Rudi Gutendorf and the last Lufthansa flight out of Santiago de Chile

by Niklas Wildhagen

Chile’s national team coach, German Rudi Gutendorf barely managed to escape Pinochet and his minions during the dictator’s power grab in 1973.

After serving at 50 different stations as a coach, 86-year-old Rudi Gutendorf can tell a lot of interesting stories. Some of them have become legendary. For instance, back when the native of Koblenz coached Tanzania during the Africa Cup in 1981 his players decided to put a layer of animal blood onto the lines of the penalty areas, which caused the opposing players from Zambia to refuse to play on the pitch which they believed was bewitched. The players entered the field only after a layer of sand had been put onto the pitch.

This is just one of many colorful stories Gutendorf has to tell after more than four decades as a coach. His wanderlust has seen the man, who had to stop playing the game at the age of 23 after contracting tuberculosis, coach his way around the world.

German Coach Sepp Herberger, architect of the 1954 ‘Miracle of Bern.’  encouraged the young Gutendorf to embark on a coaching career after he was forced to retire as a footballer.  Gutendorf freely admits that he had limited options at hand after his playing days had ended, since he ”knew nothing in life other than football”.

Herberger’s advice served Gutendorf well. He made a name for himself in Germany early on when he managed to come in second with the Meidenreicher SV in the first ever Bundesliga. Nine years later on Gutendorf embarked on his most dangerous journey as a coach.

Crowning Miss Chile and drinking whisky with Allende

After having coached Peruvian side Sporting Cristal successfully the Chilean FA asked Gutendorf to coach their national team. The 86-year-old has fond memories of his time in Chile, amongst them are his many meetings with the country’s beloved president, Salvador Allende. Gutendorf told 11 Freunde:

I spent a lot of time with the president on his estate outside of Santiago. We often times drank whisky at his place, and afterwards we’d return to Santiago by helicopter.

Football was immensely popular in Chile according to Gutendorf, and the national team’s matches drew crowds of around 100,000 spectators. The German coach was highly regarded by the Marxist Allende, and was asked to fill in as a government official on many occasions. Gutendorf opened a number of bridges and even crowned Miss Chile as an official of the government.

And whilst life was going smoothly for Gutenberg, who married his first wife in Chile, the national team managed to qualify for a play off spot against the Soviet Union after three group matches against Peru. However, Gutendorf wasn’t around to witness the play offs against the Soviet Union.

Pinochet’s coup

On September 11th 1973 Augusto Pinochet and the Chilean army started their coup, brutally taking control over the country. The measures taken by the army led to over 2,000 people being incarcerated for political reasons on the very first day of the coup, towards the end of the year the number had risen to over 13,000 according to the official figures. Many prisoners were tortured, or even killed, simply for their politics.

The German ambassador advised Gutendorf to flee the country, as his friendship with Allende would not sit well with the new reactionary government. Both Germans left Chile on the last Lufthansa flight departing the country. Had the coach decided to stay the consequences could have been dire:

I was a friend of president Allende, so I had to fear for my life! The Chilean army wasn’t playing games back then, they put all of his supporters in prison rather swiftly.

Strangest match in the history of football

Despite the political events in Chile, FIFA decided to go through with the play-off matches between Chile and the Soviet Union. On November 21st Gutendorf’s former team were scheduled to take on their opponents in the return leg.

The Soviet FA had protested the game being played in Chile, and decided to stay at home. In their protest the FA had stated that the stadium was being used as a concentration camp.

The Chilean players went onto the pitch on their own, whilst people were imprisoned in the stadium. Austrian referee Erich Linemayr decided to let the game commence, and after a little while Gutendorf’s former pupils had managed to put the ball over the line in front of roughly 15,000 spectators, most of whom were in the army. After the goal Linemayr decided to end the game, since Chile’s opponents weren’t able to take the kick off due to the fact of them not being there.

Gutendorf himself was rather upset by the events:

The biggest scandal of the return leg in Chile was that the game was kicked off in a stadium where human beings were imprisoned. They took the national stadium, my workshop, and abused it by imprisoning and executing people – like in a concentration camp. Beneath the main stand I had erected a wall which my players had used to do some shooting practice before matches. The militants executed people there.

While the German led both club and national teams across the globe in possibly the most widely traveled coaching career ever (and currently desires a new coaching position), he never enjoyed the privilege of leading a national team during a World Cup, being denied the chance to lead Chilean team that qualified for the 1974 FIFA World Cup due to his association with Allende. Gutendorf, however, did manage to meet his former Chilean internationals one last time, during the 1974 World Cup tournament held in Germany.

Yes, I met them after their narrow 1-0 loss to Germany. I sat until late at night talking with the officials at the Kudamm in Berlin.

President Allende, elected in 1970, was popular with the people but his actions in office were opposed by the Chilean Congress, judiciary and military.  On September 11, 1973, with the military forces converging on La Moneda intent on the overthrow of the Allende administration, the President gave a  farewell radio speech to the people of Chile, expressing his love for his country, and rather than accept the offer of free passage out of Chile, committed suicide.  

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Author:Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 28-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.
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