Buchanan Hall, #D005
June 17, 2013, 10:00 AM to 08:00 AM
At the 1966 FIFA World Cup—the premier international soccer tournament in the world—Argentina lost 0-1 in the quarterfinals to the host nation, England. At times, the match became overly physical and led to the referee expelling the Argentine captain for reasons that were not clear at the time. Tempers on both sides remained hot and after the game was over, English coach Alf Ramsey ran onto the field and prevented his players from participating in the ritual exchange of jerseys with their South American rivals. When reporters asked him about his team’s victory, Ramsey concluded, “We have, still, to produce our best football. It will come against the right type of opposition, the team who come[s] out to play football, not act as animals.”
Ramsey’s "animal" comment created a stir in Argentina. It transformed a sub-par performance by the national team into a moment of patriotism fueled by a sense of injustice. Thousands in Buenos Aires greeted the “moral champions” upon their return. The parade route concluded with the leader of the new installed military regime greeting players and coaches upon their return to Argentina, describing them as national heroes. Considering that Argentina lost the quarterfinal match, why did so many people celebrate the national team upon its return? Why did the outcome of the game and Ramsey’s “animal” comment produce such as visceral reaction in Argentina?
This dissertation shows that fútbol, or soccer, was a privileged site in Argentina for negotiating social anxieties between 1946 and 1970, which in turn produced changing notions of national and masculine identity. It examines how fútbol reflected middle-class preoccupations with success, civility, and modernity. In particular, the “animals” comment reveals that the foreign gaze was central to the concerns of the middle class in Argentina. When fútbol teams suffered a series of humiliating losses in international matches after 1957, coaches and technical specialists looked to Europe for successful tactics and training methods. The result was a decade of “fútbol moderno” that de-emphasized a decades-long emphasis on individual creativity in favor of a modernized, disciplined adherence to tactics, which often produced a hard-hitting physical style of play. The goal of this approach was to out-muscle, out-run, and outlast the best teams in Europe—to win at all costs. However, by the end of the 1960s many fans began to question if the pursuit of success came at the expense of the nation’s reputation in the world. Argentine teams became notorious for dirty and violent “anti-fútbol” tactics.
For many people, the proliferation of overly physical teams validated foreign opinions that Argentine players were “animals.” The new aggressive style of play yielded a level of criticism from Europe that was hard to ignore. More important, it raised questions—especially among the middle class—as to whether morality, propriety, and modernity continued to matter in a society more polarized than ever before.