22 enero, 2011


In memory of
Julio Guzmán Gonzales
and Alejandro Quevedo Acosta,
founding leaders of the
San Isidro Barrio.



On Tuesday, April 13, 1971, my local soccer team, José Gálvez Football Club (José Gálvez FBC) of Chimbote, Perú, defeated the Red Devils of Chiclín (a town in Trujillo, Perú) in a tiebreaker match played at the Stadium “Lolo” Fernández of Universitario de Deportes Club in Lima. Thus, they qualified for the Grand Final of the Perú Cup, where they would face the other five teams already qualified: Mariano Melgar of Arequipa, Unión Tumán of Chiclayo, CNI of Iquitos, Cienciano of Cuzco, and Social Deportivo Huando of Huaral.

The start date for the Grand Final was marked on the calendar: Sunday, April 25, 1971. And the three best teams in this tournament would be promoted to the Peruvian professional elite soccer league.

While waiting for this date, Chimbote exploded in a great celebration of joy, optimism, and expectation. Chimbote had never before been so close to reaching the top soccer league. After the terrible experience of the earthquake of 1970, Chimbote was smiling again.

In 1971 I was ten years old. At home, economic hardship did not allow us to own a battery powered radio, so my brothers and I used to wander through the neighborhood streets, looking for a place where we could listen to radio broadcasts coming from different parts of the country.

To this end, we had several favorite places, usually homes that were destroyed by the earthquake of 1970, and whose walls had been replaced by esteras (hand woven reeds), so from the street you could hear the radio broadcast inside the houses. But on Sunday afternoon, April 25, 1971, I wanted a more comfortable place to enjoy every second of the anticipated debut of José Gálvez FBC, facing Mariano Melgar of Arequipa.

And this place was my neighbor Pedro "Pedrito" Pinedo Rojas’ bicycle and cargo tricycle repair shop, located on the fourteenth block of Aviation Avenue, between the houses of his father in law, Don Marino Peláez Rodriguez, and the butcher Lucho Prieto Gonzales.

The Mariano Melgar of Arequipa side had arrived in Lima as the favorite to win the Grand Final. They were an experienced, solid and precise team. Besides, in 1966 they had already played in the professional league. The José Gálvez FBC was an inexperienced but attractive team. Their beautiful short passing game was always welcome in the stands, although in reality, Lima’s sport pundits gave them no chance to get to the professional elite.

San Isidro looked deserted that day. It was as if everyone had gone to Lima to watch the game. The excitement hammered hard in Chimbotan hearts. And with good reason: José Gálvez FBC, The People's Team, The Butchers' Team, used to playing in the very humble local stadium, that day came to play in the legendary soccer grounds of the National Stadium of Lima, where nearly 50,000 souls roared in an intimidating manner. It was like entering the lion's den.

And the rookie Chimbotan team paid the price for debut jitters.

Back at the bicycle repair workshop, a compact group of people sat listening to the game. Pedrito Pinedo and his employees were patching punctured tubes, fixing broken chains, and trueing the wobbly wheels of bicycles, and cargo tricycles which were used by men working in the inner city delivery service.

At approximately 1:30 p.m., the referee Erwin Hiegger started the match. Five minutes later, Gálvez was already losing one to zero. A foul of José "Pepe" Arias inside the penalty area was punished with a penalty kick which was skillfully executed by the Arequipan Luís Ponce Arroé. In Pedrito Pinedo’s workshop we were starting to get nervous, but there was always someone there to say: "Don’t worry, the boys are just getting warmed up."

That day the match changed San Isidro barrio’s routine, but some habits were so entrenched in the neighborhood, that even the best soccer game in the world could not alter them.

At that time there lived in the barrio a neighbor who was not more than four feet tall. His house was located on Aviation Avenue’s ninth block, across from Don Andrés Vásquez Mendoza’s bakery. His name was Melesio Loyola Cortez, but everyone knew him as "The hunchback Loyola." On Sundays this good man would have a few too many drinks, then walk back home. Along the way he would stop several times and shout, "Long live APRA!" (a political party) and the kids in the street would respond, "Hunchback, death to APRA!". Then the good man would get annoyed and curse the rascals’ mothers, and chase them with stones.

In Lima, 17 minutes into the match’s first half, the Chimbotan team again was punished with a penalty kick. This time the central back Pablo Vilela deflected a ball with his hand, and the Arequipan player Luís Ponce Arroé scored. Anxiety began to take over Pedrito Pinedo’s workshop, but we still comforted one another with the idea that "it was still early."

In those days there was a peculiar character in San Isidro. It was a crazy man. A really crazy one. He arrived in our barrio from the mountains of Ancash. His name was Manuel, but on the streets he was called "Leodán." Actually my brother Roger nicknamed him that way. Leodán had an unchanging daily routine. He’d go to Market 21 de Abril to look through the garbage for something to eat, and to drink some strong rum. Then he would come back drunk, singing in front of Pedrito Pinedo’s workshop. Once he had walked Aviation Avenue’s fourteenth block, he would turn down Union Street just before my house. Here the boys in the street would shout: "Leodán, sing La Flor de Papa!" But he did not accept requests, and between the happiness of his own folly, and his huaynos (Andean music), he would leave San Isidro in the direction of 2 de Mayo barrio, where his name changed from "Leodán" to "Waishco", and where he slept in a garage with no front door in Huáscar Street.

In Lima the first half of the match ended with the score in favor of the Arequipan team by two goals to nil. In Pedrito Pinedo’s workshop we held onto the hope that things would improve in the second half. But the truth was undeniable: Melgar was a much better team than Gálvez.

It was 1971 and the port city of Chimbote still enjoyed the last part of the fish bonanza. Fishmongers on cargo tricycles rode the streets of San Isidro selling snook (robalo), corvina, cojinova (Palm Ruff, or Choicy Ruff), cabinza, crabs and mussels. And burly women of northern Peruvian origin, wearing big white bowls set in a ring of cloth on their heads, and carrying plates and buckets in their hands, walked the streets of my neighborhood hawking "Ceviche ... pejerrey fish ceviche!"

The second half of the Melgar-Gálvez match began in Lima. Twelve minutes later there was another Arequipan goal. The Chimbotan defense failed to clear a harmless ball out of their area, and this naive mistake led to a low powerful shot by Melgar’s left wing forward, Emilio Barra. Now the score was three to nil. At this point, in Pedrito Pinedo's workshop, the mood began to change. It was like a bucket of cold water was poured over us and brought us back to reality, and we began to think that our dear José Gálvez FBC was not ready for this competitive level.

Those were also the times when children of my neighborhood were friends with the pájaros cochos (pelicans). During fishing ban periods, the pájaros cochos couldn’t find enough food to eat around the pier, La Ramada (a wholesale fish market by the pier), or the Bay of Chimbote. So they invaded the city streets, and came to my neighborhood. The pájaros cochos hung out on top of Market 21 de Abril and San Francisco de Asís Church’s walls, and from there spread to Aviation Avenue’s fourteenth and thirteenth blocks. On Union Street, neighborhood kids would search for leftovers in our mothers’ meager kitchens, and then go out in droves to play with the pelicans.

In Lima, in the lion's den, the die had been cast for Gálvez. For a moment there was a glimmer of hope. At 17 minutes into the second half, a Galvista goal was scored by Luis Palomino. In Pedrito Pinedo’s workshop we were still doubting whether to celebrate or not, when two minutes later another penalty kick came for Melgar. Arturo "Pepe" Acosta fouled in the penalty area, and a goal was scored by Arequipan Raúl Rosell. At that instant, we no longer felt disappointed with the score. We had been living a fantasy, but now the Grand Final of the Perú Cup was waking us up to reality.

Another typical image of San Isidro in those days were the weekly ideological battles between the neighbors Alejandro Quevedo Acosta and Anatolio Toledo Campos. Don Alejandro was my father, and he had a convenience store on the corner of Aviation Avenue and Union Street. Don Anatolio was a mason who lived three blocks away from my house. He regularly walked past my father's shop and stopped for a cordial greeting. Both men, accomplished self-taught and avid readers, began reviewing international events, and then talked about national politics. My father defended Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre’s party, while Don Anatolio stood up for the architect Fernando Belaunde Terry. While they debated, I would go to listen to the soccer games. Hours later I would return, and the debate would not be over. Those were early times in my neighborhood’s life, and back then nobody imagined that one of the mason’s 16 children would one day become the President of Perú.

In Lima the match was not quite over yet. There would be one more penalty kick before the match would go down in history as “the match of the penalty kicks". The fifth Arequipan goal came 35 minutes into the second half. It was a penalty kick by Raúl Rosell. Final score: Mariano Melgar of Arequipa 5, José Gálvez of Chimbote 1.

This was a Sunday, and like every other Sunday, without exception, the evangelical Church of Christ’s “brothers and sisters” finished Sunday school and walked back home down Aviation Avenue. The church was located on the thirteenth block of this avenue and, in the early 1970s, Don Gilmer Orbegozo Ríos was the pastor. But I remember with fondness the former pastor, Don Obdulio Manrique Romero. He was an outstanding speaker who would preach the gospel nightly. From inside the church the speakers would bring the old pastor's voice to the neighboring houses, and in the darkness of the night, through the esteras of my bedroom, his voice came to my bed, and I would fall asleep with the word of God.

“The match of the penalty kicks” ended in Lima at 3:30 p.m., and gradually the streets of San Isidro recovered their usual rhythm. On Aviation Avenue’s eleventh block the sound from San Isidro Cinema’s amplifiers returned to invade the neighborhood with the Argentinean Leo Dan and the Mexican Javier Solis’s songs. Some neighbors walked to the movies, carrying their own straw chairs, to watchsword-and-sandal” epics and “spaghetti westerns”. Other neighbors just returned home after the radio broadcast of the match. People were not angry, but resigned. Neighbors greeted one another from either side of the sidewalk by shrugging shoulders.

“The match of the penalty kicks” had pricked the bubble of our fantasies and left us empty of hope.

If at three-thirty that afternoon a crystal ball would have told us that in the following days the José Gálvez FBC would have a stunning recovery, and would classify in the Peruvian top elite soccer league, nobody would have believed it.

But in reality ... that's what happened!

New Hampshire, USA
January 2011

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2 comentarios:

  1. Great blog Ed. Being a 'sports' enthusiast, I can appreciate your love for your Jose Galvez, FBC, along with your childhood memories of growing up in Chimbote....they are a pleasure to read. I look forward to the next one!

  2. I was sad :( , But then I was happy that after they would classify in the Peruvian top elite soccer league!!!

    ps san isidro is funny!