Peruvian champions within a year of their foundation, Sporting Cristal have carried on in a similar vein ever since, remaining at the forefront of the domestic scene throughout their 57-year existence to date. FIFA.com tells the story of the Lima club.
Birth of an institution
Cristal’s direct predecessors were Sporting Tabaco, a team founded in 1926 and formed in the main by workers and staff from the state-owned cigarette-manufacturing monopoly Estanco de Tabaco, located in the Rimac district of Lima.
Despite being a championship contender throughout the amateur era, Tabaco failed to win a single title and endured financial hardship when Peruvian football went professional in 1951.
Three years later a group of Peruvian businessmen bought the English beer company the Backus and Johnston Brewery, also based in Rimac. Figuring among its directors was one Ricardo Bentin Mujica, a football fanatic and a frequent visitor to the Estadio Nacional, who had designs on setting up the company’s own football club.
In the end, however, he approached the board of Estanco de Tabaco with a view to saving their cash-stricken team. And so, on 13 December 1955, Sporting Cristal Backus came into being, Cristal being the name of the company’s most popular product, with the new club retaining the sky blue jersey worn by Tabaco.
The making of a legend
The controversy generated by the use of “Backus” in the new club’s name lasted through to the end of the next decade, by which time Sporting had established itself on the domestic scene thanks to a clutch of titles, a liberal sprinkling of marquee signings and some memorable line-ups that would go down in history.
Sporting are known in Peru as “El club que nació campeón” (The club that was born a champion). That nickname stems from the fact they won the league at their very first attempt in 1956, nudging aside the mighty Alianza Lima, who have gone on to become one of their two deadliest rivals.
The new boys made an instant splash by signing Alberto Terry, one of the most accomplished forwards Peru has ever produced, and Oscar Miguez, a member of the Uruguay side that won the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Nevertheless, their most fabled recruit would be Alberto Gallardo. With home-grown youth products Orlando de La Torre, Eloy Campos and Jose del Castillo providing him with sterling support, Gallardo struck 18 goals in Sporting’s 1961 title triumph, the first of the four championships the quartet would win with the club.
The following year Sporting embarked on a memorable 30-match tour of Europe, Africa, USA and China PR, earning plenty of praise along the way and suffering only three defeats.
That same year they made their debut in the Copa Libertadores, a tournament in which they chalked up a still-unbeaten record run of 17 games without defeat in 1968 and 1969, even though they failed to reach the semi-finals on either occasion.
Coached by the Brazilian Didi, the Sporting Cristal side that won the 1968 league title is perhaps the greatest the club has ever produced. Six of its members formed part of the brilliant Peru team that distinguished itself at Mexico 1970.
That fabled squad also provided the core of the side that won the Peruvian title again in 1970 and 1972, beating a powerful Universitario de Deportes into second place on both occasions, triggering a great rivalry and the birth of what is now known as El Clásico Moderno.
“It was an exciting team to watch and they played each game the same way, whether it was in the league or in international competitions,” said Argentinian coach Vito Andres Bartoli, who steered Sporting to the 1970 championship. “They always showed what they were made of and how far they’d come in those years.”
Sporting then went through a transitional period, although star signings Hector Chumpitaz, Percy Rojas and Juan Carlos Oblitas combined well with home-reared talents such as goalkeeper Ramon Quiroga and the prodigiously gifted Julio Cesar Uribe.
No fewer than ten Celeste players travelled with the national side to Argentina 1978, and it came as no surprise to see the Lima outfit win back-to-back league titles in the following two years and two more championships in the 1980s.
“Sporting Cristal is my dearly beloved second home,” said Roberto Chorri Palacios, one of the club’s biggest idols of recent times, in an interview with FIFA.com a few months ago.
Along with Nolberto Solano and Jorge Soto, Palacios was one of the local heroes who brought glory to the club in the 1990s, the leaders of a team who won the league three years in a row between 1994 and 1996 and came up just short against Brazil’s Cruzeiro in the 1997 Copa Libertadores final.
Achieved by a club that has represented the country more times in the competition than any other, that performance equalled the best ever by a Peruvian side in the Libertadores – Universitario’s run to the 1972 final.
Soto provided the link between the triumphs of the late 20th century and those of the new millennium, with Sporting finishing league runners-up three times in that period and champions twice, the last occasion in 2005, on the 50th anniversary of their creation.
Without a title since then, Cristal even had a brush with disaster in 2007, pulling off a miraculous escape from relegation and missing out on a place in the Libertadores for the first time in 15 years.
Despite those travails, it remains a proud institution, one that has grown from nothing to become one of Peru’s three most successful and best-supported clubs.
Located in the Lima suburb of San Martin de Porres, the Estadio Alberto Gallardo was opened in 1960, re-opened in 1995 and renamed only this year. It has a capacity of 18,000 and is owned by the Peruvian Institute of Sport, which has leased it out to Sporting Cristal until 2022.