‘I’m attracted to soccer’s capacity for beauty. When well played, the game is a dance with a ball.‘ – Eduardo Galeano
When we think of Uruguay and football, it is far from a thing of beauty; Hector Silva being escorted by policemen off the pitch at Hillsborough stadium in the 1966 World Cup quarter-final after being sent off against West Germany; Julio Cortés kicking the referee on his way off the pitch at the end of the same game; or a shoulder/neck/arm-chomping Luis Suarez from more modern times come to mind.
But in the defence of the land of the Charruá people, football is sacred – a matter of life and…oh, you know how the rest of that Bill Shankly quote goes…
Last month the oldest football club in Uruguay – Albion F.C. – were inducted into the exclusive club of pioneers. The club of pioneers was founded by Sheffield FC. Its aims are to create a network between the oldest clubs in world football that are still in existence today.
On June 1st, 1891 a group of students from the English High School in Montevideo formed a club called ‘Football Association’. It was soon renamed Albion F.C. after three games, in recognition of the motherland of Great Britain. Each of those players were students of William Leslie Poole: the man known as the father of Uruguayan football.
Poole – an Anglo-Scot who arrived in Uruguay in 1885 to teach at the English High School – converted the youth around him into disciples of the burgeoning game of Empire. The man who introduced football to the Punta Carretas neighbourhood of Montevideo required the support of all, with no distinction, if he was to succeed first in spreading football to the masses, and then into regular, professional competition.
In comparison to Poole’s efforts to grow the game amongst all of Uruguay’s many communities, Albion FC – who Poole played for – banned non-British nationals from playing for the club.
By 1895 Poole’s mantra of ‘a game for all’ began to win out as the game flourished and clubs began to form. So much so, that one of the students, Henry Lichtenberger who founded Albion FC, raised the idea of allowing non-British nationals to play for Albion FC; subsequently the rules were relaxed, although the club colours were altered to red and blue the colours of the Union flag – the link with the homeland would remain.
In 1896 Albion FC became the first Uruguayan team to win abroad defeating Retiro Athletic Club and Belgrano AC of Argentina in Buenos Aries. The first games played in Uruguay against international clubs involved Albion FC who faced Lobos Athletic Club – also of Argentina – in the Punta Carretas area.
Lobos was founded by Irish immigrants Tomás Moore and Tomás McKeon to ‘serve as entertainment for the youth of Lobos in a town where life is monotonous and boring’ – words enshrined in the clubs founding notes.
Four years later Albion featured in the first ever Uruguayan Association Football League playing the first Uruguayan derby against CURCC which had originally been founded as a cricket club. There would be no fairy tale first season for the founders of football in Uruguay: CURCC were crowned inaugural champions.
In 1901 a combined team of nine players from Albion and two from Club de Nacional joined forces to play an Argentinian combined league side; this would be considered the first Uruguayan national team. Albion played their last game in the Uruguayan top flight in 1908, yo-yo’ing for many years in the lower divisions.
After ending his playing and refereeing days, William Leslie Poole became the second President of the Uruguayan Association Football League. He is honoured by the Montevideo authorities in a place called ‘Espacio Libre William Leslie Poole’ situated between Constituyene and Vásquez in the Uruguayan capital.
Today, Albion – the oldest club in Uruguayan football – reside in the Primerá B, one league away from where some would say they belong; they continue to dream around the Punta Carretas.