the host country. Blas Giunta and the Boca head coach, Oscar Washington Tabarez, were not allowed to leave Chile for the next 60 days. The Argentinean embassy in Chile, led by a prominent Argentinean politician and onetime presidential candidate Antonio Cafiero, stepped in to get them the permission to leave the country. After weeks of legal battles, the Chilean Government agreed to allow Giunta and Tabarez to leave. Boca tried to make peace with the Chilean side and invited them to play the Cup of Friendship in Buenos Aires on the very next year as a goodwill gesture. But their intentions failed miserably as the teams started fighting each other on the field in that disastrous friendly.
Interestingly, nine years after that fateful match, Navarro Montoya came to play football in Chile. He played for Concepcion for a season and even flirted with the idea of playing for Colo-Colo. For one unofficial game that year, the farewell game for Chilean forward Ivo Basay, he played as Colo-Colo’s goalkeeper in the same stadium where Ron bit him. Football sure is a great leveller.