World Cup | The day football stopped being just a game

In the 1980’s and 1990’s Colombian football changed from being a sport where one could step onto a pitch to get away from all of societies problems to being very much part of the problem.

Drug trafficking has always been an issue in Colombia.

The country is believed to be the biggest producer of cocaine in the world and during the 1980’s those drug traffickers figured out that an excellent way to launder money was to get involved in football, which led to Colombia becoming one of the most prosperous places to play football in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

One of the clubs, Atletico Nacional, were owned by Pablo Escobar, who was one of the most notorious drug barons anywhere in the world.

Escobar was in charge of the Medellin Cartel and by the early 90’s he was estimated to be worth $30 billion.

A lot of Escobar’s money went into local community projects and a lot of football pitches were built in his name which made him extremely popular among the poorer classes in Medellin, but many people lost their lives to his Cartel, and as the 90’s began, the net was beginning to close in on Escobar.

While Pablo Escobar was making billions through drugs, his name sake but no relation, Andres Escobar was earning an excellent reputation through playing centre-back for Atletico Nacional and Colombia.

He helped Atletico win the 1989 Copa Libertadores, which was the first time a Colombian side had ever won the tournament.

In 1991, Pablo Escobar handed himself into Colombian authorities and an extremely odd and unusual deal was made.

Escobar would serve five years at a facility known as La Catedral and he would also be exempt from extradition to the USA. La Catedral was more like he was under house arrest than in prison and members of the Colombian football team, including Andres Escobar, were often brought there to play matches on a football pitch that was built at the facility.

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Eventually, the authorities had enough of Escobar seemingly living an almost normal life while he was supposed to be in prison and planned to move him to a tougher facility but he had eyes and ears everywhere and went on the run before eventually being killed in 1993 as police finally caught up with him.

Meanwhile, the Colombian national team had qualified for the World Cup with a style that made them many peoples favourites going into the tournament in the USA.

However, it ended in disaster as the players lost their opening game to Romania which led to many of the drug barons who were controlling the game back home to put death threats on their own players.

In their second game things got even worse as Escobar scored an own goal which helped the USA beat Colombia which put them on the brink of elimination, a fate that was confirmed a few days later despite victory over Switzerland.

 

The team returned home to a disgusted hierarchy of drug barons who had lost small fortunes from gambling on the national team and tensions were extremely high in the country as the players decided to lie low.

However, after a few days Escobar decided to go out to face the people and in the early hours of the 2nd July he got into an argument with some men who insulted him over his own goal and they ended up shooting and killing him in a nightclub car park.

Escobar’s murderer was a man called Humberto Castro Munoz who was associated with a drug gang that had broke away from Pablo Escobar.

Reports vary as to whether it was a revenge attack for money lost during the World Cup to gambling or if it was simply an argument on the night but the fact remains that a young man, who had tried to stay away from the trouble that surrounded him, was took down in his prime.

Millions of people across the world are extremely passionate about football and hopefully that will never change but sadly events on 2nd July 1994 went beyond that.

It literally became a matter of life and death and sadly Andres Escobar lost his in the harshest of circumstances which will forever remain a black stain on the history of Colombian football.

 

Gerry Johnston

 

This article originally appeared on gj2018worldcup.wordpress.com, where you can find a definite World Cup guide.