Historical Football #10 – Magic Head

It’s time for another Historical Football and this time we look at a fascinating Ecuadorian with Jamaican roots…

Ecuador does not have a huge footballing pedigree. For many, the country is best known for producing Antonio Valencia, the late Christian Benitez and Aston Villa legend Ulises de la Cruz. However, Ecuador produced a great striker in the late 1950s who spearheaded one of the most dominant South American sides of the time, Penarol. That man was Alberto Spencer.

Born in Ancon, Ecuador, Spencer’s father was a Jamaican of British origin which explains his British sounding surname. His footballing career began at Ecuadorian side Everest where Spencer’s skills were apparent from the beginning. Quick and skillful, Spencer was a deadly finisher with incredible balance and poise. He was also near impossible to stop being lethal with either foot and even more so with his head. He racked up over a century of goals at a rate of just over one per game and impressed the touring Uruguayan giants Penarol enough for them to sign him in 1960.

Spencer 1
Spencer during his Penarol days

It was here where Spencer’s career really took off as he immediately became the spearhead of the Penarol attack, firing them to seven league titles, three Copa Libertadores’ and two Intercontinental Cups (the World Club Cup for those who are confused). Spencer was also top goalscorer in the Uruguayan league four times in this spell and fired Penarol past Eusebio’s Benfica side and a Real Madrid side littered with greats. Spencer spent 10 years at Penarol and scored an incredible 326 goals for the club before joining Ecuadorian side Barcelona. Spencer saw out his career in Ecuador, helping Barcelona to the league title before his retirement in 1973. 

More interesting than his club career is his international career. Spencer was a born and bred Ecuadorian but only played 11 times for his country, scoring 4 times between 1959 and 1972. The reason for this is mainly because he switched his national allegiance between Ecuador and Uruguay no more than four times during the 1960s and was capped simultaneously by both countries. He managed 6 caps for Uruguay and two goals including one at Wembley stadium which made him the first Ecuadorian to score at the stadium.

Spencer’s retirement was spent living in Montevideo with his family and doing ambassadorial work for Ecuador in Uruguay. Sadly, Spencer passed away in 2006 due to a heart attack at the age of 68 prompting national mourning in Ecuador. As a memorial to the legendary striker, the Ecuadorian FA renamed the Estadio Modelo in Guayaquil (home of Everest) to the Estadio Modelo Alberto Spencer in 2007.

Spencer (r) with Brazilian legend Pele (l)
Spencer (r) with Brazilian legend Pele (l)

Spencer is highly regarded in South America amongst his peers and fans. He was named the 20th best South American player of the 20th Century in 2004 as well as the best Ecuadorian and is regarded as Ecuador’s greatest ever player. Spencer also holds the goalscoring record in Libertadores, scoring 54 times (a record likely not to be broken for a long time). His nickname, Cabeza Magica (magic head in English), makes reference to his incredible heading ability which was regarded as the best even by the legendary Pele:

“Someone that headed better than me was Spencer. I was good, but he was spectacular heading the ball. In general, he would do it with a burst, but without actually sprinting.”

Alberto Spencer is perhaps the best player you never knew existed. Another great South American from the 1960s, Spencer is hampered by the fact that he never played at a World Cup. He had offers to go to Europe with Inter Milan but Penarol always refused to sell him. It’s maybe better that Spencer will always have that mystique around him. That way he will always be “Magic Head”.

That concludes another Historical Football. Stay tuned for more in the near future and check out the rest of the blog for more content.


Further Reading on Alberto Spencer:


2 thoughts on “Historical Football #10 – Magic Head

  1. Thank you for acknowledging Spencer! Barcelona is from Ecuador not from Colombia. Barcelona is the most popular team in Ecuador. Ecuador has had few superb players, you should checkout Alex Aguinaga, Polo Carrera, Ivan Kaviedes, Luis Capurro, Edison Mendez, Agustin Delgado. All of them were good, Kaviedes had the most talent, but he had many problems outside soccer, that stumble his career. Aguinaga was a crack, but his team Necaxa refused to sell him to Real Madrid.



    1. Thanks for pointing out the Barcelona mistake. I try my best but sometimes just make silly mistakes like that. Sorry about that.

      I have no problem acknowledging Spencer. I think he would be more well known and up there with some of the greats of the time if he had went to Europe or a World Cup. It’s just one of those things that happens in football sadly

      I have heard of Mendez and Delgado and a number of other good Ecuadorian players recently as well as Carrera’s name in passing but Kaviedes sounds like an interesting one to look into.

      Thanks for reading!


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