Pre-season tours of Asia, Europe and North America will be on the schedules of many English clubs in the coming months but it’s been a few decades now since South America was a popular touring choice for a pre-season jolly, as the English Premier League seeks global commercial domination I wonder whether it will be long until we see a team touring this glorious continent once again.
Over one hundred years ago, it was all a very different story as many sides spent large parts of the summer break touring South America. It appears that in 1904 Southampton became the first professional club to tour in this part of the world as they swept aside teams representing Argentina and Uruguay and were also said to inspire a few teams to adopt red and white stripes.
Nottingham Forest followed in 1905 after an invitation from Argentine FA and a payment of £200 and in doing so inspired one of the greatest club sides in South America, Independiente, to change their colours to red. In Argentina and Uruguay Forest played regularly in front of crowds of around 10,000, playing eight matches, scoring 57 times and only conceding 3 in a hugely successful tour. Amongst the crowds that came to watch these matches stood a certain Juan Peron who went onto become the President of Argentina and to marry American pop superstar Madonna (!)
Everton and Tottenham Hotspur were the first high-profile touring parties to South America in 1909. The secretaries of Everton and Tottenham received a letter of invitation from the English FA general secretary Frederick Wall inviting both clubs to participate in a series of matches in Argentina and Uruguay. The players would be away a total of nine weeks but only three weeks of that spent on South American soil.
The voyage from Blighty across the Atlantic began in somewhat adverse circumstances on the 14th May 1909. First, the players were informed they were to travel second class without consultation due to FA cost cutting measures that had to be taken for the tour to go ahead and then the Spurs party missed the boat completely. They were greeted with plenty of mocking from their Everton counterparts upon their arrival on the boat later that day; they had caught up by chartering a tug boat.
Once they arrived in Buenos Aires a couple of weeks later, the players only had a few hours to adjust to their new surroundings before being asked to play a match in front of the Argentine President, the game ended 2-2 and the President was impressed and entertained by both the Toffees and the Lilywhites.
Both teams played local sides as well as each other. Boca Juniors and River Plate had both been founded by 1909 but it was a side featuring many a man named Brown called Alumni that provided opposition for Everton in a 4-0 win for the visitors. This included a hat-trick for Bert Freeman. Both sides went onto Uruguay, a nation that took to the beautiful game very well on and off the field and Everton struggled to a 2-1 win against a Select XI from the national league before disposing of Spurs with another hat-trick from the star of the tour, that man again Bert Freeman.
The players wrote letters back home of their tour experiences, many of them remarked on the beauty of Rio de Janiero, a city that was a stopover but it appears no official matches were played in Brazil; however locals were keen to watch and try to join in with the Everton and Spurs players having a kickabout in the dock and on the beach. Before departing back to England, Bert’s Everton teammate Val Harris decided to treat himself to an exotic pet and returned back home with a Parrot. Spurs also took home a Parrot but legend has it that it died on the infamous day Arsenal were elected into the 1st Division in place of Tottenham.
The joint tour was considered a great experience and success, Everton’s legacy in South America was assured when a group of Anglo-Chileans that had witnessed part of the tour decided to form their own Everton football club in Vina Del Mar that is still going strong today. The Ruleteros Society is in place to create a special friendship between the two clubs and also aims to contact all the amateur football clubs in South America with Everton in their name , of which there are many. The Chilean side visited Merseyside for a friendly in July 2010 with the home side running out 2-0 winners in front of 25,000 at Goodison Park. It’s been said that a return fixture in Chile should take place in the future.
In 1914 Exeter City embarked on a somewhat legendary tour of Brazil and Argentina. In one match the club secretary of Racing Club went well outside the technical area brandishing a revolver and took aim at the referee after Exeter went 3-0 up, the ref had to be persuaded to continue the match. Upon resumption he decided to make things a little easier for himself by awarding the home side a penalty, they scored and the crowd went wild with excitement, fireworks were let off and a band came marching on playing the Argentine national anthem.
The tour became even more problematic for Exeter in the Brazil part of the tour as several players were arrested for ‘indecent exposure’ on the beaches of Rio De Janiero. It appears they only removed their shirts rather than go the full monty but it’s fair to say that Brazil’s attitude towards body exposure was not as liberal as it is today. Also despite winning two matches on Brazilian soil, in the third they lost to a side that is recognised as the birth of the Brazilian national team as players from Rio and Sao Paulo joined together to beat The Grecians 2-0. It’s said the men from the south west of England did not take kindly to this upset and Brazilian star striker Artur Friedenreich had his teeth knocked out.
The positive cultural impact of these tours in South America is undeniable and although many of them took place in close-season rather than pre-season, they were a huge success and fed the continent’s hunger to watch the game played in their cities to the highest level. The reasons why clubs don’t tour South America are fairly obvious; lack of commercial profit certainly compared to Asia and also worries about safety are two key reasons.
The Premier League is very popular here and I’m confident any Premier League side brave enough to visit would see the stadiums filled especially against the clubs in Argentina where the atmosphere is arguably the best in the world and in doing so would benefit enormously from what would surely be a memorable experience as I’m sure tour legend Bert Freeman could vouch for.