by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

2 June 1962: The Battle of Santiago

The Battle of Santiago was the name given to a 1962 World Cup game between hosts Chile and Italy on 2 June 1962.  The highlights were introduced to British viewers by David Coleman who warned them that what they are going to see is “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game. Chile versus Italy, this is the first time the two countries have met, we hope it will be the last. The national motto of Chile reads: By reason or by force. Today, the Chileans were prepared to be reasonable. The Italians only used force. The result was a disaster for the World Cup.”

The referee for the game was Englishman Ken Aston who was considered to be one of the top officials in England if not the world. He had been given the honour of refereeing the opening game of the 1962 World Cup, a 3-1 victory for Chile over Switzerland, and impressed the FIFA officials so much that they named him to be in charge of the Chile v. Italy game which they were expecting to be a difficult one to referee.  They felt it would benefit from Aston’s cool and reliable approach to the game.

The tie was taking place against a background of considerable tension between the two nations.  Two years before the world cup the preparations were hampered when Chile suffered from the largest earthquake ever recorded and which killed 6,000 people. After the earthquake all the football associations participating in the tournament offered their support and encouragement to Chile, all that is except Italy who cast doubt on Chile’s ability to host the World Cup and asked FIFA to move it.  Chile in return had been highly critical of Italy’s practice of using South American born players of Italian ancestry saying it robbed the continent of the best players as well as damaging the progress of young Italians.

Some concerns were raised when the two were drawn together in the same group for the world cup, and matters intensified when two Italian journalists, Antonio Ghirelli and Corrado Pizzinelli, in a pre-World Cup visit described the Chilean capital Santiago as a poverty-stricken dump full of not particularly good-looking women of dubious morals.  The articles were reprinted in the Chilean press inflaming their fans, leaving the two journalists, who were claiming their comments had been taken out of context, having to flee the country before the World Cup for their safety.  As it was, an unfortunate Argentinian journalist, who was mistaken for an Italian, was badly beaten in a bar.

It was in this highly charged atmosphere that the two teams met in the Estadio Nacional in Santiago in the their second group match, with Chile having beaten Switzerland and Italy having earned a goalless draw against West Germany in their opening games.  The Italians did try to placate the crowd before the game with the players going round the pitch tossing bouquets of flowers into the crowd.  Although none came flying back it can be seen from the gesticulations of the crowd in pictures of the game that they were in no mood to bury the hatchet

Even before the game started the Italians were complaining that the Chile players had been spitting on them, and years later Aston was left to remark, “I wasn’t reffing a football match, I was acting as an umpire in military manoeuvres.”  It took just a few seconds for the first foul of the game, and when the first sending off came in the twelfth minute there had already been a number of incidents of foul play.  Italy’s Giorgio Ferrini was asked to leave the pitch after he retaliated to a foul by Honotrino Landa with a petulant kick. In light of what was to come the kick was fairly innocuous, and, feeling that he had been unfairly treated, Ferrini refused to leave the pitch and was finally escorted off by a number of policemen, screaming insults as he left.  It took a full eight minutes to get the game restarted and when Landa himself threw a punch a few minutes later and escaped any punishment, the ire of the Italians was raised to a higher level.

The game continued with players, fearful of any challenges, getting rid of the ball as soon as possible, and Aston struggling to keep control. He failed to spot another punch thrown at an Italian when Chile’s Leonel Sanchez hit out at Mario David in retaliation for a series of kicks while they were entangled in the corner, but then when David flew through the air at head height to catch Sanchez on the side of the face moments later the Italian was sent off.  Having seen the foul there was no alternative action for Aston to take, but it further increased the Italian’s sense of outrage.  Sanchez, the son of a professional boxer, again escaped punishment when he threw a left hook that broke the Argentinian born Italian player Humberto Maschio’s nose with what was described by David Coleman as one of the best he had ever seen thrown. The longer the game went on the more it degenerated into a running fight with the police having to intervene on the pitch two further times to help the referee restore order.

As a backdrop to all this violence there was a football match being played and despite the nine men of Italy grimly hanging on for a draw that would have given them a chance of progressing in the tournament, Chile eventually won 2-0.  The goals came from a header by Ramirez in the 74th minute and a long-range shot two minutes before the end by Toro, who had been another Chile player lucky to stay on the pitch after throwing a punch or two.  There was just enough time after the second goal for Landa and Salvadore to clash following a late tackle by the Italian.  While Landa was being dragged away Aston took the opportunity to blow the whistle sparking another couple of punch-ups after handshakes were offered and refused.

The result was enough to leave the Italians effectively out of the tournament, while Chile, who lost their next game against West Germany 2-0, made it to the quarter-finals where they put two past an unusually below par Lev Yashin to beat the USSR 2-1.  They met eventual winners Brazil in the semis and lost 4-2 before taking third place with a 1-0 win over Yugoslavia.

Although Coleman seemed intent on heaping all the blame for the bad temper of the game on the Italians the referee Ken Aston cannot escape all the blame though. For once Aston’s philosophy that the players should take centre-stage not the referee was sorely tested, although in fairness he was not helped by his assistants seeming inability to see punches being thrown right in front of their face.  If Chilean indiscretions had been treated with the same discipline the Italians had met then the Italian’s attitude, and the game, may not have deteriorated so far as it did. The Italians, who had nearly quit the game at half-time were outraged by Aston’s performance which they insisted had favoured the home side, and back in Italy the press were alleging corruption and demanding an inquiry.   Aston refereed no more games in the world cup citing a strain to his Achilles as rendering him unfit, but FIFA would in no way hold him responsible for the events of the Battle of Santiago.  In fact he went on to have a successful career in administration with FIFA and is credited with coming up with the idea of using red and yellow cards to indicate sending-offs and bookings.  He was also placed in charge of all the referees for the next three world cups.