Sporting Fever

Interview with Ondido Viera,
Uruguayan Football Player

Photograph of Ondino Viera Q: When did you start playing football (soccer)?

Viera: I began to play at six years old. I came from the interior. Then I began to play football. When I arrived from the interior, I did not know what football was. We didn't know anything in the interior. They are completely isolated from life in the cities. My parents made me watch the horses, since we came from the country, and I encountered for the first time a group of boys running from one side to the other. I did not know why they ran. I saw that they had an animal's bladder, not a football, an animal's bladder. So they ran and ran and ran, and suddenly one of them came up and told me to enter. I said, "Enter for what?" I didn't know how to play. So I stayed, and later they asked again, inviting me emphatically to enter. So I entered because I knew I could run more than they could.

When the ball, the bladder, went to one side, I ran and arrived at it first, but I did not hit the bladder once. I couldn't hit it because I didn't know how and the bladder/ball went in all directions. But when we finished the practice and were saying" See you tomorrow," they told me, " Another day we will put you on the team to play with us." I did not know what this meant and I told my father, "Look what happened to me today." "Ah," he said. "It is a football field. One plays on one side and the other on the other side. You played for both sides. What your friend told you is very good." The next day I played with them again. So began my football career...

Q: What were the differences between the European and the Uruguayan style of football?

Viera: Well, they were developed men. We were still young. They were the creators, invincible kings, masters of the past, the English. They introduced football through the railroad concessions. So that teams were formed at all the stations throughout America. There began our confrontation with them. There was an enormous age difference because we were children of 17 or 18 years, and they were men with beards on their faces. They were the functionaries, the men in charge of the stations. They were all civil servants, and some were officials of the railroad companies, those that played.

A: Tell us about the first Olympic victory in 1924.

Viera: When we made our Olympic crusade, it was a true drama. An important decision in the Uruguayan Football Association withdrew Penarol, which is one of the largest clubs from the capital, and the Uruguayan Football Association stayed with Nacional and a few other clubs.... And Jose Nassazi, the captain of our teams, a player who they happily and luckily chose to manage... so between the first and second period, fronted by the double B, we applied the system of our seven counter-tactics, and from there we conquered in the first Olympiad of 1924, which we repeated in '28, and repeated again in the '30 World Cup, and later in the World Cup of 1950.

... But I failed to say that we....we founded the school, the school of Uruguayan football, without trainers, without physical preparation, without sports medicine, without kinesiologists. Just us alone in the fields of Uruguay, going after the leather from the morning to the afternoon into the moonlit night. We played for 20 years to learn to become players, to become what players had to be: absolute masters of the ball...Grabbing the ball and not letting it go for any reason.... So that was our enormous superiority... the pass to the forward in front of the play, looking for the shots of the Europeans. We did it also when there were free players, but when there weren't any, there was the player who grabbed the ball and, assisted by his teammate, made the pass...

Q: Tell us about the World Cup games of 1930 in Montevideo.

Viera: Yes, I was working because I stayed in the Centennial Stadium up to the moment it was finished, up to the final date... We were sure we would do it. We had complete confidence. It was a struggle against the clock. It was unforeseeable. We had to start the World Cup in other arenas than the Centennial Stadium because it was still... the Centennial was not prepared....

The date arrived and they had to play the first game in the arena of Penarol and Nacional. We had to allow the reinforced cement to completely harden to endure the 70 or 100 thousand people. There was a lot of worry about this, because the Centennial Stadium was completely fresh. There were fears that it would collapse, above all because they thought there was nobody to contain the supporters. There were not enough police, not enough police presence to contain what was thought to be a capacity crowd of 70 to 90 thousand people. So everyone foresaw these things, and there were fears that a debacle could occur, but happily it did not. There sits the Centennial Stadium as it was built in 1930.

Q: What did you think about the fact that many European nations weren't coming to the World Cup?

Viera: We were all working together, but there was a boycott, the Old World against the World Champions. France responded with the first compromise because we had invited them and competed in the global Olympic games.... And from there they made a path between the sporting diplomacy of Europe, so other countries would come. It was in reality the first championship of the world.

We thought it was a logical thing [that some nations weren't coming] because it was a completely new event. There was very bad information in Europe concerning football in South America. It was the savages of America. It was a wild football, our game. It was an empirical, self-taught, native style of football. It was a football that was not yet within the canons of the management of football in the Old World, not remotely. We began playing one against the other. Without teachers. Without trainers. Only the management and the football commissions were between the captains and us, the players. That was our football, and that's how we formed our school of play, and that's how the school of play for the entire continent of the new world was formed.

Q: What was the strongest rivalry?

Viera: Uruguay and Argentina. We had a lot of respect for Europe at that time, but no fear. We knew we held an enormous superiority over them, overall a technical superiority. They were superior physically, athletically, but we confronted them with a acrobatic assault formed from our artistic talents. So they were very different things, very different. We respected them, but we knew who we were.

We had alot of confidence in what we were doing. But there was a an antecedent. We were the Olympic and World champions. We won in '28 against the Argentinians. We were the finalists. But later, political and diplomatic sporting strategy set up a match that never should have been made, and the Argentinians won. The result was the creation of a rivalry so great that when the Argentinians left Buenos Aires for Montevideo, the biggest, most influential newspaper in Argentina headlined, "The Champions of the World return to Montevideo."

"But how," we asked, "before playing, before stepping into the Centennial Stadium, the Argentineans, because they won a mistaken match against the Olympic and World Champions, say that the 'Champions of the World' are returning to Montevideo?" This was a declaration of war. A cry of war, and the championship developed psychologically into a great war between Uruguay and Argentina, which peaked with the interruption of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Q: The tension continued until the final day?

Viera: Well, the day of the final... I remember the war cry that I said had sounded when the papers printed: "The World Champions return to Montevideo!" The referee John Langenus took out life insurance upon seeing this climate of war, and after the game was over he asked for some help in getting out of the Stadium, this was right before the end of the game, and he forgot to warn the guards to help him, and he had to be rushed out a... tunnel. That was the way things were, that the climate of war, and that was the enthusiasm we felt. We forgot to carry, to see to, to take the steps necessary to carry away the judge. So anyway afterwards he was carried away by a volunteer..., and he left with life insurance that he never had to cash, which was very lucky for him.

Well, anyway, everyone was lucky, and no one fought against each other. We all wanted to see who would be the one to win the game. So all the Uruguayans and the Argentineans were all involved in rooting for their own...for the goals that were made, the tieing goal, the winning goal.

Q: What happened after the victory?

Viera: There were celebrations that undoubtedly began at the Stadium and extended throughout all of the streets of Montevideo, they extended to all the streets of the city and the Republic. And from the Republic, they extended to all of the nations on the continent, except Argentina, of course, who couldn't celebrate our victory. So the parties were everywhere, and were, shall we say, in solidarity with Uruguay's conquest of the first world championship. To inaugurate [the Stadium] was the duty of the world champions. To do something transcendental in the history of football, it fell upon us to implant the spirit of modern American football, which is also of the old world, here in Uruguay.

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