This article was first featured in Issue 6 of the Box To Box magazine on the Assorted History of the World Cup with word by Ignasi Torné Gualdo and accompanying illustration from Marija Markovic.
Montevideo. It’s around 15:00. I am quite tired after a long night in Punta del Este. But at the same time, I am excited. I am on my way to Montevideo, I can’t believe it. I’m travelling from my home country Argentina to the cradle of Uruguayan football, in the front seats of the second floor of the bus. Probably the most dangerous seats, but the views alone make it worth sitting there. That’s how I know that we have reached the capital. The increasing traffic and commercial billboards indicate that I am right.
It was a good decision to get a coffee and an alfajor (a traditional South American confectionery made with two round cookies with different sweet fillings between them) for the trip, I’m not really hungry but this sweet is okay for me. I have my bag between my legs and my book closed – I’m unable to read throughout the whole trip thanks to a few beers from the night before. The book, on Uruguayan football history, was there in any case of any doubt. In case I didn’t realise that I was in the country of the first World Cup winner and the side who played (and won) one of the most famous World Cup games in history. Yes, the country that made ‘Maracanazo’ happen.
The afternoon light is warm and I decide to relax and observe the streets and people from my seat on the bus, I observe the sea views of Punta del Este to the grey hue of the capital city. I feel the excitement when I notice the lampposts painted in yellow and black colours. Yes, it means that we are crossing an area overrun with Peñarol fans. This is what I was looking for, some signs of footballing culture in the street.
I see another big mural, this one in red, blue and white, ‘Nacional Pride’ in reference to ‘Nacional Club de Football’.
And then I see it.
“It must be it. Yes, I am sure. Because if not, what is that? Yes, I am sure. It is.” I mutter these words and the woman next to my seat looks at me quite suspiciously. Then, the driver announces that we are approaching Tres Cruces, Montevideo’s main station. I smile, knowingly. Because we must be very close to it. I don’t have a map and I need one. We arrive and I make sure that I have my bag and start walking trying to find an information point. I leave my bag in storage for free and I try hard to suppress my excitement.
Yes, I am in Montevideo. I am very close to what I saw from the bus. Fortunately, after a long time travelling alone, I feel comfortable with a map and I am on my way. But I have to be careful, I don’t know the area or the people and I clearly look like a tourist. But after a few blocks I see it. I see the structure, I see the tower at the end of the stadium. I can’t believe it. I am almost there. My footsteps are brisker and strides are longer and I bravely cross the street. Yes, I am here, I got it!
An old metal plate informs me what I already know, that I have arrived at the Estadio Centenario, the football stadium that hosted the first World Cup in 1930 and has barely been remodelled since then. I walk around the perimeter, I take my time and get some photos of the Tribuna Amsterdam’s murals. This is where Peñarol fans gather when they play at the Centenario. The name for this stand comes from when Uruguay won their second footballing gold medal at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928.
I get in and I see an old man at the desk. I guess that man knows more about football than the history books. He speaks in a melodic and traditional Uruguayan accent like he has never received any international influences beyond those flags on the wall. I pay for the ticket and extra for the lift. Yes, there is a lift and I don’t know why. “Do you want the best city views? Take the ride”. Surprised, an assistant takes me to the top of the Estadio Centenario tower, the Torre de los Homenajes. Suddenly, it feels like I am in Yokohama going up in the world’s fastest elevator to enjoy a panoramic view. The stadium built in 1930, home of the first World Cup, is below my feet.
Recovering from this experience, I check out the museum’s items but I am still thinking about the stands and the city buildings. There are many flags hanging on the wall: Uruguay, Albion, CURCC (Peñarol’s previous incarnation) and Nacional’s colours are all evidence to the history behind this place. You can find a ’66 England shirt signed by Geoff Hurst and a Brazil one with Pelé. Diego Maradona is present too.
“But the best is yet to come”. On the second floor, there is the cup that everybody talks about. The cup of football, the final scene from that famous game. Ghiggia‘s goal cup. The cup of the silence. The trophy of the “Maracanazo”.
Later I visit the Olimpic Stand and I feel like I’m in the Roman Colosseum, the old cement seats and benches, the sponsor’s banners painted and the original look from the ’30s. Time for a photo opportunity to treasure for the rest of my life. Also, I start talking with the security guard, sharing stories and footballing opinions. I leave the museum after buying some souvenirs, including a 1930 World Cup poster.
I have a little piece of cement, it was broken on the floor. It’s in my pocket but is not just a rune, I feel that I’m bringing back home a small piece of history that will make me remember the day I visited the cradle of football.