When it comes to international reputations, Montevideo Wanderers Futbol Club cannot match city rivals Penarol and Nacional. That said, few clubs have contributed quite as much to the development of Uruguayan and South America football as El Bohemio, a driving force in the creation of the continent’s football confederation and a prolific nursery for some of the country’s most famous footballing sons.
In this the year of its 110th anniversary, FIFA.com pays tribute to a humble institution that has played a big part in football’s growth on the banks of the River Plate.
Birth of an institution
The Wanderers story began with an act of rebellion, one triggered by the refusal of the directors of Albion Football Club, who now play in the second division of Uruguay’s amateur league, to give their young players a chance to progress. The youngsters promptly broke ranks and formed their own club. The only problem was, they had no money and nowhere to call home.
There are two differing stories as to how the breakaway club came across its name. One theory is that Albion’s directors said the upstarts would always be bohemios, Spanish for “wanderers,” while another holds that Juan and Enrique Sardeson, two of the new outfit’s founders, opted for the name after seeing Wolverhampton Wanderers win the FA Cup on a trip to England. Whatever the truth behind their name, Montevideo Wanderers officially came into being on 15 August 1902.
The making of a legend
The club was never more successful than in its early days. Football was an amateur sport in Uruguay up until 1931, the year in which Los Bohemios won their fourth and last official league title and their second with an unbeaten record, a distinction that only Nacional and Penarol can match.
Nevertheless, Wanderers have made their biggest impact on the Uruguayan game by providing a succession of players for the national side, starting in 1906 when it supplied the entire team that represented the country at the Lipton Cup in Buenos Aires. That tradition has continued right through to the present day, with Wanderers youth products Fernando Muslera and Sebastian Eguren both making valuable contributions to the fourth place La Celeste achieved at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
In between times the club has had a string of legendary players in its ranks, such as the unforgettable Obdulio Varela, aka El Negro Jefe (The Black Chief), who skippered Uruguay to everlasting glory at Brazil 1950. Another well-known FIFA World Cup winner to pull on the black and white jersey is Italy’s Mauro Camoranesi, back in 1997.
As far as home-grown talents are concerned, however, there can be no question that Pablo Bengoechea and Enzo Francescoli are the finest two players to roll off the Wanderers production line, El Príncipe honing his dribbling skills with the Montevideo side before crossing the water to make his name with Argentinian giants River Plate.
Current Uruguay coach Oscar El Maestro Tabarez also played for and coached Los Bohemios, while former club president Hector Rivadavia Gomez made his mark on the game by founding the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) in 1916. On top of all that, Wanderers were also behind the national team’s adoption of sky blue jerseys, the same colour the club uses in its change strip.
Other Wanderers legends include Cayetano Saporiti, who played a record 342 games for the club, Oscar Chelle, their all-time leading scorer with 104 goals, and Rene Borjas, who holds a very special place in the affections of the fans. A league champion with Wanderers, he also gave his life for them. Defying doctor’s orders and a heart condition, he turned up at the stadium to cheer his team-mates on at a crucial league game in 1931. The excitement of the occasion proved too much for him to take, however, and he collapsed and died at the end of the first half. He is now considered one of the club’s most representative figures.
Since winning promotion back to the top flight in 2000, Wanderers have sought to regain the status they enjoyed during the amateur era. And while their last championship win remains a very distant memory, El Bohemio have been able to maintain their first-division place without too much trouble, even managing to win Uruguay’s Copa Libertadores qualification competition in 2001 with an unbeaten record, since when they have twice played in Latin America’s premier club competition. The most notable of those two appearances was the 2002 campaign, when they advanced to the last 16 only to be beaten by compatriots Penarol in a fateful penalty shootout.
Wanderers have rarely had it easy, as the story of their early nomadic existence reveals. It was several years before they finally took up residence at the stadium they still call home today, prior to which they played at a makeshift pitch owned by the Asociacion Rural and at the Estadio de Belvedere, now Liverpool Futbol Club’s home ground. Their search for a permanent location finally ended on 15 October 1933, the date on which the Estadio Alfredo Victor Viera (then known as Wanderers Park) was officially opened. Wanderers marked the occasion by beating Bella Vista 2-0.
Refurbished on several occasions, the Parque Viera now has a capacity of 8,000, and its stands are named after four of the club’s most legendary names: Obdulio Varela, Rene Borjas, Jorge Barrios and Cayetano Saporiti. Situated a mere stone’s throw from the home grounds of Bella Vista and arch-rivals River Plate, with whom they contest El Clásico del Prado, the Parque Viera is too small to host Wanderers’ international club matches, which are played at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario.