For Bolivia the first World Cup in 1930 was an opportunity to share in some South-American camaraderie with the hosts, Uruguay. Each member of the Bolivian team had a large letter emblazoned on the front of their shirt. In their pre-match photo the random letters began to make sense. The team formed themselves into a pre-organised order. The letters read ‘VIVA URUGUAY’.
The team looked incredibly well presented with the exception of one of the ‘U’s, who had his shirt unceremoniously untucked. The ‘I’ looked as though he was wearing a pencil thin black tie and the physio was perhaps the most dapper man ever to take to a football pitch, with crisp white trousers, a woollen cardigan fit for the Wimbledon Champions Ball and a prototype of Samuel L Jackson’s back-to-front Kangol flat cap.
Having lost to Yugoslavia 4-0 the team reassembled for another photo opportunity. The physio looked characteristically awesome, the goalkeeper had donned an oversized Depression-era flat cap and there was a glaring mistake. The ‘U’ was missing. The letters now read ‘VIVA URUGAY’.
The ‘U’s whereabouts is undocumented and allows for some speculation. I have two theories —
The ‘U’ had already marked himself out as a renegade with his untucked shirt, no doubt playing to the rhythm of his own boots. I imagine him doing keep ups in the centre circle to the beat of a Mariachi band, entertaining the 800-strong crowd, much like Maradona ball juggling to Live is Life by Opus in the pre-match warm up of a European tie for Napoli. Such players don’t need to do stretches or tow the line in team photos.
Judging by the post-match photo the game was a rough affair. The first ‘U’s head had been heavily bandaged, the ‘Y’ had a strange hat on which may well have been holding his head together. The first ‘V’ ensured his heavily bandaged left knee was on full display. With this evidence in mind our missing ‘U’ had most probably been hospitalised and was heading away from the Estadio Parque Central to the nearest Montevideo hospital.
Bolivia’s first World Cup experience ended in their next match, losing 4-0 once again, this time to Brazil. They had left their VIVA URUGUAY shirts in the changing room because they clashed with the Brazilian’s white shirts. In an act of true reciprical camaraderie they took to the field in borrowed shirts — the light blue of their hosts, Uruguay.