Football

The Untold Story Of The Irishman Who Became The First Coach Of Boca Juniors

The Untold Story Of The Irishman Who Became The First Coach Of Boca Juniors

If this is how the world ends....it will do so with a bang, rather than a whimper. Hours ahead of the Superclasico clash of Boca Juniors and River Plate in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final, Buenos Aires is being shelled by a biblical rainstorm. Perhaps it is portentous, but in terms of elemental clashes, the storm takes a back seat to the football.

And in this story's founding story, an Irishman played an important role.

Paddy McCarthy was born in Cashel, Tipperary in 1871 and in September 1900, he made like myriad of his compatriots and emigrated to Buenos Aires. He began working on the city's port, but ended up with an illustrious sporting life: he fought in the country's first professional boxing match, became the first coach of Boca Juniors, and went on to referee the inaugural Superclasico between Boca and River Plate.

Having worked on the port, he then took a job as a PE and English teacher in a commerce school. The bridge between the jobs was McCarthy's talent for boxing: he was among the many sailors and port workers recruited to take part in boxing festivals and competitions.

He kept boxing while a PE teacher, despite its wider perception as linked with the worst kind of excesses, including gambling and prostitution. McCarthy continued to excel as a boxer, and he ultimately formed one-half of the country's first professional bout, against Italian Abelardo Robassio. He won, by knockout, in the fourth round.

He abandoned boxing shortly after for family reasons, and got involved with the Sporting Municipal Committee in Buenos Aires, a body who held the promotion of sport in the city as their mission statement. It was through his involvement with this that he got into football coaching, with his first job at a club called Lobos. He then joined Estudiantes as a player/coach, before finding himself at the newly-formed Boca Juniors in 1905.

Tom Hurley made a radio documentary about McCarthy's life, entitled The Cashel Pioneer, and he explains McCarthy's influence at Boca:

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He was still a PE teacher at this time, and five of his students, all teenagers of Italian heritage, wished to set up their own club. One of the students became the first president of the club, at the age of 17. They approached McCarthy to ask if he would become the coach, and he said he would. They played their first game in April 1905, which they won 4-0.

At this time they had no set colour for their jerseys, and they went through a number of colours, including pink and black. But by 1907 they were wearing blue and gold. A lot of people might say 'oh there's a Tipperary connection there, with the colours'. But Tipperary didn't play in those colours at that stage, so the colours arrived through luck, really. They decided that the next ship that comes through the port, we'll use adopt the colours of the flag on that ship. It happened to be a Swedish ship.

After stepping away from coaching, McCarthy became a referee, and spent eighteen years as a referee with the Argentine Association Football League. Despite his history with Boca, he was chosen to officiate the first ever Superclasico, the derby between Boca and River Plate, in August 1913.

Here is Hurley again.

He came in for a bit of ridicule after that game. There are two surviving newspaper reports from that game. One claimed the game was meant to kick off at 2.30pm, but was delayed for forty minutes as the referee, Paddy McCarthy, turned up late. He ended up sending off a player, and there was trouble between the two sets of fans.

McCarthy held a high profile in Argentina, and was frequently the subject of writing in a number of magazines and newspapers, most notably the famous El Grafico. One profile of McCarthy in the magazine claimed that "although he is Irish, he has the soul of a local".

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Not that he lost all of his Irishness: he did manage to meet virtually every foreign dignitary to visit Buenos Aires. Hurley has discovered photos of McCarthy with the Duke of Kent and the Prince of Wales, while the jacket McCarthy wears in the photo accompanying this article was a gift from former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt.

In spite of that fame, McCarthy is not well remembered at Boca today.

One of the Argentine historians interviewed for Hurley's documentary speculates that the influential figures at Boca today would not know his name, although he was remembered along with Juan Sebastian Veron, Diego Maradona, and Gabriel Batistuta in a match programme explaining the history of Boca distributed at a pre-season tournament in Giant's Stadium less than a decade ago.

55 years after his death, Boca and River meet in a game that will be antic, frantic, frenetic, splenetic and more besides.

Amid the madness, Paddy McCarthy will not be thought of by many in the ground....although an ancient, unspoken line of empathy will tie him to one man: the referee.

 

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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