The I.S.A. Collection

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Benavidez: The Invisible, Visable Man

Legendary players have always been, for the most part, high profile in the world of sport. In football, which is now so globalized, thankfully race is less of a factor in the adulation of its heroes. In the modern game, Pele or Eusebio - two stars come to mind  who were nicknamed  "Black Pearl" - predicated on their African heritage. Today's super stars like Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo are known as Brazilian and Portuguese players respectively, rather than the dark skinned or light skinned persons.

This was not always the case. Stardom in football, especially in Latin America, came with provisions and catagories in the early days. The scoring records of legendary Brazilian Arthur Friedenreich (b. 1892) were askewed in obsecurity, by some opinion, because of prejudice.
Friedenreich, of German father and a black slave mother, had physical features that could pass for being European. The slicked-hair style of the era and lighter skin allowed him to go undetected as an Afro-Brazilian - a term seldom used in that country. The ideas, however, permiate as outlined in the 2004 book "Estudos Avancados" by Maria Bortolini. She writes " Due to intensive mixing and assortive mating with white Brazilians, Brazilians with African ancestry may or may not show any trace of African features. " 

 The difference in acceptence of Uruguay's Jose Andrade (b. 1901) as a star footballer could be attributed to the fact that Afro-Uruguayans fought as soldiers for independence from Great Britain and later Brazil. Andrade (below), was a gold medal winner in two Olympics (1924 & 1928) and one World Cup (1930) for his country. Reports of him being abused by the crowds in his team visits to Argentina may be tributed more to his background, than his race. You see, Andrade's mother was Argentinian and loyalty may have served him better by playing for Uruguay.
Although Brazil was the last Western nation to abolish slavery (1888), it was one of the quickest to accept the mixing of races in its sports. Leonidas de Silva (b. 1913), became the top scorer at the 1938 World Cup. His physical features were clearly of African decent (below) and was duely crowned the "Black Diamond".
The early history of  Argentinian football is quite different than Uruguay and Brazil. Class and race were more segregated in the very European / British fashion in Colonial times. The River Plate, an estuary between Argentina and Uruguay, was the entry point for many slaves to South America. Many of those were shipped to the Cordoba region in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Survival rate was very low, with theories that genocide was practiced on the Afro-Argentinian population. Records show a low population of males and even fewer football players of non-European lineage.
However, the discovery of one player - Julio Luis Benavidez (b. 1906) - is a revealation. 
Benavidez (center, above) was an Argentinian player born in Cordoba with distinct African features. He began playing organized football during the amateur era in Argentina's Liga Cordobesa with Instituto. Instituto de Cordoba won the title in four successive seasons from 1925 to 1928. Benavidez is believed to be attributed to that success.

When Argentina professionalized the leagues in 1931, Benavidez was snapped up by Club Atletico Tigre - debuting in the top division. It is hard to know how the step up to financed football effected the young Julio, but needless to say it could not have been easy. Players of color were often targeted harshly on the playing field and even harder on forwards intent on scoring.

Benavidez had what appears to be reasonable statistics in the professional era. In 1933 he even scored 6 goals in 5 matches, but often blew hot and cold for reasons not on record. Yet, there must have been something tangible as Boca Juniors, a rising power in South American football, soon acquired him. Although used sparingly, he scored 11 goals on Boca's 1st professional Championship team (above) in 1934.

While his statistics nor reputation ever reached legendary status, Julio Benavidez made landmark imprints in the Argentinian game. He unexpectantly left Boca Juniors after 4 matched into the 1935 Championship season. Playing time may have been reason for this as history shows that the 1930's Boca squad he played on featured the # 2 (Cherro), # 3 (Varrallo), # 4 (Tarasconi) and # 7 (Caceres) all time goal scorers for Boca Juniors.

He did pave the way for the arrival of "Domingos", the great black Brazilian fullback. As an established star in Brazil, he easily became a fan favorite - and did not have the pressure of being the first black player at Boca Juniors.

Benavidez did return to Boca Juniors as Coach in 1948. It was, however, not the best of times at Boca where the club drifted through 8 coaches between 1946 and 1951.

As it were, it seems this discovery of a youthful Benavidez (above) on a tobacco card from the 1925-1927 issue of DOLAR Los Cigarillos is amazing. He is the only African-Argentinian in the 5 series set of over 2000 cards. The set also features players from Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Finally, visible for all to see.

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