Historical Football #7 – The Origins of the Copa América

Historical Football heads on back to 1910 as three countries lay the foundations for what would become the Copa América we know now…

The Copa América is the oldest international continental tournament in football today. Since 1916, the teams of South America (and more recently beyond) have battled it out to see who is the best on the continent. It is the model upon which the other continents have taken their inspiration from when creating their own tournaments. But, while the official birth of the Copa América is 1916, the origins of the multi-team international continental tournament go back to 1910 with the Copa Centenario Revolución de Mayo (or the CCRM as it shall be referred to from here on out).

International tournaments in South America pre-1910 were very repetitive as only Uruguay and Argentina played in them. However, the Argentinean FA decided that they would organise a little tournament with Uruguay and Chile (three of the four founding members of CONMEBOL) to celebrate the centenary of the May Revolution that took place during the early 19th century in the country (hence the tournament name). The idea was that the tournament would be a simple round-robin staged in Buenos Aires with the winner accruing the most points. The idea was simplistic at best but can be considered the beginning for so much.

The opening game of the tournament made history as well. Not only can it be considered the first game (unofficially) of the Copa América but it was also the first time that Uruguay had played a team that wasn’t Argentina. It did not seem to faze them too much as they comfortably swept aside the Chileans (making their debut on the international stage) 3-0. José Piendibene opened the scoring after just six minutes but it took until the 75th minute before Uruguay had a clear advantage. José Bracchi made it two before Robert Sidney Buck put the icing on the cake with five minutes to go.

The Chile team pre-match at the Copa Centenario Revolución de Mayo
The Chile team pre-match at the Copa Centenario Revolución de Mayo

Fans had to wait a week before the next game in the tournament as hosts Argentina played Chile. The week rest did nothing for the poor Chileans as they were dismantled by their hosts 5-1. José Viale made it 1-0 after just 16 minutes and the game was finished by half time thanks to Harry Hayes’ brace on his international debut. Colin Campbell got one back for the Chileans but it was in vain as Gottlob Weiss and Maximiliano Susán rounded off the win.

And so, after another week of waiting, Argentina and Uruguay squared off once again to see who would leave as the winners of the CCRM. Viale once again opened the scoring for Argentina after 15 minutes before Hayes made it 2-0 on the stroke of half time. Arnold Watson Hutton made it 3-0 five minutes after the break before Piendibene pulled one back on the hour mark. Susán secured the win in the 64th minute for the hosts and the 4-1 win was enough to secure the CCRM.

So Argentina were crowned champions in the first Copa América but are not recognised by CONMEBOL as the first winners. Why? Simply put, CONMEBOL was formed in 1916 to get an official tournament organised for South America so any previous tournaments are not considered official Copa Américas. Thus, Uruguay will officially remain the first winners of the Copa América according to CONMEBOL.

The CCRM may not be recognised by CONMEBOL as an official edition of the Copa América but there is no doubt that it was the origins of the oldest international tournament and a revolutionary concept. It may not have meant much more than bragging rights in 1910 but those three games helped give birth to so many tournaments we take for granted now. For that reason alone, the Copa Centenario Revolución de Mayo should be remembered as an important moment in football history not just in South America but around the world.

If you enjoyed this edition of Historical Football then please feel free to leave feedback here or on social media (links on the right). Stay tuned for more in the future.

Thanks!

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