The Football War

The Switzerland-Serbia match reminded us that football is more than a sport and politics is often dragged into the game. In another excellent short piece, Jacob delves into the “100 Hours War” – also known as “The Football War” – between Honduras and El Salvador. 

“It’s only a game” – the cry that every person hears when their team is losing or the inevitable coupon buster result ruins the growing elation in your heart. It is only a game most of the time, however, sometimes it can be so much more.

Something that acts as a spark to light the kerosene of international conflict.

In the late 1960’s there was a brewing sense of discontent between two neighbouring states in Central America. The bad blood had been fostered by moves made from no other than the United Fruit Company; a stalwart in causing unrest in Central as well as South America, they convinced the landowning wealthy elite to put pressure on the President of Honduras to tackle the Salvadoran immigration crisis.

Rising Tensions

Honduras was more than five times the size of El Salvador, yet El Salvador (3.7 million) boasted a population 40% bigger than that of Honduras (2.6 million). By 1969 there were over 300,000 Salvadorans within Honduras making up 20% of the peasant population.

Honduras-El-Salvador-Football-War
Border tensions were rising between Honduras and El Salvador

The impact on the availability of desirable land was immense and the pressure forced by the UFC and their counterparts meant that action was taken to strip the Salvadorans of their rights and land – Displacing tens of thousands in the process.

El Salvador and Honduras, as faith would have it, were pitted against one another in qualifiers for the 1970 World Cup. The game was to be played over two legs, with Honduras winning the first 1-0 in their capital city; clashes among supporters of course being a frequent occurrence throughout the game.

El Salvador were 3-0 victors in the second leg and the game was once again marred by fan violence that threatened to escalate. By the time a decider was played on the 26th of June at the neutral site of Mexico City all hell had broken loose. Before the match El Salvador had cut all diplomatic ties with Honduras and the situation looked desperate.

El Salvador went on to win the qualifier 3-2 in extra time, however by this point crowd trouble had bubbled to its most explosive and violent level, and the worst was yet to come.

After the match, El Salvador accused the Honduran government of allowing genocidal behaviour to go unpunished by its citizens against Salvadorans, as well as citing the fact that they had treated the football hooligans with impunity when they returned home from the matches.

Escalation

On the 14th of July 1969 El Salvador invaded Honduras.

The war lasted 100 hours, hence its nickname “The 100 Hour War”, and led to the deaths of thousands of Salvadorans and Hondurans, as well as the displacement and separation of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans.

Honduras-El-Salvador-Football-War
Relations between the two Central American nations have never fully recovered and regularly flare up.

Two days into the war when the Hondurans were on the defensive they had appealed to the Organisation of American States to intervene and implement a ceasefire. El Salvador resisted for several days in order to gain reparations for their displaced citizens, however they succumbed to the threat of sanctions and eventually withdrew their troops just over a week after the ceasefire came into effect on the 20th July.

Hostilities still exist between the nations with the territory surrounding their border being hotly contested. In 2013 the two nations again threatened one another with military action, so the next time someone tells you “it’s just a game” you can set them right.

 

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