A WAR OVER FOOTBALL?
By Alistair Law
With the 2018 Football World Cup to be hosted this summer in Russia, let’s look back at a part of history where football indeed caused a full-scale war between two nations.
Two football loving nations created a situation in which there was a war between them, albeit for only a hundred hours, not to be confused with the Hundred Years War which lasted for much longer. Honduras and El Salvador naturally are rivals as they are neighbours in the Central American region that has mainly disputed borders and land arguments and also a huge love for the game based around 22 men running around a pitch, kicking a ball in a net. But how could such a simple game cause such a scenario as for the two nations to declare war.
These two countries clearly are different in size as Honduras is more the five times larger than El Salvador whilst at the time of 1963, El Salvador had 3.7 million people living there, mostly being peasants and farmers, whilst Honduras had only 2.6 million meaning El Salvador had a population 40% higher than that of Honduras that was much larger. Hence, space was running out in El Salvador as people struggled to find areas to farm and there simply weren’t enough jobs for the population. So many people from El Salvador immigrated in search of work and so by 1969, 300,000 people had immigrated to Honduras which meant many jobs were taken my immigrants in Honduras which caused some tension.
Over in Honduras, there was a military coup because they were scared of communist influences from Cuba so the government was overthrown and Oswoldo Lopez Arellano took over leadership of the country in 1963. He was scared that people wouldn’t back him and so he staged an election in 1965, like Theresa May, and he won by a huge amount, unlike Theresa May. The opposition party however accused Arellano of rigging the election and also ruining the economy because he was selling bananas to America tax free which was the main export at the time. Soon crowds were turning against him and so he had only one solution to the problem. He blamed the El Salvador immigrants who were, “Taking their jobs and land.” The El Salvadorians then were abused by locals and eventually deported back to El Salvador. Naturally, the leader of El Salvador at the time was very angry of the mistreatment of his people and the country itself was getting overcrowded. But then, it was time for the qualifiers to the 1970 Mexico World Cup.
Both countries finished top of their groups so they played each other in a series of best of 3 matches in 1969 to determine who would proceed to the world cup. The first match was to be held in Honduras. The night before the match, fans of Honduras gathered outside the hotel the El Salvadorian team were sleeping in and they made a huge amount of noise and taunted, meaning the team had a restless night’s sleep. The day of the match came and the exhausted Salvadorian team lost 1-0 to a late 90 minutes goal. The loss was so significant to them that a woman called Amelia Bolaños shot herself as she could not bear the loss of her team. She was glorified in national newspapers in El Salvador and tensions were running high for the second game. This time, the tables had turned against Honduras as fans gathered outside the Honduras’ team hotel and made a huge amount of noise like how the Honduras fans had done to the El Salvadorian team and the Honduras team could barely sleep. The day of the match caused tensions to run even higher. El Salvador raised a dirty rag instead of the Honduras flag and fans literally fought in the stands during the match. El Salvador won decisively with a 3-0 victory and the Honduras team had to ride back in a bullet-proof van as rocks were thrown at them. The coach of the team congratulated the team on the loss otherwise the lives of the team would have been at risk. Honduras locals continued to terrorise the Salvadorian immigrants by burning their houses, throwing them off their land, murdering, raping and plundering them, forcing them to leave. Salvador severed diplomatic ties with Honduras. Then the final match happened in Mexico. After 90 minutes, it was 2-2 so it went to extra time where El Salvador won with a late goal so it was 3-2.
Then on the 14th of July 1969, El Salvador decided to declare war on Honduras, using passenger planes with bombs attached to it to carry out air-raids on important targets like Toncontin Airport, meaning that the Honduras air force could not react in time. Meanwhile on the ground, El Salvador used infantry and light tanks to push along to major roads; one to the north and another to the south to cross the border into Honduras. There was a huge amount of progress (relating to war, not peace) made in the first 24 hours of the war as Honduras was pushed back 8km and El Salvador was within striking distance of the capital. Then the Organisation of American States (OAS) told El Salvador to not continue with the war but they replied to the OAS they would stop if Honduras stopped treating Salvadorians badly. By day 3 of the war, the Honduras air force were able to take off and bombed key areas such as oil supply lines and airbases, crippling the air force and supply line for El Salvador. Nicaragua were good neighbours with Honduras and supplied them with ammunition and guns to fight with and the El Salvadorian push was stopped dead in its tracks, creating a stalemate position much like WW1. The OAS then promised the safe return of El Salvador immigrants so then the war was then ceased. There was still one problem; El Salvador refused to withdraw troops from Honduras and the OAS asked them to do so multiple times, but El Salvador still refused. Finally, after threatening sanctions on El Salvador, they agreed to withdraw troops from Honduras. In total, the war caused around 6000 deaths and 15000 injuries in total.
The result of this war was not good for either side. Both had to recover and neither side wanted to pay reparations and both economies were greatly damaged by the war, border disputes arose like the Gulf of Fonseca, El Salvador became overpopulated and the government could not provide aid for any of these immigrants. So then how did El Salvador do in the world cup? They lost every single match. They lost 3-0 to Belgium, 4-0 to Mexico and 2-0 to the USSR. The point of the war? Basically, none and the consequences were unnecessary and hindered both countries. So that was a war, lasting only 100 hours making it one of the shortest wars and had profound impacts on both countries.