Antonio Rattín’s moment on the world stage came at the 1966 World Cup when he was controversially sent off against England. That moment sparked change in football, inspiring a great rivalry and changing how such matters would forever be dealt with. Rattín was El Caudillo, the leader and heart of Boca Juniors and Argentina; a man who believes it took a great conspiracy to stop him.
“I approached Pelé and he said to me ‘Rattín, with the ball yes; without the ball,no’.
“‘No problem,’ I said, ‘if I kick you, I’ll kick you when you have the ball. You just play.'”
— ⑫LaMitadMas1Cba (@LaMitadMas1Cba) July 23, 2016
Argentina has always had something of a complex about being screwed over by others. Most countries do, of course, but Argentina’s seems to be built strongly into their nature. This is a country, after all, whose greatest hero fought drug charges not on the claim that he didn’t take them, but rather that there was a great conspiracy to catch him out. It’s also a country that saw no hypocrisy in 1995 when they crashed out of the Copa América after the Brazilian Túlio used his hand to score a goal. It was an ‘outrage’, a ‘robbery’, the ‘hand of the devil’ – all a little bit rich.
While so far this all seems like a bit of a hatchet job on Argentina, it really is important to note the attitude of the country when things don’t go their way – Argentina cries foul, whereas the English just sort of agree that the team is shit. And it was between those two countries at the 1966 World Cup that things most certainly did not go the way of Argentina – and especially Antonio Rattín.
But it was a decade previous to that when things got going: a 19-year-old “number 5” from Tigre, Buenos Aires made his debut for Boca Juniors.
— Pasión Futbolera (@PasionFulbo) May 17, 2016
Rattín was destined from a young age for two things: to play as a “number 5” (Argentina tends to say players play numbers, rather than positions, with 5 being the defensive midfielder), and to do it for Boca Juniors. Saying it was destiny may cheapen it though, for it really comes across more as sheer force of will.
The reason Rattín was always going to be a 5 was simply that his favourite player growing up was Néstor Rossi, a tough-tackling midfielder. The strange factor here was that Rossi was a star for River Plate, the great rivals of Boca Juniors, but that didn’t seem to matter to Rattín.
“I really admired him [Rossi]. I would try to imitate him in anything.
“One Saturday, the day I made my debut for Boca’s fifth team, I was on the train, on the back seat, and at Beccar station he gets in the same carriage. As soon as I saw him, I stood up and approached, not to talk to him, but to be closer to him. I sat behind him.
“It was great, becuase I could see him, check how tall he was, look at how he walked, everything.”
Rattín would eventually make his first-team debut in 1956, taking no time at all to show Boca what they could expect from him. That first game was as big as they come: River Plate. Five minutes would be all that was needed as Rattín only took that long to introduce himself to legendary River striker Ángel Labruna.
“In the fifth minute, I kicked el feo [ugly] incredibly hard, a fucking harsh tackle. He was lying on the floor and he says ‘take it easy: this isn’t going to be the only game you play in the Primera’.
“And I answered [sarcastically] ‘Noooo, I’m so sorry Ángel, I didn’t mean to do that.'”
And that would be Rattín through and through. He established himself in the side quickly, making his international debut three years later in 1959.
His career at Boca would be legendary, lasting 14 years and thriving as his career coincided with a change in Argentine football. The previously flamboyant, fun style of football that had flourished in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s moved out for a far grittier, more cynical style that suited Rattín to a tee. Boca would enjoy success, winning the Primera Division in ’62, ’64, and ’65 (the 1965 victory must have had a particularly special meaning to Rattín: the team was coached by Néstor Rossi).
It was the following year that would define El Caudillo across the globe, however. It was a World Cup year, and Argentina had a particularly strong belief that the trophy was theirs. It had become an obsession, dominating the national side, as they felt entitled to the trophy that had thus far eluded them (something they felt absolutely every time the tournament came around, including in 1930 when they didn’t even compete. Actually, especially in 1930 when they didn’t even compete).
Rattín had become so revered in Argentina that he was to captain his country at the tournament, and the team progressed comfortably enough through the group stage with wins over Spain and Switzerland either side of a 0-0 draw with West Germany. Those results, however, meant a quarter-final match against the hosts.
A booking early on probably should have quietened Rattín down – or at least left him to pick his moments – but he was sent off in the 34th minute. Argentinians called conspiracy pretty much immediately, and while it’s easy to brush that off as the norm, they really might have a case.
Virtually everything that surrounds the sending off is strange. For one thing, it seems to come out of absolutely nowhere. Rattín is talking to the referee, and admittedly had made a conscious effort to do so, but he’s certainly not being aggressive about it – he’s just suddenly ordered off the pitch.
He sticks around for quite a while, understandably, but never seems to be told what he did wrong. Even the next day, the local papers were at a loss to explain the apparent infraction. Eventually, the referee, German Rudolf Kreitlein, said he’d done it because of Rattín’s “violence of the tongue” – but that seems an odd reason given that Kreitlein didn’t speak Spanish.
“I was told that if a problem arose, as captain, I had the right to ask for an interpretor, and that’s what I did. But the referee interpreted my attitude badly. The first time I asked him he pretended to be deaf, and the second time he just showed me the way to the changing rooms.”
“They wanted me to leave the pitch and I refused. What the fuck did they want? I didn’t insult anyone, I didn’t kick anyone, so why the fuck should I leave the pitch? Just because I’ve requested a translator to be able to speak to that German concha? Becuase it was arranged, oh yes, a German here and an Englishman there.”
And that touches on the second part of the great conspiracy. For it wasn’t just Argentina being screwed over – Uruguay were suffering too. The other rioplatense side were greatly unhappy with the referee for their own quarter-final against West Germany, and it didn’t take long for theories about England and Germany working together to ensure their progress to pop up.
Rattín infamously grabbed the Union Jack on the top of the corner flag as he passed it when leaving the pitch. The reason why he did so lead to many theories. Some believed he was pointing to the flag, showing who was running the tournament. Some felt that he crushed the flag in his hand – a final show of disrespect. But then, maybe it was simply a fleeting moment while Rattín realised that his big moment on the world stage was lost.
— LA NACION Deportes (@DeportesLN) July 23, 2016
After the game, Sir Alf Ramsey, so incensed by the Argentinians, refused to allow his players to swap shirts, and infamously branded them “animals” in his post-match press conference. That, understandably, didn’t go down too well in South America, especially in a country who had long experienced British imperialism – being talked down to by the English was not something easily brushed off. Honestly, the comment is bizarre just on a base level. Argentina committed 19 fouls in that game, which is admittedly a lot – England committed thirty-three.
Everything that happened came together to start a rivalry that would leave its mark on the World Cup. 20 years later, 32 years later, 36 years later – England vs Argentina has had its fair share of drama, and it all began here.
One interesting side note from the incident happened after the match when the head of refereeing Ken Aston was driving home. The confusion throughout the game over exactly who had been carded (most players seemed to find out after the game, and there were apparently far more than the referee had actually written down) was on Aston’s mind when he stopped at some traffic lights. The lights themselves proved to be his inspiration, with Aston believing that colour coded cards would transcend language barriers – thus red and yellow cards were born.
Antonio Rattín was a fiery, fierce competitor who became the face of an era for two footballing institutions. A 14-year career saw him captain both Boca Juniors and Argentina, becoming a legend for both. Perhaps his greatest legacy, however, came with his lowest moment – sparking a rivalry for the ages. Maradona and Simeone may have continued it, but it was with Rattín that it began.