David Arellano: The Martyr Of Colo Colo

Alex Caple

David Arellano only lived to 24, an age at which you don’t expect players to have achieved their potential as a footballer, let alone as a person. Stil, the impact Arellano left on Chilean football is greater than that of anyone – he was the inspiration and founder of the most successful club to come out of his country; he is the martyr of Colo Colo.

Born in Santiago in 1902, David Arellano began his career at 17 with Magallanes in 1919, but the six years he spent there aren’t particularly important to this story. He was a very talented inside forward, and the most important fact about his very early years is that he was good enough to play for the national team. What he would witness on international duty would open his eyes to a whole new way world, eventually revolutionising Chilean football.

What he would witness on international duty would open his eyes to a whole new way world, eventually revolutionising Chilean football.

South American football was dominated by the rioplatense nations of Argentina and Uruguay. Chile was far behind, a nation that was incredibly amateur in comparison. Now, this being the 1920s, there was no televised football for countries and clubs to pick up ideas from. South America, with its vast borders and difficult terrain, became very isolationist – save for the two football-crazy nations that were right next to each other on the River Plate.

This isolationist nature meant that it was very easy for the entire football cultures within a country to stagnate (something that both Argentina and Uruguay would come to suffer from), and so the opportunity to witness a different level of football was vital.

There were two ways to do this: a continental tour, or an international tournament. In 1924, Paraguay were asked to host the South American Championship (the forerunner to the Copa America) but didn’t have the infrastructure. Instead, they agreed to organise it within Uruguay.

This tournament would only feature four teams: Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile (Brazil pulled out). This wasn’t a great spot for Chile. Paraguay may not have been anything too special, but Uruguay and Argentina were arguably the two best teams on the planet – Uruguay undisputedly were, having won the Olympic games just a couple of months earlier (the Argentinians didn’t compete, but saw Uruguay’s victory as a bizarre proof of their own dominance, given that they felt they were better than Uruguay. Much easier to be world champions that way).

And so Chile were the whipping boys: 0-5 against Uruguay, 0-2 against Argentina, 1-3 against Paraguay. Battered. That one Chilean goal was notable, though: the scorer was young forward David Arellano – his experience there would change things.

The 22-year-old Arellano had witnessed elite teams competing – and immediately realised how ineffective the amateurish Chilean ways were. He returned to Magallanes and wanted changes to the way things were done, demanding better training and care for the players. Unsurprisingly, the directors of Magallanes weren’t too fond of the ideas – why bother when there aren’t any Chilean clubs like that?

Arellano said okay, agreed that things wouldn’t change, and left in April 1925 with ten other players to form a new team. Now there would be a Chilean club with professional standards: Colo Colo – the name chosen after a Mapuche tribal leader who fought the Spanish.

Colo Colo went about things in a modern way, having structured training sessions and being far more tactical than their opponents. Taking that into consideration, it’s unsurprising that they won the Chilean Championship in their very first season.

1926 would be a busy year for Colo Colo and, in particular, Arellano. The club toured Chile, generating a national fanbase for the first time, before foreign tests arrived.

Espanyol of Spain, featuring legendary Spanish goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora, arrived for a tour of South America. The time spent in Chile really showed off just how far football in the Andean republic had come: an ‘all-star’ team led by Arellano picked up two victories over the Europeans – 4-3 and 4-1.

The end of the year saw another South American Championship, this time held in the Chilean capital of Santiago. There were five teams this year – Bolivia had joined, firmly establishing themselves as undisputed whipping boys of South America. Somehow they managed to concede 24 goals in four games, which seems difficult even if one of your players were deliberately working against you.

Chile finished third this time, a notable improvement, Uruguay won it (naturally, Argentina finished second), but the tournament was a huge success for David Arellano: he finished as top scorer with seven goals; Chilean football was firmly on the up, and it was largely down to one man.

1927 was a huge year for Colo Colo; the football federation was firmly behind them, deciding they were the team who could show off the face of Chile around the world. So the club embarked on a tour, first throughout South America, and then onto Europe.

After relatively easy tests in Ecuador and Mexico, Colo Colo went off to Spain. There they faced elite competition, firmly testing themselves against the best. Atletico Madrid defeated them 3-1 almost immediately, but the Madrid papers were particularly impressed by the sportsmanship (and professionalism) of the Chileans. Although it’s not difficult to see why they were so amazed – the Argentinians and Uruguayans had developed a South American reputation for violence on their tours.

The second game against Real Union Deportiva was much better – a brilliant 6-2 victory for Colo Colo. This didn’t sit right with the Spaniards, who organised a rematch to prove that the first result wasn’t accurate. It would be the final match of David Arellano.

The match finished 3-3, but the result was rendered unimportant. A clash with Deportiva player David Hornia resulted in a harsh blow to the stomach for the club founder. An examination from doctors failed to recognise the problem, and the following evening Arellano died from peritonitis.

Suddenly Arellano was a Chilean hero, his death a tragedy on a national scale. Stories were spread of his greatness, such as how he now definitely invented the bicycle kick – a strangely common claim in South American countries. Colo Colo played out the rest of their tour wearing black armbands, and eventually fixed a black line above the crest on their shirts, a tribute to their founder that remains to this day.

He may have had a short life and career, but the legacy left by David Arellano was huge. Colo Colo would win the Chilean Championship in 1928, 1929, and 1930, before a professional league was officially formed in 1933. Arellano finally had his wish. With irony all over the place, Colo Colo only finished second in that first professional season – it was won by Magallanes. In fact, Magallanes would win the first three, somehow managing to succeed in professionalism despite originally not wanting to.

If professionalism was one legacy of Arellano, Colo Colo was the other – his creation, after all. Colo Colo would go on to become the most successful and famous side in Chile. They’ve won more league titles and national cups than any other Chilean side, and in 1991 they achieved the ultimate, winning the Copa Libertadores to be crowned the best team in South America – the first, and so far only, Chilean club to do so. If the permanent tribute on their shirt wasn’t enough, the Estadio Monumental David Arellano was eventually moved into in 1989, immortalising Arellano further.

David Arellano only lived to 24, and age where most players have only just found their place in the game. Arellano, however, revolutionised a country, leaving a legacy that virtually no other will ever match.

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