Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sometimes it is a Matter of Life and Death

Today I'm going to talk about soccer, or rather futbol. Most of you have probably never heard of Andres Escobar:

But you might remember Carlos Valderrama, or at least his awesome hair:

Both men were members of the Colombian national soccer team in the early 90's that was favored to win the World Cup in 1994. I figure this is an appropriate topic for the times since we our about to move out of the group stage and into the knockout round of this year's FIFA World Cup.

Andres Escobar was a simple family man. A devout Catholic who excelled on the pitch not only in skill but in his composure he was known as El Caballero del Futbol which means the gentleman of football. He was a kind and respectful person who cared deeply about his country and its people.

He was not related to the Colombian Druglord Pablo Escobar but their paths did cross. In the 80's the rise of the popularity of Cocaine for recreational drug use in the United States was so steep that the Colombian producers and traffickers were getting rich, fast. Any criminal organization with that much money is going to have to find a way to launder it. Club Soccer is big business and matches in places like Colombia at the time could deal with millions of dollars: in cash.

To make a long story short Pablo Escobar eventually bought the club team Atlético Nacional of Medellin that Andres played for. Pablo apparently loved soccer and went around the poor communities building fields for the children to learn the sport on. Pablo Escobar actually did many great things for the poor people of his country with the money he earned from the Cocaine Trade but let us not forget that he was a gangster and a ruthless murderer.

With the money that was coming in Colombian Soccer became suddenly relevant in the late 80's. They had the money to keep their best players and to bring in some others from around the world. Colombian Futbol had never stood up to powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but now all of a sudden they mattered. With these resources Atlético Nacional won the Copa Libertadores in 1989. The Copa is the most prestigious tournament in South American Football, one of the most widely watched sporting events in the world, and essentially equates to the European Cup.

In 1994 the FIFA World Cup took place in the United States. Colombia entered the tournament ranked fourth in the World, heavily favored to make it deep into the tournament. Life back home in Colombia was going crazy. The whole country was in turmoil. Pablo Escobar and many of his empire's soldiers had been murdered by new, even more ruthless gangsters after he had finally stopped murdering politicians in order to change the constitution and eliminate extradition to the U.S. Violence was rampant and the fervor over the national team's chances in the World Cup was at a fever pitch.

Andres was the Captain of the team and the pillar of its defensive back line. They were an excellent side with stars like Midfielder Carlos Valderrama and Striker Faustino Asprilla, but they had just lost their amazingly athletic keeper René Higuita when he was arrested for visiting Pablo Escobar in prison earlier that year. In fact the entire team had visited Pablo and played soccer with him on the prison's field, but only Higuita was caught by the media.

The loss of the star goalkeeper and the violence in Colombia combined with threats from gangsters and gamblers who wagered astronomical amounts of money on the Colombian side's chances in the cup combined to place an insurmountable pressure on the team, its players and especially its captain, Andres. There were death threats coming in and one player even received news that his brother had been murdered. All of the pressure piled up unfairly on the team and caused them to lose their opening match to Romania.

Things got worse and the violence mounted back home. Children were kidnapped, murders continued and more threats were made. Then the unthinkable (in the eyes of futbol fans) occurred. The Colombians lost to the far inferior and lower ranked United States Team when Andres accidentally scored on his own goal by trying to deflect a shot by U.S. Midfielder John Harkes. The team never made it out of the group stage and returned home in shame and terror.

One night soon after Andres went to a club with some friends trying to show himself to the people and atone for his mistake but he was murdered, shot to death in his car by gangster Cocaine Traffickers who had lost large sums of money gambling on the matches. He was only 27 when he died. He had been engaged to be married and was being considered for transfer to AC Milan in Italy, one of the wealthiest and most prestigious club teams in the entire world. His life was cut tragically short.

So sometimes it really is a matter of life and death. Can you imagine being murdered for a mistake you made in a sporting match?

Here are a couple of links:

Andres Escobar on Wikipedia.

Pablo Escobar on Wikipedia.

The Copa Libertadores on Wikipedia.

If you are curious to know more about this sad tale check your local listings for the ESPN 30 for 30 special documentary: The Two Escobars.


Emily White said...

A very sad story. There are horrors around the world that people in this country can't even begin to imagine.

Thanks for sharing this.

Vicki Rocho said...

Dude #2...he needs a haircut!

(sorry, had to be said)

This is very tragic, but just emphasizes my confusion about WHY people take sports so seriously. It is a GAME.

Roni Loren said...

So horrible. My husband tivos the 30 for 30s, so I'll have to make sure and watch this one with him.

Stina said...

That is horrible!

I'm with Vicki on dude # 2.

I have something for you on my blog today. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I saw it Stina, thanks so much!

Candyland said...

Aww that's tragic. I don't get into soccer, but man...seriously horrible...

Old Kitty said...

yes, I do remember the 1994 world cup particularly that nail biting finale between Italy and Brazil!

But this story is such a horrid reminder of how the world of sports is so mired in corruption and politics and economics. Terrible. What a senseless tragic loss!

Take care

Bryan Russell said...

Man, I remember that so well. I remember watching that game and how he slid in and accidentally knocked the cross into his own net.

He deserved better than that.

Though, it must also be said, that Valderama had the BEST HAIR EVER. He was very easy to pick out on the soccer pitch. :)

Jaydee Morgan said...

That's definitely a tragic story - and craziness that people take the outcomes of games to this extreme.

Giles Hash said...

Such a waste. Too many innocent people have been hurt because of how lenient the world is toward drug crimes. It's so sad.

Erica Mitchell said...

Such a tragic and sad story :(

Unknown said...

I'm with Vicki... A haircut is definitely in order.

This is very sad, I'm not a sports girl but nonetheless very sad.

Lydia Kang said...

The craziness of the futbol world, and the ramificatins of it is something I only barely perceive living in the US. It's scary how murder can be the result of a soccer story.

Christina Lee said...

Yeah...very scary. Should we be thankful we live in the U.S. ?

Sarah Ahiers said...

holy crap. that is horrible

Talli Roland said...

Wow. I agree - tragic that people take it so seriously.

At this very moment pubs are packed across England to see England v Slovenia (I think) and honestly I can't believe the fuss!

Raquel Byrnes said...

That was both sobering and sadenning to hear. What a terrible tragic.

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Creepy Query Girl said...

It is absolutely insane the amount of importance put on these games by their relative countries. The French aren't being very kind with their losing team. Every day they talk about France's 'humiliation' on the news because their team acted like a bunch of amateur premadonnas. The captain of 'les bleus' Thierry Henry has recieved a convocation from the PRESIDENT- Nickolas Sarkozy to answer for the team's behavoir. It's just insane.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is sad.
Upon seeing the elimination of N Korea in the World Cup, I had to wonder if they will return home to a firing squad.

Carolyn V. said...

Wow. That's sad. It's too bad.

Tahereh said...



Susan Kaye Quinn said...

So, so sad. I was just telling the kiddos (again) in the car today how lucky we were, how priveledged. And that was just in terms of material wealth (compared to the rest of the world) - I didn't even talk about the crime and safety issues that so much of the world is mired in.

We take so much for granted.

Julie Musil said...

Oh my gosh, that's horrible! I'm not a fan of this game (what World Cup?), but that is a sad, sad story.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the heads-up Matthew on your post today.

I had seen the ESPN special advertised, but only remembered about half the story.

Good stuff.

Guinevere said...

Oh my god, that is so sad. I had never heard about that before - thanks for teaching me about something in history I didn't know.

MBW aka Olleymae said...

What a sad story. I always keep stories like this in mind when I'm watching a big even like the Olympics or the World Cup, because you're absolutely right, some teams have ridiculous amounts of pressure put on them.

I can't imagine growing up and living out your dream as a futbol star only to have it end up so terrifying.

Myrna Foster said...

I've played and coached soccer, and it's easy to accidently score on your own goal, especially if the other team aims their corner kick at your goal. I've never done it, but one of the girls on the team I coached this fall did, and I saw it happen at least one other time during the same season.

Thanks for sharing the story.