By Ken Pendleton – USSoccerPlayers (March 16, 2007) — The BBC’s broadcast of the 1962 World Cup was handicapped since none of the matches could be broadcast live. In the absence of satellites, tapes had to be flown from the host nation Chile to Great Britain before they could be aired.
The fact that the result was already known to the vast majority of viewers was less than ideal, but the Beeb tried to keep viewers on their couches by giving them a taster of what they were about to witness. During the Chile versus Italy pre-game, David Coleman warned viewers that, “The game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting, and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.”
This is not to suggest that the BBC, and everyone else, didn’t realize that there were going to be major problems long before the first ball, or opponent, was kicked.
The Italians had already engendered a lot of antipathy in South America because of their policy of selecting oriundi, or players of foreign extraction, to play for the National Team. But the hostility was ratcheted up after two Italian journalists wrote incredibly disparaging commentaries about their hosts.
Corraddo Pizzinelli, writing for La Nazione in Florence, claimed that Chile was malnourished, illiterate, impoverished, alcoholic, prostitution-filled, and in general, miserable and backwards. And Antonio Ghirelli, writing for Corriere della Sera, which is roughly the Italian equivalent to the New York Times, questioned whether the hosts were up to the task, even though they were having to stage the event in the wake of a devastating earthquake:
Chile is a small, proud and poor country: it has agreed to organize this World Cup in the same way as Mussolini agreed to send our air force to bomb London (they didn’t arrive). The capital city has 700 hotel beds. The phones don’t work. Taxis are as rare as faithful husbands.
To his credit, Ghirelli later took partial blame for the subsequent events.
The Chilean press responded in kind, by trotting out every stereotype in the book: accusing the Italian players of being fascists, Mafiosos, oversexed, and, because some of Inter’s players had recently been involved in a doping scandal, drug addicts.
The Italian players, rightly fearing what was about to occur, tried to placate the crowd by tossing flowers into the stands, but they were thrown back. FIFA bowed to the Italian request to use an English referee instead of a Spanish one. Ken Aston, who had served as a lieutenant colonel in India during World War Two, later conceded that he had been in way over his head: “It was me against 22. The game was uncontrollable. I wasn’t reffing a football match, I was acting as umpire in military maneuvers.”
The match started cleanly enough. The Italians even created a couple of openings in the first few minutes, but matters took an inevitable turn for the worse when the Argentinean-born Italian Humberto Maschio struck Lionel Sanchez while Aston was not looking. Two minutes later, Italy’s Giorgio Ferrini was sent off (there were no red cards then) with a police escort because he refused to go after over-reacting to a foul by Honorino Landa. During the subsequent melee, Sanchez broke Maschio’s nose with a punch and called him a traitor. The whole world saw it on television, but Aston and the linesman apparently missed it.
Not surprisingly, Sanchez came in for a lot attention as he tried to make his way down the left wing. Late in the first half, after his chief tormentor Mario David had fouled him, he flattened him with the mother of all haymakers. This time, after order was once again restored, Aston spoke to his linesman, but decided to take no action.
Later in the half, which lasted 52 minutes, David decided to take revenge by launching a flying drop kick at Sanchez while the ball was in the vicinity of his head. Sanchez later confessed that David had missed, but the foul looked so bad that Aston expelled him. One publication ranked it the second worst foul in the history of soccer (two of the top 15 featured in this match), and one Italian writer described it as “murderous”, asking whether he was “clinically mad or had been driven so by chemicals?”
The score was still 0-0 when Aston blew the halftime whistle. The Italians thought about abandoning the match, as did Aston, but he feared there would be a riot.
The second half was mercifully uneventful, at least by the standards set in the first half. A couple more players could have been sent off, but the police did not have to come on the field again. The Italians actually resisted, with some ease, until the closing quarter hour, when Jaime Ramirez headed in a free kick that the Italian goalkeeper Carlo Mattrel failed to clear. And in the closing minutes Jorge Toro thumped a second in from nearly 25 yards out, before capping off the match by getting involved in one last round of fisticuffs.
The Italians, however, still had a few obstacles to overcome. Their team bus was stoned and an angry crowd gathered at the flying school where they were staying. FIFA suspended Ferrini for one match. Sanchez and David were given “severe admonishments”. They went home after their next match, even though they beat Switzerland 3-0, while the Chileans advanced all the way to the semifinals, before being outclassed, four goals to two, by a Garrincha-inspired Brazil.
When the match was finally shown in Italy, RAI (the Italian equivalent of the BBC) used slow motion edits, which were extremely rare at that time, to show Sanchez’s two punches and David’s flying tackle attempt, but they did not replay, or call attention to, the fact that Maschio had struck Sanchez first.
Not surprisingly, the majority of Italian pundits heaped blame on Aston. Some questioned his competence, some questioned his integrity, and one euphemistically described him as “a son of a good woman”. These allegations didn’t do much harm to his career. Although he did not referee in Chile again, allegedly because he suffered an Achilles’ tendon strain during the match, he became a member of FIFA’s referees’ committee and invented the yellow and red card system.