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Ouch Q&A: Héctor Castro 1930s disabled football star

by Sunil Peck

7th June 2006

Though today's highly professional world of football might appear to be a disability free zone at face value, if we look back at the first ever World Cup tournament in 1930, Héctor Castro, a member of the Uruguayan squad, and a one-armed man, had an extremely important role to play.
Headshot of Hector Castro, uber disabled footballer

Q: Apart from missing half an arm why is Héctor Castro so important in football history?

A: Because his goal clinched the first World Cup.

Q: How did he do that?

A: Let me whisk you back to Montevideo in July 1930. It's late afternoon in Uruguay's capital city and the 89th minute of a thrilling final between the Uruguayans and Argentina. The home side lead 3-2 against their arch rivals. The Argentineans had led 2-1 at halftime and are now laying siege to the Uruguayan goal in desperate search of an equaliser.

While eighty odd thousand frenzied home fans look on inside the stadium, troops outside gear up in anticipation of clashes between the rival supporters. Uruguay suddenly break away and Héctor Castro thumps the ball into the roof of the Argentinean net to score the decisive fourth goal.

Q: How did Castro lose his arm?

A: When he was thirteen he had a bit of an accident while chopping up some wood with an electric saw described as being something like a bacon slicer.

Q: Did he, um, let his disability get him down?

A: Don't think so, it didn't stop him from womanizing, gambling, chain smoking or dancing. It probably scuppered any ambitions he may have had of becoming a top-notch goalkeeper, and I'm guessing he was way down the pecking order when it came to taking throw-ins. Not having two hands obviously lessened the likelihood of him scoring goals like Maradona's 'hand of god' effort against England in the quarter final of the '86 tournament too. And probably by 50 per cent.
Argentina's goalkeeper Juan Botasso dives bravely at the feet of Uruguay's Hector Castro (image from empics)

Q: Did he ever use his stump during matches?

A: Strange question but yes. He would leap for headers and use it to wack anyone who got in his way. Argentina's goalkeeper Juan Botasso, fell foul of it during the aforementioned final: Héctor got into a tussle with him and clobbered him in the thigh injuring the goalie's leg.

Q: Did Castro ever get any sympathy because of his disability?

A: No. According to the Uruguayan journalist and sports historian Franklin Morales, Castro never asked for any sympathy. Any sympathy he may have attracted disappeared once he started to play. Castro was nicknamed 'El Divino Manco' which roughly translates as 'the one-handed god'. Fans of his club side, Nacional, worshipped him because of his physical strength and never-say-die attitude on the pitch.

Rival fans had no natural sympathy for him. Why should they? They hated him and jeered him during games. Fans of Penarol, Nacional's rivals, even booed Castro when he stepped out for the final but he silenced them by setting up Uruguay's first goal.

Q: What angle did UK newspapers focus on with their Castro coverage?

A: None. The incredible thing is that not one of the national daily newspapers of the time carried World Cup news or match reports. They covered racing, boxing, yachting, chess and even the English baseball league.

The World Cup only became big news after the final when angry Argentineans took to the streets in Buenos Aires. The front page of the Daily Herald led with an attack on the Uruguayan Consulate and the stoning of a group of women carrying Uruguayan flags. In a piece informing readers that mounted police fired revolvers at the rampaging crowds to quell the violence, the Sporting Life added that the aftermath of the game showed that South Americans 'enjoy' their football and take the game 'seriously'.

Q: Did England play in the 1930 World Cup?

A: No. Neither did any of the home nations. They were in the middle of a squabble with FIFA and weren't members of the organization at the time. The tournament was only open to FIFA members.

Q: Did Castro score any other World Cup goals?

A: He got the winner in Uruguay's 1-0 defeat of Peru in their first match of the 1930 World Cup tournament. He didn't get the chance to play in any other World Cups because Uruguay snubbed the 1934 tournament in Italy and Héctor had retired by the time they competed for it again.

Q: So what happened to Héctor after the 1930 tournament?

A: He carried on playing until 1936. Then he became manager of Nacional who were league champions from 1939 to 1943. He won the league with them again in 1952. He died in 1960 at the age of fifty five.

El Divino Manco played twenty five times for his country scoring twenty goals.
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