Monday, June 5, 2023

‘La Merveille Noir’: The Jose Leandro Andrade story

José Leandro Andrade

The word ‘star’ is term thrown around a lot regarding players in the modern game of football and has been for many decades, but very few truly live up to the honour. In a small neighbourhood within Salto, Uruguay, a true star was born, a marvel whose impact on the game of football has remained ever since. His name is José Leandro Andrade, and this is his story.

Enigmatic roots

Born on the 22nd of November 1901 in the border town of Salto, Uruguay, Andrade’s heritage was unique and shrouded in mystery from the day he arrived. With his mother originating from Argentina, it was Andrade’s father, Ignacio Andrade, that was quite the enigma.

As a West African-born slave, brought over to Brazil from his homeland, Andrade’s father was said to have quite extensive knowledge of African magic and voodoo. It is claimed that Ignacio’s use of ‘magic powers’ is the reason behind his escape to freedom from Brazil and why, according to his son’s birth certificate, he was there to witness Andrade’s birth at the age of 98. With the average life expectancy in 1900s Uruguay being 49 years old, it is no wonder that the mystery has continued to grow surrounding Ignacio Andrade and his interest in black magic.

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Growing up in poverty was the story for many in early 1900s Uruguay, albeit that the country was quite unique with its openness to all societies and cultures, at a time when racial discrimination was widespread in South America. This openness aided many youngsters from African backgrounds, like Andrade, meaning he was able to attend school but was one of the first to drop out of despite being one of the school’s best students.

One of the reasons the youngster stayed in school for as long as he did, was his daily reward of playing football with his brothers after lessons in the schoolyard. Here, on the dirt pitches of the schoolyard, is where the young Uruguayan developed a hunger and passion for the beautiful game.

The Dancing Man

Now out of school and in his early teens, Andrade developed a desire to spread his wings and leave the small town he grew up in. Having grown up in poverty his entire childhood, raised by his mother along with his sister and two brothers, the youngster’s desire saw him arrive in the capital, Montevideo.

Here, Andrade continued to play his football where he could and this dedication saw local side Bella Vista acquire his services. With South American football still considered an amateur sport, it was impossible for Andrade and many others to pursue a career in the game exclusively. This lack of financial incentive saw the youngster forge his living as a carnival musician, where he entertained the crowds with his skilful tango dancing and lead the drums corp of the carnival’s Libertadores de Africa group.

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To earn extra money in-between performances with the carnival, Andrade worked as a shoe shiner and even for a short while as a gigolo, according to popular legend. His performances for Bella Vista saw the youngster propel through the ranks, earning him the opportunity to try out for the national side. After impressing immensely, Andrade was selected to represent La Celeste (the Sky Blue) ahead of the 1923 South American championship, known today at the Copa América.

Standing at 5’11”, Andrade wasted little time in showcasing his talents to  the vibrant crowds with his ability to not only intercept opposition passes with ease, but also be the catalyst for his team going forward. Uruguay went on to win the competition, due in huge part to the performances of their new prospect in what would be the first of many titles for Andrade.

Road to the 1924 Olympic Games

As champions of South America, Uruguay earned a place in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. In what was a predominantly European selection of countries taking part, Uruguay joined the United States of America, Turkey and Egypt in being the only four non-European countries participating.

Before the World Cup was introduced in 1930 by FIFA, the 1924 Olympic games was seen as the first World Championship of football and the pinnacle achievement for any International side. Going into the games, Uruguay’s squad consisted of players from working-class backgrounds, who saw football as a hobby they loved instead of a steady income. As well as a carnival musician in Andrade, the team consisted of meat packers, an ice cream salesman and a marble cutter, to name a few. Uruguayan sports writer, Eduardo Galeano described the make-up of the squad as:

“They were all twenty years old or a little older, though in the pictures they look like old men. They cured their wounds with salt water, vinegar plasters and a few glasses of wine.”

On top of a lack of confidence amongst the general public in the country, differences over pay and amateurism in the sport between the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) and the Uruguayan Football Federation (FUF) saw the team’s participation at the Olympics thrown into jeopardy.

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After lengthy discussions, both footballing bodies’ failed to compromise on allowing their respective players to be selected alongside each other, resulting in the Uruguayan Olympic Committee deciding not send a team to the Olympics. However, Francesco Ghigliani, Uruguay’s representative to the International Olympic Committee, dissolved the local committee and registered the team’s participation.

Tour of Spain

With a lack of support within their own committee, funds were not available for the players to fund their way across the Atlantic. In order to prevent their dream from coming to a short end,  the players contributed what they could from their own low income but had some officials, who did believe in the team, contribute where they could to help.

Casto Martínez Laguarda, an association official, travelled to Spain to arrange a series of friendlies where the money made from ticket gates was to be split accordingly. On top of this, Atilio Narancio, president of the Uruguayan FA, remortgaged his luxury house to raise funds for the side’s accommodation and food whilst in Paris.

After successful negotiations by Laguarda, it was arranged that La Celeste was to partake in a series of nine friendlies against local sides in preparation for the upcoming Olympics. To ensure the side were the fittest team in the tournament, goalkeeper Andrés Mazali decided to organise training drills on the deck of the Desirade steamship throughout the long journey.

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Upon arriving in Vigo, Spain, Andrade and his teammates were greeted by a sea of people who wished to catch a glimpse of the first South American team to come over and play in Europe. This unique moment was described by the players at the time as “an unforgettable welcome” and one that they did not forget quickly.

First up for Uruguay was local side Celta Vigo and a 3-0 victory in what was quite a dominant performance, engineered mainly by Andrade. Already the dancing midfielder was starting to showcase his immense talent to a new audience, who were left in awe at the ease with which the midfielder played the game, despite his young age.

Uruguay went on to win a second match against Celta Vigo before heading to Bilbao by train, where they twice defeated Athletic Club Bilbao and Deportivo La Coruña respectively. From Bilbao, Andrade and his teammates travelled to the Basque country of Spain where Real Sociedad awaited them. With another victory under their belt, the South Americans made the trip to Madrid where they won against both Atlético Madrid and Racing de Madrid to finish the tour undefeated.

Uruguay went on to win all nine games, scoring 25 goals and conceding only eight in the process, a performance that reverberated throughout Europe more than they could have ever imagined.

From Madrid to Paris

On the 1st May 1924, Uruguay concluded their tour of Spain, with Andrade and his teammates impressing so much that Spanish publication El Mundo Deportivo, among others, dubbed them the favourites for the upcoming Olympic games. The publication described the team with high praise by saying:

“Without any doubt, these South American champions are the best footballers we have ever seen here.”

Despite their working-class backgrounds, the pride and love with which the side had for their football was reflected in their entertaining and impressive style of play, one that was to soon see them reach new heights.

Next for the South American champions was the final journey to the Olympics in Paris, where they travelled via second-class carriages and had to sleep on wooden benches throughout. Once arriving in the French capital, the side immediately turned their attentions to an opening fixture against Eastern European side Yugoslavia.

With little excitement surrounding this fixture, let alone their overall participation in the tournament, it came as a massive surprise to Andrade and his teammates when they discovered their opponents had sent a group of players to spy on a Uruguayan training session.

To teach the Yugoslavians a lesson, and gain an advantage, captain José Nazassi told his team to feign clumsiness on the ball by knocking it in various directions inaccurately and dramatically falling to the ground ‘injured’ at every tackle. The plan worked a treat as the spies reported back to Yugoslavia’s coach, Todor Sekulić, that the South Americans were unremarkable at best, inept at worst.

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The fixture got off to a strange start, with the Brazilian national anthem being played before kick-off and the Uruguayan flag being displayed the wrong way around. These calamities did not stop La Celeste turning global football on its head as they battered Yugoslavia 7-0. Despite not being on the score sheet, Andrade stole the show as he ran the Yugoslavian midfield ragged with his blistering pace and immense power when on the ball to assist four of the goals.

This remarkable performance saw the South Americans announce themselves as a legitimate team to be reckoned with in the tournament, with many in the local news such as L’ Auto, the predecessor to L’ Equipe, naming the South Americans as the favourites for the tournament.

Though appearing as a knee-jerk response to the blowout victory, nothing could be further from the truth as an intrigue surrounding the Uruguayans had already blossomed amongst many in the French press after hearing about their dominant performances on tour in Spain.

History in the making

With his appearance at the 1924 Olympics, Andrade made history by becoming the first black footballer to play in the tournament, a watershed moment in football history and one that shot the young wonder kid to stardom. In what were quite racially dividing times in Europe, the youngster held himself well in spotlight and did not shy away from doing things his way off the pitch.

Andrade’s journey from shoe shiner and carnival musician to a man now representing his country as the first black footballer at an Olympics was a tale that made him a hero back in Uruguay. However, the young midfielder was not the first black player to represent La Celeste due to the country’s progressive policy resulting in a rich history of fielding black players for several years prior.

This approach was so unpopular amongst their continental rivals, that Chile went so far as to declare their South American compatriots as ‘cheaters’, an allegation that was later withdrawn when Uruguay threatened to make it a diplomatic matter.

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Further accusations were thrown, this time at Andrade and his teammates, as the squad celebrated their first round victory by having a night out on Parisian town and were spotted by the recently eliminated Spanish side. The Spaniards went on to accuse the Uruguayans of not taking the competition seriously, an accusation that would only fuel them more to prove any doubters wrong.

In their second game, the United States of America awaited the South American champions but, despite their best efforts, were no match for a further motivated Uruguayan side who walked away 3-0 winners. Two goals from top striker, Pedro Petrone, and fellow striking dynamo Héctor Scarone saw the side progress with ease to the third round, a victory that The New York Herald described as being “near perfection” and as a match of “50 against 5 at times”.

Compared to the mere 3,000 fans that attended their opening fixture against Yugoslavia, a crowd of 11,000 fans were in attendance for this game against the United States at the Stade Bergeyre, a sign that word was quickly starting to spread of the South American side’s mastery.

La Merveille Noire

With both strikers continuing their rich vein of form against the United States, it was Uruguay’s midfield rock in Andrade that stole the headlines and plaudits. Sports writer Galeano poetically describes the talent that was announcing himself on the world stage:

“Andrade dazzled everyone with his exquisite moves. A midfielder, this rubber-bodied giant would sweep the ball downfield without ever touching an adversary, and when he launched the attack he would brandish his body and send them all scattering. In one match he crossed half the field with the ball sitting on his head.”

On the pitch, Andrade was a phenom. As Galeano states, opposing players found it impossible to catch the versatile 22-year-old and if they did, they just bounced off him when attempting to retrieve the ball. Many tried to hack the dynamo down, but he was too silky and strong to be brought down easily.

This exquisite talent saw the youngster crowned La merveille noire – The Black Marvel by a besotted French press, making him football’s first unofficial brand ambassador. Even his teammate Scarone is quoted as swearing he used to hear the midfielder snap his fingers or click his tongue in training, like he was dancing to music when on the ball.

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Those at the time compared his presence as he came for the ball to that of rolling thunder, so much so that the African fans in attendance yelled out “Cabio Sile Shango” in salutation, fir they saw him as Shango – the God of Thunder.  Like Shango, Andrade led a full red-blooded life and liked to party on and off the pitch, whilst at the same time his dancing talents on the ball led to his team’s groove on the field.

The Marvel downs the hosts

With two clean sheets and ten goals scored so far over the first two rounds, the host nation France awaited the South Americans in a highly anticipated Quarter-Final in front of a packed out 30,000 attendance at the Stade Olympique. Uruguay entered the stadium carrying their own flag as well as the French Tricolore, as a sign of respect and appreciation towards their opponents.

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In the lead up to the game, a story had been promoted around by a Spanish journalist claiming that Uruguay had agreed to win by no more than one goal, in order to not embarrass the French. This story looked to have substance when the dominant South Americans went into the break only 2-1 up but, early in the second half, a rare foul committed by Andrade drew whistles and abuse from the home crowd.

This treatment angered Andrade, who proceeded to take his frustrations out by tearing apart the French defence to set up three goals for his teammates. After the match, the youngster was asked to explain his side’s dominance and replied stating that the squad practised by trying to catch chickens.

If Europe was not taking note before, they were now as Uruguay went on to demolish the hosts 5-1 in front of a majorly stunned French attendance to book their place in the semi-final.

Overcoming Dutch courage

Unlike the expectations of their quarter-final tie, the South American side faced their most difficult test of the tournament against another European side in form of the Netherlands. Due to the ease with which they had swept opponents aside so far, it came as no surprise to see Uruguay perhaps underestimate a Dutch side that were known for being difficult to break down.

In the 32nd minute, the Netherlands took a well-deserved lead through a goal from Kees Pijl to send the 8,000 capacity crowd into a sense of shock and feeling that Uruguay had met their match.

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This was the first time La Celeste fell behind during the tournament, causing Casto Laguarda, the man greatly responsible for ensuring Uruguay made the trip to Paris in the first place, to give a half-time talk. During this talk, it is said the Uruguayan official reminded the players of the crowds in Montevideo who were anxiously supporting their hopes of success.

This team talk seemed to work, as the South Americans came back to beat the Dutch 2-1, with two controversial goals. The first, by Cea, was claimed to be offside by the Dutch and the second was an 82nd-minute penalty converted by Héctor Scarone after a disputed handball. None of this mattered to the Uruguayans as the final blew to confirm their place in the Olympic final, with Switzerland their final roadblock to achieving history.

Putting Uruguay on the map

With 10,000 fans being turned away due to a sell-out crowd, contrary to their opening fixture in front of just 3,000 fans, the stage was set at the Stade Olympique for the 1924 Olympic final. Nearby printing houses had gone as far as distributing Uruguay flags to supporters as the anticipation built. With a very cagey start to the first half seeing both sides eager to not relinquish a lead, a 9th minute strike from Pedro Petrone, assisted by Andrade, saw the South Americans have one foot on the winner’s podium.

Two further goals in the second half meant saw the Uruguayans accomplish what was considered the impossible, to become champions of the world and Olympic gold medallists. In celebration, and as a sign of respect, the crowd invaded the pitch to join the Uruguayan heroes as they attempted a lap of honour amidst the pandemonium surrounding them.

Nothing but praise was heaped upon this special side, and rightly so, with the editor of L’ Equipe describing the Uruguayans as being “like thoroughbreds next to farm horses”, referring to the ease with which they beat any opponent in front of them.

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The small South American country had defeated not only Europe’s best but the odds that were stacked against them. Even the players were in disbelief at what their extraordinary talents had earned them, with striker Pedro Cea claiming at the time:

“We thought it was a lie.”

“When we saw that huge flag of ours being raised between Switzerland and Holland, and going up, going up, until it was higher than all the others, we felt that we had done something great.”

To celebrate this remarkable achievement, the Uruguayan government declared a national holiday and issued commemorative stamps in honour of the squad. The triumph transcended sporting significance, as it was seen as a marker showing that the New World had stepped out of the shadows of the Old and could compete.

A legend is born

Despite not scoring during the competition, it was Andrade who was crowned the star player of the tournament due to his orchestrated play and cool head that was of someone beyond his years. At 22 years of age, the youngster was known as a player with remarkable honesty and exceptional temperament, to the point where he was known not to celebrate when his team scored a goal at both club or international level.
Andrade’s sporting abilities and accomplishments saw him become one of football’s first superstars, and certainly one of the first black superstars. Prior to Andrade, only Arthur Friedenreich was seen as a rival to that honour, however, the Brazilian forward never had the chance to export his fame to Europe in the way the Uruguayan managed to.

To add to his national accolades, the star won Uruguay’s Primera Division in his debut season with Nacional, who he joined from Bella Vista shortly after the 1924 Olympics. Andrade went on to spend 6 years at Nacional, playing 105 league games and scoring 29 goals, which is rather prolific for a holding midfielder.

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The stardom the Uruguayan possessed is shown to no better extent than when Nacional went on tour across nine European countries in 1925. In total, more than 800,000 spectators came to see the man himself play which is a testament to the reach he had considering the lack of exposure South American sides had outside of the continent.
However, during this tour, Andrade fell ill and was later diagnosed with syphilis by a Belgian doctor, who believed the player had contracted the bacterial infection as a result of the quite extravagant lifestyle he led. This diagnosis meant the midfielder was only able to play half the games on tour as, fortunately for the player, the disease only took a mild toll on his football.
This illness set the tone for Andrade’s future as it meant he could continue to represent both club and country, but at a slightly reduced level and play fewer matches.
Upon returning from the tour, it was said that the Uruguayan star already looked thin and depressed as a result of hearing about his diagnosis, which drove him to drink even more than he was already when partying.
From rags to riches

Upon arriving back home in Montevideo, after remaining in Paris for the month after the final, the local black community wished to celebrate their hero’s achievement by arranging a welcome home party to honour him. However, the star did not attend without any reason to explain his absence, with a lack of gratitude the most considered reason behind his decision.

Many at the time felt that success at such a young age changed the Uruguayan’s attitude, with even his teammates describing him as unapproachable, arrogant and a closed character, who very rarely let people into his life. Some might say this change was Andrade’s way of keeping away from the limelight, but his behaviour did not support this hypothesis. To those who knew him well, Andrade was seen as leaving Montevideo a humble man and returned a prince with his outfit upon stepping off the boat consisting of gloves, leather boots and a top hat, as well as an expensive coat and a silk cravat.

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However, despite the grievances of many, it came as no surprise that the newfound fame  was something Andrade enjoyed very much. During the team’s month in Paris after the final, the star would regularly disappear from the team hotel and be found in a luxury apartment somewhere amongst the most exclusive areas in the French capital, surrounded by beautiful women.

With his party lifestyle and charming personality, the Uruguayan became quite the womaniser, catching the eye of many including Nobel-Prize-winning journalist, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and actress Josephine Baker. Baker, who was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, spent many a time with Andrade as both loved to dance and were seen as kindred spirits in the way they approached life.

The Rio de la Plata Rivalry

Success in the Olympics of 1924 was not only seen as a victory for Uruguay, but for all of South America as it symbolised the New World stepping up against the Old, and winning. Media throughout the continent lauded Andrade and his teammates, who had been basking in their newfound fame as the toast of the Parisian city, enjoying free food and drink wherever they went. Whilst out there, telegrams of congratulations arrived in the hundreds with the Uruguayan President, José Serrato amongst them.

As the side disembarked in Montevideo from their conquest, they were greeted to a fanfare worthy of heroes, however, not everyone was quick to laud their historic success. Across the Rio de la Plata, in neighbouring Argentina, a feeling of jealousy and envy was growing.

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Despite the unity shown between both countries’ media in honouring La Celeste, the growing animosity from their continental neighbours that could not be contained. It was believed by many in the Argentine squad that had they of been participating in the 1924 Olympics, then they could have easily taken gold. So, to prove their point, a challenge was issued to Uruguay in the form of a two-leg tie to determine the real world champions.

With the Argentine players continuing to provoke the reigning champions, it did not take long for Andrade and his teammates to accept the challenge as there was a feeling amongst the camp that their historic achievement was being belittled and disrespected.

A 1-1 draw in Montevideo, saw both sides head to the Estádio Sportivo Barracas, in Buenos Aires, in front of a packed 52,000 crowd with all still to play for in the second leg. However, the game did not get off to a great start when a large majority of fans strayed on to the pitch five minutes in, causing the officials to postpone the game.

The Rio de la Plata Rivalry Part II

For the replay a week later, a thirteen-foot-high fence was erected around the field as a way to contain the intense crowds of both sides to avoid a repeat of the incident that caused the initial postponement. The deadlock was broken in the 15th minute with the birth of what was later crowned the gol olímpico, when Argentine winger Cesáreo Onzari scored directly from a corner kick. However, this historic moment in football was not enough to prevent the match being dominated by the violent scenes that occurred later in the match. With Uruguay’s style becoming more physical and aggressive to match the same treatment they were receiving, the home crowd responded by hurling a barrage of stones and other objects at the away side, mainly at Andrade.

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Not known to shy away from confrontation, Andrade and his teammates returned the favour by hurling the stones back into the home crowd, prompting intervention from the police to try and calm the hostile atmosphere that had developed.

So intense were the scenes, that Uruguayan striker Héctor Scarone kicked out at one of the officers trying to hold him back, resulting in his arrest and the rest of his teammates walking off the pitch with five minutes to go.  On the night, Argentina were 2-1 up and ahead 3-2 on aggregate so, with Uruguay’s exit from the pitch in protest, a forfeit was announced crowning Argentina the unofficial world champions.

This insane end to a match was only the beginning of a heated rivalry between the two as months later, at the end of the 1925 South American Championship in Montevideo, a home supporter was shot dead after an altercation with a group of Argentina fans whilst celebrating Uruguay’s championship victory.

From Rio de Janeiro to Amsterdam

On the 30th March 1928, the reigning Olympic champions boarded the Eubée steamship as they prepared to set sail for Rio de Janeiro, where they were set to partake in a series of friendlies to prepare for the upcoming 1928 Olympics, in Amsterdam. However, there was one very noticeable absentee from the ship, with Andrade deciding not to travel due to disputes over pay in what seen as another reflection of the change in attitude the star had adopted.

As the ship left the harbour in Montevideo, due to reasons unknown, the star changed his mind and caught the next steamship to the Brazilian city in order to join his teammates for their upcoming friendly against Brazil. The Uruguayan star settled right back into the groove as he guided his side to victory over their continental compatriots, before the team again set sail, but this time to Europe.

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As was the case four years prior, the Uruguayans trained on the ship’s deck in order to ensure they were the fittest side in the tournament but this time, with more pressure on them than previous. First, the team disembarked in Lisbon before travelling by train to the French port of Le Havre, where they played several friendlies against local side.

After disposing of their opponents comfortably to get good preparation under their belts, the South Americans continued onto the last leg of their journey to the Dutch capital, again by sea, to defend their title.

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, the squad was again unimpressed with the poor conditions of the Olympic village, instead choosing to seek alternative accommodation in a comfortable hotel based in the principality of Velsen, just outside of the Dutch capital. In order to overcome the possibility of homesickness, the South Americans decided to bring along their own chef in what was seen as quite a revolutionary tactic at the time.

The 1928 Olympics

Heading into the 1928 Olympics, there was already the sense that football could no longer be restricted to the confines of this event, with disputes over issues regarding amateurism in a sport that was slowly moving towards becoming professional, causing teams to pull out in protest. Compared to the twenty-two teams that participated in the Olympics four years prior, the field consisted of only seventeen sides due to the British teams leaving FIFA a couple months prior over the same issue of amateurism.

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However, despite all the politics surrounding the future of the game, there was one man who the crowds in Amsterdam could not wait to see and that was Uruguay’s phenom, José Leandro Andrade. Now twenty-four years of age, the midfielder was the star everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of and the paying crowd got their money’s worth, as he was instrumental in his side’s opening round victory over the home nation in front of 40,000 fans.

Despite playing fewer minutes due to contracting syphilis, the Uruguayan star featured more on the right but still managed to assist both goals to help his country progress to the next round. However, victory came at a price, with both Andrade and top striker Scarrone picking up injuries that meant they were unavailable for the quarter-final match against European powerhouse, Germany.

One down, three to go

Despite missing two of their star players, one of whom was considered the best player in the world in Andrade, the South Americans showcased why they were the reigning champions and favourites for the tournament as they blew away an impressive German side 4-1.

This victory was an eye-opener to many, as it displayed Uruguay’s patience in breaking down their opponents with their elaborate style of play. To try and stop the onslaught from the defending champions, the frustrated Germans resorted to violent fouls with Uruguay captain José Nasazzi, the only right-back in the squad, picking up an injury that saw him out of the semi-final against Italy.

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Things got even worse for the Germans, as their own captain and centre-back Hans Kalb was sent off for lashing out at the Uruguay striker and goalscorer Pedro Petrone. The foul was considered so violent that Kalb received a one-year suspension from the German FA, effectively ended his international career.

The Italian Job

In what was to be their toughest challenge of the tournament so far, the South Americans faced an Italian side who had come off the back of knocking out Spain 7-1 in a replay. Despite having both Andrade and Scarrone back, the reigning champions found themselves behind after just nine minutes, with a goal-line clearance from Andrade preventing the score being doubled two minutes later.

Inevitably, Uruguay found their rhythm and went into the half 3-1 up with goals from Cea, Scarrone and Campolo, two of which were assisted by Andrade. The second half, however, was a nervy one for La Celeste as a mistake from goalkeeper Andrés Mazali brought the result back to within a goal.

With the Italians throwing everything at their opponents, Uruguay held on to win 3-2 and book their place in the final, with Andrade playing a huge role in protecting his back four from the Italian onslaught.

There was, however, a moment of panic for the defending champions when Andrade collided with the goalpost causing a serious injury to his eye resulting in mild blindness, but even this could not stop the man from wanting to showcase his talents in the final.

Bitter rivals meet again

Now in their second successive final at the Olympics, a bitter enemy awaited them in the form of Argentina. There was still a lot of animosity between both sides due to the events that had transpired over the last four years, with the two-leg final violence and the death of a Uruguay fan at the 1925 South American championship.

Going into the tournament, Uruguay captain José Nasazzi was asked who he wished to face in the final of the Olympics, should his side make it there and his answer was:

“I believe in the triumph of the South Americans and my most ardent desire would be to be able to reach the final with our brothers the Argentines and to be able to demonstrate to the Europeans that, in faraway America, an intelligent and honest sport is being played.”

Nasazzi and Latin America got their wish as on June 10th 1928, the Rio de la Plate final commenced on the world stage, with both sides going into the game level on victories against one another from their previous encounters. Over 250,000 people applied for tickets and those who were successful, got to see a fiercely contested battle between two teams who knew each other’s tactics like clockwork.

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With top striker Scarrone on the bench, in what was a bizarre move, the game finished 1-1 after ninety minutes and extra time with Manuel Ferreira cancelling out Pedro Petrone’s earlier strike. This was the first time Uruguay had been held to a draw in nine Olympic matches and, as a result, the game was to be replayed a few days later. This replay rule, was newly introduced at the start of the tournament, as penalty shootouts did not come into effect until 1970.

The replay

After honours even in the first final, the second took place on the 11th of June 1928 and went on to become an all-time classic. For Uruguay, Héctor Scarrone returned in what was now a full-strength line up for the defending champions as they opened the scoring after just seventeen minutes, with a goal from midfielder Roberto Figueroa.

Andrade, who was still playing fewer minutes than in the previous Olympics, but had still played in every game so far, showed why he was the best player in the world at the time as he engineered most of his side’s attacks and defended his back line like a warrior.

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It was the star man, who assisted the opening goal for Figueroa before Argentina answered back through Luis Monti’s strike eighteen minutes before the half. As the second half commenced, and the score tied at one a piece, the match became a battle between two sides desperate to beat the other. With extra time looking, the game needed a moment of brilliance to separate the two sides and this came in the form of a superb volley from returning striker Héctor Scarrone, that thundered into the top corner.

As the final whistle blew to signify the end of a classic encounter, it was Uruguay who stood tall and regained their crown as the World Champions of football. This impressive campaign to retain their title was not to be their last, and also not the last time that this bitter rivalry graced the world stage in a final.

1930 World Cup

After being announced on the eve of the first match at the 1928 Olympics, the time had finally arrived for the first World Cup to be played and the nation chosen to host it was none other than Uruguay. The reasoning behind this choice of host was not only down to the fact that they were the current back-to-back World Champions, but also because it was the year the country was celebrating the centenary of its first constitution.

However, an economic depression meant that long travel to South America was near enough impossible for many of the top nations to afford, despite this being the first tournament for professional players to participate in. The latter was also a controversial decision, even though there had been many disputes about the amateurism in the past, resulting in both Denmark and Germany deciding not to participate in the tournament.

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It is safe to say that the world’s first professional tournament was not getting off to the start that FIFA had imagined, with only thirteen teams confirmed to participate and 7 of those from the Americas.

With just months left before the start of the tournament, four of the European nations were added after Uruguay agreed to use their wealth at the time to finance travel in return for accepting to participate. The four nations added were Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia, however, all four sides journeyed to Uruguay on the same ship meaning they missed out on a crucial training period.

Weight of a nation

Being the host nation and reigning champions, brought a new pressure to Uruguay as they were considered the favourites and had now had the weight of a nation on their shoulders. To make the maiden tournament fairer for the travelling nations, who had to abandon their preparations to sail over, FIFA experimented with a new format. This format saw group stages introduced, with the winner of each of the four groups progressing to the semi-finals. This meant that every side had the chance to play at least two games and still have a chance of qualification.

In their opening group game, fellow South American side Peru awaited the host nation but they were no match for the World Champions. A goal for Hector Castro, assisted by Andrade, saw La Celeste go on to win 1-0 with a comfortable performance. Though he was not the young, fast thoroughbred of years past, the now twenty-nine-year-old sensation still stood head and shoulders above his opponents. Again, Andrade orchestrated his side’s impressive victory in their second, and last, group game against Romania with a 4-0 victory seeing them book a place in the semi-finals.

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Awaiting Uruguay were an old foe in the form of Yugoslavia, a side that were embarrassed 7-0 in the 1924 Olympics at the hands of Andrade and his teammates. Just like in the Olympics six years prior, the Eastern European side faced another embarrassing defeat but this time managed to get on the score sheet, as the game finished 6-1. Again, it was Andrade who haunted the Yugoslavian midfield as he assisted three of the goals to help his side reach yet another final and the admiring fans their money’s worth.

A returning rivalry

Awaiting La Celeste in the final was none other than continental rivals, Argentina, who had impressed on their route to the final by seeing away sides such as the USA, France, Mexico and Chile in ruthless fashion. So intense was the rivalry now between the two sets of supporters, that Argentina threatened to leave the tournament early after they were consistently booed during their opening game against France, by a majorly Uruguayan crowd.

In the presence of over 68,000 people at Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, the stage was set for the third major final between these two archenemies to decide who would be crowned the first-ever FIFA World Cup winners.

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With Belgian referee John Langenus blowing the opening whistle, the game commenced and the hosts wasted little time in taking an early lead. In the twelfth minute, forward Pablo Dorado finished off a nice team goal, but this was cancelled out eight minutes later through Carlos Peucelle’s equaliser for Argentina.

Another sucker punch came eight minutes before the half, when Guillermo Stábile’s goal saw the away side go into the break 2-1 up and confident that they could finally get revenge on their nemesis.

However, the second half saw Andrade take the game by the scruff of the neck as he led his side to a second-half onslaught of their opponents, by assisting the equaliser twelve minutes after the break for Pedro Cea.

The goals did not end there, as Santos Iriarte’s sixty-eighth-minute strike was later added by a last-minute goal by Héctor Castro to put the nail in the coffin of Argentina’s hopes at becoming World Champions.

History made and retirement

With referee John Langenus’s final blow of the whistle to signify the end to a historic encounter, it was Uruguay who again sat atop the throne of world football as the first-ever World Cup winners, and three-time World Champions.

This game was also Andrade’s last-ever appearance for La Celeste, and he left in impressive fashion. To signify his impressive display in the tournament, he was named in the All-Star team of the tournament and won the Bronze Ball for third-best player in the tournament, behind fellow countrymen Guillermo Stábile and José Nasazzi.

In life after international duty, Andrade continued to play for Nacional, where he helped the side finish runners-up in his last season before making the move to fellow Uruguayan giants Peñarol in 1931, at the age of thirty.

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With his eyesight deteriorating as a result of the injury suffered against Italy in 1928, Andrade was utilised in a deeper role. However, in his four years with the Manyas, he helped the club win two national titles in 1932 and 1935, and never finished lower than second.

With his body dwindling, Andrade had stints at Argentinian sides Club Atalanta and Lanús-Talleres, before returning home to make a handful of appearances for Montevideo Wanderers where he eventually retired from the game completely at the age of thirty-four.

Death of an icon

In the years following his retirement, the once-great footballer continued down the dark road of alcohol abuse. Whereas his old teammates forged successful coaching careers and successful business ventures, Andrade failed to hold down a job and became blind in the very eye he damaged in 1928. It is said the syphilis mainly contributed to the star’s blindness, with the goalpost collision just further worsening it, but either way Andrade’s life was in a downward trajectory.

Attempts were made by former teammates to arrange benefit games in his honour but, due to the Uruguayan’s reputation of being unpopular because of his attitude, these requests fell on deaf ears. A failed marriage and further bouts of depression added to the darkness surrounding the once great light of world football.

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However, despite all of this, the former great was invited to the 1950 World Cup as a guest of honour, where he was able to witness his nephew Víctor Rodríguez Andrade help La Celeste to the promised land once again as World Champions. In 1956, a German journalist called Fritz Hack sought out the once footballing great and, after six days of searching, was astounded at who he found lurking in a dark, unhygienic basement.

It had appeared that Andrade was now so broke and unable to work that he could only seek shelter in the depths of a algae-filled basement and was so intoxicated that he was unable to answer any questions on his illustrious career or follow instructions, unless aided by his now second wife.

A year after this astounding discovery, José Leandro Andrade sadly passed away at the age of fifty-five in an asylum situated in his beloved Montevideo after contracting tuberculosis, with only his medals to his name that were kept in a shoe box.


Despite such a tragic end, the legacy of José Leandro Andrade cannot be denied. Seen a not only one of football’s first-ever superstars but also a trailblazer in the sense of the road he paved for players of African decent that have followed in the years after.

The Uruguayan is one of only four players to have won three world titles, with the others being two of his former teammates and the great Pelé. Andrade was also named the 10th greatest World Cup player in France Football’s World Cup top 100.

To put this accolade into perspective, the only men who ranked above the Uruguay midfielder were Pele, Diego Maradona, Frank Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Garrincha to name a few. However, the players that Andrade finished above is just as impressive and these include Eusebio, Bobby Charlton, Lothar Matthaus and Jairzinho.

To honour this achievement, a plaque was put up at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, the very stadium where Andrade had excited fans for many years.

Over time, the name José Andrade has disappeared from the history books and memories of many football fans but his mark on the game, especially in his beloved Uruguay, cannot be underestimated. As the prominent Uruguayan, Atilio Narancio, who helped fund the players’ trip to Europe in 1924, said after their victory: “We are no longer just a tiny spot on the map”….a legacy that will forever be indebted to Uruguay’s La Merveille Noire.

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