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Uruguay - Jose Emílio Santamaria

I spent my childhood, adolescence and early youth in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where my parents emigrated from Spain.

They were natives of the parish of San Amaro, in the municipality of La Arnoia in the province of Ourense. While today it is an area of great tourist attraction for the preservation of its natural environment, its cuisine, its festivals and hotel facilities on offer, including a spa, at the time the opportunities were scarce so my parents decided to emigrate.

This was the case for many Galician families that confronted with the shortage of resources on their land, took the decision to try his luck elsewhere, many of them opting for this South American country. At that time Uruguay was experiencing tremendous growth, both demographic and economic, especially in the capital Montevideo. Economic prosperity led to improved living conditions and changed the look of the capital, completely modernizing it. They also changed the customs to the middle classes, contributing to the popularity of shows such as theater, film and especially soccer which went on to become a mass spectacle.

These conditions, together with the affinity of culture and language, contributed to the generous reception they were dispensed and while maintaining their traditions, they were fully integrated into Uruguayan society.

I was born in Montevideo on July 31, 1929. My childhood was happy in the ambience of the country, but brought up in the traditions of my Galician origin, who kept the emigrants arnoienses by the means of meetings taking place regularly on Sundays. These were usually held in the Casa de Galicia, a farm that had a large garden or in the park Campo Español. During the meetings, they prepared typical meals and at the same time they danced and discussed the news they received from family, usually by correspondence since at that time the communications were not what they are today.

I was fortunate to have an exceptional father. ATS nurse, with a great reputation in the hospital environment of Montevideo, prized for their patients and respected by doctors and religious with whom he worked. I must thank him having instilled the values of austerity and discipline at work that have helped me throughout my life.

In this way I grew up. I began my studies and I started running after a ball playing with my classmates and friends in the neighborhood where we lived. Playing football was the usual activity among kids of my age.

I remember the conditions we had to play football in those years, so different from today. The ball we ran behind was made with some used stocking from my mother’s stuffed with newspaper. The fields where we played were dirt, and the goals we scored with stones. At that time I broke a lot of shoes, with consequent indignation of my parents. However, as demonstrated my football career later turned out to be a good school to learn the basics to practice this sport.

The owner of a store in my neighborhood, known for Bogo, Armenian immigrant, a few years ago had predicted a great future as a football player, was a fan of Nacional, and maintained an excellent relationship with the directive of the Club. He introduced me to a screening test and I passed it. It was November 1944 and so I joined the club Atlético Pocitos. We played a league between neighborhoods of the capital that allowed me to learn and acquire more experience. The competition was tough and there were very frequent fights. So my life went combining football with studies of primary, secondary and subsequently Accounting and Typing in academia Maecenas.

In 1944 I started working in the French Italian bank, passing afterwards to Banco de Galicia in Montevideo, combining my work with soccer practice. In 1945 I joined the Youth Section of the National Football Club Montevideo and Uruguay becoming champions of Youth  Tournament of Uruguay in 1946.

At that time a night tournament was created acquiring great success of spectators. In this competition there were professional players representing their districts of origin and they called me even though being still amateur. I continued combining work and soccer. I ended the working day at my bank and went directly to the field.

One day in 1947, I received a call from my club to communicate that the Director General wanted to talk to me. I went to the appointment scared as I was playing the night championship without asking permission. However, to my surprise, the Director after making me sit in his office proposed me to join the first team and play the following Sunday. Thus I joined the first team as a professional at age 17.

In my debut we beat 4-0 our rival, and my pass to professionalism was confirmed playing by then in the midfield.

This first team became champion of  Uruguayan League for several years running. Furthermore, in those years I was appointed president of the Mutual Uruguayan Professional Footballers Association.

I remember there was a players’ strike which affected both the Uruguayan and Argentinian soccer, causing a halt in the official competition for 10 months in 1948. There were difficult moments that I endured thanks to my work in the banking sector. Professional football was resumed in 1949 but I could not participate in the 1950’s World Cup due to the change in my  position in the team. We continued the competitions, winning league titles and the International Cup in Montevideo in which several Latin American and European countries participated.

In 1954 I participated in the World Cup in Switzerland where we finished fourth after performing a very good match against Hungarian team that at this time exhibited a wonderful style of play.

In short, some happy years in which a combination of skill, sacrifice and discipline allowed me to be a starter and captain of  Nacional Montevideo Football Club for 12 years and of Uruguay National Team for 7 years.

Record during my time in Uruguay:

Título NacionalClubPaísFecha
Primera División de UruguayNacionalUruguay1950
Primera División de UruguayNacionalUruguay1952
Primera División de UruguayNacionalUruguay1955
Primera División de UruguayNacionalUruguay1956
Primera División de UruguayNacionalUruguay1957

Titulo InternacionalClubSedeResultado
Copa Mundial 1954SelecciónSuiza4º Puesto
Copa Mundial 1957SelecciónPerú3º Puesto

In 1955 I got married and in 1957 with my first born son I received a call from the President of Real Madrid, Mr. Santiago Bernabeu, which begun the next stage of my life.