The Brothers Robledo – Sporting Success & Terrible Tragedy

Iquique is a port city in northern Chile, well at least it is today. The development of the city accelerated in the 19th century as a result of a boom in saltpetre mining in the Atacama desert and although Iquique is one of two free ports in Chile, it was once under the control of Peru. A large Chilean community settled there and following the War of the Pacific of 1879-1883 (also known as the ‘Saltpetre War’), it fell under the control of the world’s southernmost country when Chile defeated the Bolivian-Peruvian alliance. 

A region with an often fraught and volatile political history did not stop the story of a Chilean man and an English woman falling in love and starting a young family in the early 20th century. They had three sons: Jorge Robledo Oliver (b. 14th April 1926), Eduardo Oliver Robledo (b. 26th July 1928) and the youngest, Walter. The political instability that engulfed Chile in the early 1930s led to the Robledos travelling to their mother’s English homeland in 1932 and settling in Yorkshire. Their father remained in South America.

Jorge would become known as George Robledo and started playing as a part-time amateur with Huddersfield Town, his football pursuits subsidised by coal mining work. Upon joining Barnsley as a professional, George made his debut for the Tykes in 1946 as an inside-forward. A year later George’s brother Eduardo – known as Ted – made his Barnsley debut at wing-half. The older brother’s exploits brought him to the attention of Newcastle United who signed the forward on the 27th January 1949 for a fee of £26,500 – which included a contract for his brother Ted as George refused to move without him. A year later George (who didn’t speak Spanish) lined up for the Chilean national team against England in the opening group game of the 1950 FIFA World Cup.

Though George would steal the headlines playing alongside Jackie Milburn and scoring 82 league goals in 146 games for the Magpies, it was a successful spell for both Robledo brothers. George became the first South American to play in an FA Cup final in 1951 when Newcastle defeated Blackpool 2-0. In the following campaign George was stellar in front of goal and finished as the First Division top scorer with 33 goals. Ted would make most of his appearances for the Toon that season and the pair duly lined up together for Newcastle in the 1952 FA Cup final. The older Robledo scoring the winning goal against Arsenal that saw not only Newcastle win successive cups, but also create a niche in music history. The goal inspired a drawing by a young John Lennon which was included in the artwork for his 1974 album Walls and Bridges.

Moving To Macul: From Toon Army To Los Albos

The duo played one final season together at Newcastle before Ted moved to Chilean giants Colo-Colo at the end of the 1952/53 campaign. The younger brother was soon followed by George who was signed for a transfer fee believed to be in the region of £25,000. In Santiago the brothers won two Primera División de Chile titles in 1953 and 1956. Though Ted played for one more year for the Macul club, George stayed on and added a Copa Chile success in 1958. By his retirement from the game he had amassed 31 caps for Chile and scored 8 international goals. Though Ted didn’t achieve success to anywhere near the same degree, both brothers were well liked and well regarded in the land of their birth.

Eduardo ‘Ted’ Robledo

The success of the pair proved to have an inspiring and influential effect on football in Chile. Dublin’s Evening Echo reported on 20th October 1953: ‘It appears that the Robledos are such prominent figures in South American football that a new amateur club formed in Santiago has named itself “Robledo Hermanos” and has chosen the Newcastle United colours of black and white stripes.’

Lost At Sea? The Mystery Of The Al Shan

National affection doesn’t pay the bills and financial problems arose in the post-career 1960s and 70s. By now in his early 40s, Ted was working on an oil rig in the Persian Gulf and was on a week’s shore leave when he was invited aboard a ship. On 6th December 1970, Eduardo was on the 350-ton coastal tanker Al Sahn which would dock at Dubai later that day. Though Robledo embarked onto the ship, he never returned to port. So mysterious are the events which occurred aboard the Al Sahn that what led to the disappearance of the former Newcastle wing-half is uncertain and, with no body ever recovered, still poses many questions. 

The second engineer of the vessel, Chow Dary, was told by its West German captain Heinz Bessenich that he believed Robledo had ‘committed suicide because of family trouble,’ though he noted that the captain told him later that after the ship returned to Dubai he had spent the afternoon with Robledo. Capt. Bessenich was charged with murdering Robledo in April 1971 with proceedings brought against him by Her Britannic Majesty’s Court of the Trúcial States of Dubai.

The 32-year old captain of the Al Sahn pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. He stated he did not report the incident as ‘there was nothing the company could do.’ Giving his evidence in English to Dubai’s British agency, Bessenich stated that he wrongly believed that Eduardo Robledo had gone ashore and, as he was not allowed to take unauthorised passengers, wanted to keep things quiet. He had told Dary of the issue and hoped that Robledo would be picked up by a fishing boat thinking ‘all may be all right.’ Bessenich had changed his story and it was suggested during the trial they had all played cards together before he ‘wilfully and unlawfully’ caused the death of Robledo in ‘a brutal and savage manner’.

George Robledo

The ship’s steward Luis Fernandes detailed how he had prepared supper for Bessenich and Robledo and that Ted was to sleep in a bed in the captain’s office. He noted that the bed had been slept in but Robledo’s clothes and watch were on the floor. Of the two ornamental daggers on display in the office one was missing. All these testimonies would prove to be circumstantial, though ensured that Bessenich remained under great scrutiny and suspicion.

Three assessors helping the British judge (one British, one French and one West German from Dubai’s multi-national community) found Bessenich not guilty, though the judge was not obliged to accept this verdict and took a week to deliver the definitive judgement on the 12th April 1971. Bessenich would walk free from the trial with the judge concluding that ‘there was grave suspicion against him, but the case could not be proved.’

It was a sad and unexpected end to the story of two sporting brothers who made careers in the world’s most competitive sporting industry. Though George Robledo is still well remembered for his football achievements, Ted’s own footballing legacy is sadly overshadowed by his mysterious disappearance at sea.

CIAN MANNING

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.