Monday, October 23, 2017

The Rise and Fall of the Black Marvel of Uruguay, South America

José Leandro Andrade
“The Black Marvel”

During the 1920s and 1930s, José Leandro Andrade was highly regarded in his home country, Uruguay, as “Maravilla Negra (the Black Marvel)” whom enchanted soccer fans witnessed the effortless elegance in his movements on the field. He was a powerful, dynamic, and quick soccer player whose incredible abilities transformed him into an international celebrity at a time when ideas of white racial supremacy were rife across Europe.

Andrade had the courage to ignore white notions about how a black man should behave as he treated Paris, France as his own personal and professional playground, especially with the women who adored his suave, good looks as well as his athletic prowess. In this respect, there are parallels to be drawn with black American boxers Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali.

José Andrade is dubbed 
as “the first Pele”

Born in Salto, a city in northwest Uruguay noted for its cattle, citrus fruit, and its soccer players, Andrade grew up in poverty sleeping on a dirt floor and spent little time at school. Prior to his introduction to professional soccer, he worked as a carnival musician playing the drums, the violin, and the tambourine. At various times he worked as a shoeshine and newspaper boy, and some said that he had also worked as a gigolo.

In the 1920s, when the Olympic Games was effectively viewed as a world championship of soccer, he was winning over European audiences by the hundreds of thousands they came to watch him play. José Leandro Andrade was considered responsible, more than anybody else, in the first third of the 20th century for putting soccer on the map of international sports.

An Uruguayan Postage Stamp 
in honor of Andrade

When Uruguay faced Yugoslavia in the Olympic games of 1924, Yugoslavia, having sent spies to watch a Uruguay training session, predicted an easy win. Uruguay beat Yugoslavia 7-0. The Uruguayan team learned of the presence of spies and deliberately misplaced their shots and passes in training. Three days later, Uruguay defeated the United States 3-0.

In 1928 José Andrade won his second Olympic gold medal in Amsterdam. A Spanish correspondent who has been watching soccer for 20 years said that he has never seen any team play with the mastery of this Uruguayan team. It was though they were playing chess with their feet, he added.

The Uruguayan soccer team of the 1920s

 After his retirement, José Andrade had trouble finding and keeping a job. While his former teammates became successful coaches, businessmen, Andrade suffered from poor health, a troubled marriage, and depression.

In 1956 a German reporter searched the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo and found him living in terrible conditions in a basement of a flat. Andrade was too intoxicated to understand the reporter’s questions. Within a year, Andrade died a penniless alcoholic in an asylum at the age of 56.

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