The death of Amelia Bolanios….
“Football, hey? Bloody hell”….so said the legendary football manager Sir Alex Ferguson in a quote which is up there with the late, great Bill Shankly’s verdict that football wasn’t a matter of life or death, it was more important that that. Well, for some it is, demonstrably so.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Sunday 8th June 1969, the Honduran national team hosted its arch rival El Salvador in the first of two World Cup qualifying matches and despite the tensions building up since the draw, few could have foreseen the events which unfolded. Arriving the day before the match the visiting El Salvador team suffered a miserable night in their hotel room. Honduran fans surrounded the building shouting, sounding car horns, letting off firecrackers and throwing sticks at their bedroom windows throughout the night. The plan worked, El Salvador lost 1-0.
In the final minute of the match Roberto Cardona scored the decisive goal. As he celebrated with his teammates eighteen year old Amelia Bolanios got up from watching the game in her El Salvador home, took out her father’s pistol and shot herself through the heart. The national newspaper described her despair at the result and her funeral brought the capital to a standstill. The president led the mourners followed by the national football team in an event televised across the country. Amelia became immortalised.
The following week it was the turn of Honduras to play El Salvador at the Flor Blanca stadium, the El Salvador fans would have their revenge. Every window in the team hotel was smashed, crowds chanted throughout the night, the rooms were pelted with dead rats and rotten eggs until the morning when the terrified players were escorted in armoured vehicles to the match. As the Honduran national anthem was played, their national fag, already burned to ashes in front of the crowd was replaced and raised up the flag pole by an old rag. Pictures of Amelia adorned the terraces watched by armed soldiers. The atmosphere was electric. Unsurprisingly, El Salvador won 3-0, the players could only think about leaving alive, and so as they dashed to the airport in armoured trucks their fans ran the gauntlet of the hysterical mob, many were kicked and beaten, cars were burned and two Honduras fans lost their lives. Football, hey?
In a few hours the border between the two countries was closed and by the following day El Salvador and Honduras were at war, for one hundred hours. It was a short but bloody conflict, six thousand were killed and twelve thousand wounded. Tens of thousands lost their homes and the fields which gave them their living. Unlike the football match the war ended in stalemate thanks to the intervention of neighbouring countries. It was a war waiting for a spark; for years the two countries had exchanged insults and threats and a game of football and the suicide of an eighteen year old girl lit the fuse. Incredibly, the tie was a ‘best of three’ and this time the teams travelled to Mexico where the fans where separated by five thousand Mexican policemen. The game, for what it’s worth was won by El Salvador by three goals to two.
It was a desperately tragic prelude to a glorious World Cup the following year, perhaps the greatest example of the beautiful game there has ever been. The tragedy is that a young football fan never got to live long enough to see it.