Pinochet and the King of the square metre


Damiano Benzoni

On July 5th, 1950, Carlos Caszely was born in Santiago. A Chilean forward of Hungarian descent, he would win five league titles and three cups of Chile with Colo-Colo between 1970 and 1985. His ability in the box would gain him the nickname el Rey del metro cuadrado, the King of the square metre. In 1973 he played the Copa Libertadores final against Independiente: after two draws in Avellaneda and Santiago, the match was solved in a desempate in Montevideo. Independiente won 2-1, scoring the decider in extra-time, but Caszely had scored his side’s equaliser in the first half and became the competition’s top-scorer. He would play 49 times for the national team, scoring 29 goals. He was voted best player in the 1979 Copa América, when Chile lost in the final against Eugenio Morel and Julio César Romero’s Paraguay. At the 1974 World Cup, in the opening match against the hosting nation, West Germany, he became the first ever player to receive a red card, as the card system had just been introduced by FIFA.

A socialist, he was close to Gladys Marín and Volodia Teitelboim, two communist MPs of Unidad Popular, one of the parties supporting Salvador Allende’s government. Marín said Caszely was “not only a great sportsman, but also a young man who understands the revolutionary process his country is experiencing”. When on September 11th, 1973 Augusto Pinochet seized power with a military coup and the elected president Allende lost his life during the attack to the presidential palace, Caszely had just emigrated to Spain, where he would play up until 1978 for Levante and Espanyol. He later declared: “In July 1973 I noticed I’d better go; you could breathe in the air that any moment a military coup could take place, as it later happened on September 11th”.

$T2eC16JHJGwE9n)ySdEoBP710VvJzw~~60_35The first match of Chile after the coup was the qualifier to the 1974 World Cup against the Soviet Union. After a draw in Moscow, the Soviets refused to play in the Estádio Nacional of Santiago, by then notorious for the tortures and executions which took place at the venue. Nevertheless, FIFA gave the go-ahead and Chile was conceded a 2-0 walk-over, celebrated by staging a farcical match. Under the direction of an Austrian referee, the Chileans played against no-one in a crowded stadium. The captain Francisco Valdés, served by Caszely, scored the goal. He would later throw up in the locker room, sickened with shame. After the match Augusto Pinochet in person wanted to congratulate the team by receiving them at the palace. Caszely refused to shake hands with the dictator: “I was the only player not to salute the dictator. I was scared, but that was what I had to do. I met him several times during my career, and only once did I greet him”.

In 1974 Caszely’s mother, Olga Garrido, was arrested and badly beaten by the security forces of the military regime. Fourteen years later, she would appear with her son in a TV advert supporting the vote against continuismo in the national referendum of 1988, which resulted in the convocation of the first democratic elections after the 1970 vote which had taken Salvador Allende to La Moneda. The woman recounted the humiliations she suffered on behalf of the regime. By her side, the player appeared, saying: “For this my vote is a No. Because her joy is my joy. Because her feelings are my feelings. Because tomorrow we can live in a free, healthy democracy, based on solidarity and which we can share. Because this nice lady is my mother”.

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