The amaz­ing tale of two boys’ jour­ney from the west of Scot­land to Boca Ju­niors

The Herald on Sunday - - SPORT -

IN a vestibule area at a Scots Amer­i­can so­cial club a short drive from the cen­tre of New York City, there is an anony­mous black- and­white pic­ture of two neatly at­tired young men in ri­val strips smil­ing for the cam­era. The cap­tion be­low i ndi­cates the scene: Rosario, Ar­gentina. The year: 1964.

The smil­ing sub­jects are no mere tourists. One is decked out in the shirt of the mighty Boca Ju­niors, the other in the kit of their Ar­gen­tine Primera Divi­sion ri­vals Rosario Cen­tral. The pair are pos­ing pre­match, two old friends and for­mer team-mates reac­quainted for the first time on the field since part­ing in Buenos Aires the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

The pic­ture, hid­den in the bow­els of this Scots re­treat in Kearny, New Jersey, be­lies the re­mark­able jour­ney of two lit­tle-known Scot­tish foot­ballers who from the hum­ble semi-pro­fes­sional ranks of Amer­i­can soc­cer chanced upon a trial for one of the most sto­ried clubs in the world – and made it.

In Boca’s fa­mous yel­low and blue is Peter Mil­lar, briefly of Kil­win­ning Rangers be­fore em­i­grat­ing to the United States in 1959 at the age of 16. In a Rosario shirt is Bobby Waugh, who had made a hand­ful of ap­pear­ances for East Fife in the early ’ 60s be­fore he too crossed the At­lantic Ocean for New York.

More than half a cen­tury later, from his home in Kearny, Mil­lar re­called their non­cha­lant re­ply the mo­ment he and Waugh, who died some years ago, were of­fered the chance in Buenos Aires: “‘Sure, we’d love to go for a trial at Boca Ju­niors,’ we said.”

How the op­por­tu­nity arose is a me­an­der­ing tale in­volv­ing a colour­ful cast of char­ac­ters. A ref­eree with a keen eye for a player. A quirky Ital­ian Amer­i­can foot­ball club owner who fan­cied a Scot­tish player or two. An Ar­gen­tine boxer. And then the boxer’s man­ager.

It was head-spin­ning stuff for a young man from Salt­coats who be­lieved he had hit the heights play­ing in the Ayr­shire ju­niors with Kil­win­ning. “I thought it was fan­tas­tic. I was get­ting £3 a game,” he said. IN New York, Mil­lar quickly joined an am­a­teur team who played in the lo­cal Ger­man Amer­i­can Soc­cer League. It was dom­i­nated by Scots who had played ju­nior foot­ball back home.

“While play­ing in Kearny in a char­ity cup a ref­eree in one of the games came up to me in the Scots club and said, ‘ What are you do­ing on Sun­day’?” Mil­lar re­called. “I said, ‘Noth­ing re­ally.’ He said, ‘You’re com­ing with me, I’m go­ing to take you for a trial with some­body.’ He took me over to a team called New York In­ter, who played in the Amer­i­can Soc­cer League, and I ended up be­ing signed by them at the end of 1961.”

Now semi-pro, Mil­lar found him­self play­ing with ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers from South Amer­ica. Cru­cially, there were Ar­gen­tini­ans.

“Once I got used to play­ing with these older play­ers things started to work out,” he says. “I was scor­ing goals and in the mean­time there were more Scot­tish play­ers com­ing to the team. Jimmy Mur­ray, he was from Ed­in­burgh, and then later on Bobby Waugh came. At one time we had four or five Scot­tish play­ers play­ing for us. [The founder of In­ter] Enzo [Mag­nozzi] liked the play­ers com­ing from Scot­land. He liked the work ethic. He brought them over and got them jobs.

“A cou­ple of the play­ers had friends who used to come and watch the games. One was a boxer by the name of Vic­tor Zalazar. His man­ager came with him to watch one of the games. Af­ter see­ing a cou­ple of games, he ap­proached my­self and Bobby Waugh and asked us if we’d be in­ter­ested in go­ing for a trial to Ar­gentina for Boca Ju­niors.”

Af­ter the shock, they quickly is­sued their cool re­sponse.

“The Ar­gen­tine play­ers, they told us, ‘Sure, go take a chance.’ They thought that we’d do OK. Mr Mag­nozzi was not very happy with it be­cause at that time we were in the run­ning for win­ning the league. So we went to Ar­gentina in Jan­uary 1963, we had a trial and both of us got signed.”

The tran­si­tion was mon­u­men­tal on and off the pitch. At first Mil­lar and Waugh were put up in a plush ho­tel be­fore mov­ing on to digs in Bar­rio Norte, a wealthy part of Buenos Aires far re­moved from the work­ing class con­fines of La Boca, home of their new club. It was the sort of place where if you wanted to go out and eat at night, you had to don jacket and tie.

“Grow­ing up in Salt­coats we didn’t have things like that,” Mil­lar said.

But that did not stop the po­lit­i­cal strife of 1960s Ar­gentina, a time of mil­i­tary coups and weak gov­ern­ment, in­ter­rupt­ing their idyll.

“We were there dur­ing one of the rev­o­lu­tions,” Mil­lar said. “We went to prac­tice and you could hear the guns go­ing off. So they told us to wrap up and go back to where we were stay­ing in the ho­tel.

“Bobby and I had noth­ing to do so we were go­ing to go for lunch. We’re stand­ing on the cor­ner and we see these trucks com­ing down with all these troops sit­ting on the back like in the movies. This truck goes round the cor­ner and one of the guys comes with a gun in his hand, and he goes, ‘Vamos!’

“Bobby and I took off run­ning, ran into the ho­tel half a block away, ran into the el­e­va­tor, up to the room, locked the door and pulled the sheets over our head.”

In April 1963, there was a naval up­ris­ing in op­po­si­tion to new pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. One night while out for a car ride, Mil­lar and Waugh en­coun­tered a check­point.

“It was, ‘Ev­ery­body out of the car.’ Then one of the guys told them that this is the two Scots that are here play­ing for Boca, and they let us go. It was scary not be­ing used to that.”

As for the foot­ball, the squad they joined was stocked with top-level ta­lent. Brazil­ian de­fender Or­lando, a World Cup win­ner in 1958; Ar­gentina in­ter­na­tion­als like the for­ward Nor­berto Me­nen­dez and mid­fielder An­to­nio Rat­tin; in goal there was An­to­nio Roma, an­other Ar­gentina cap and there was pro­lific Ar­gen­tinian goalscorer Jose San­fil­ippo.

Waugh had some big-game ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing in Scot­land with East Fife, but the two wingers had ar­rived in Buenos Aires di­rect from glo­ri­fied play­ing fields in New York. The US was not ex­actly a hot­bed of top-drawer foot­ball and the Bom­bon­era sta­dium was of a dif­fer­ent or­der.

“It was very hard to break into the first team,” Mil­lar said. “I played out­side right. We had Omar Cor­batta, an Ar­gen­tinian in­ter­na­tional, and I was his back-up. He was a player I ad­mired. He taught me a lot. Play­ing in the re­serve team was like play­ing in the first team be­cause all the play­ers that were around you were big names.” STILL aged just 20, Mil­lar spent his first sea­son at Boca play­ing in the un­der 21s with oc­ca­sional for­ays in the re­serves and in first team friendlies, in­clud­ing a mem­o­rable run-out against a tour­ing Stoke City.

Waugh, a year older, was mostly used in the re­serves.

“The qual­ity of play was way higher than we were used to, and a lot faster. We learned an aw­ful lot, though, and for­tu­nately I was able to score some goals. That helped.”

The pair also thought they were do­ing rather well on the fi­nan­cial front as full-time pro­fes­sion­als, at least in an Ar­gen­tinean con­text. While the av­er­age lo­cal worker would make about 5000 pe­sos a month, he and Waugh were col­lect­ing 40,000-50,000 pe­sos plus bonuses. He had come a long way since Kil­win­ning Rangers.

Mil­lar got a taste of the rau­cous atmosphere that could en­ve­lope an Ar­gen­tinian league clash. The un­der 21 matches were se­ri­ous af­fairs, played in the sta­dium on a Sun­day just be­fore the first team’s fix­ture. There might al­ready be 65,000 throng­ing the steep Bom­bon­era gal­leries.

River Plate was the big one, “an ad­ven­ture”. Even the young­sters couldn’t es­cape the coins be­ing thrown and fans who would spit on them if they got close enough.

There were tasty en­coun­ters, too, with the likes of In­de­pen­di­ente and Rac­ing Club.

“All these games were treated like it was the cup fi­nal. There was loads of drama. You used to think that you were so close to the fans yet there was a moat sep­a­rat­ing the field from the stands. There was a big chain link fence to keep them out. When you were play­ing, when the sta­dium was packed, all you could hear was a buzz. You couldn’t dis­tin­guish what it was, it was just the buzz of the peo­ple. Be­lieve me it was loud, very loud.”

Af­ter the ini­tial 1963 cam­paign, Waugh was trans­ferred to Rosario, some 300 miles away in the cen­tre of the coun­try. From then on, the pair’s con­tact was lim­ited with tele­phones not yet preva­lent.

By this time Mil­lar had grad­u­ated from the un­der 21s and be­come a full-fledged squad player. The all-star Boca still meant com­pet­i­tive first­team ac­tion con­tin­ued to elude him but he con­tin­ued to rack up games in the re­serves.

It was be­fore one of these re­serve matches that he re­con­nected with Waugh and ap­peared at­ten­tively in the pho­to­graph dis­played at the Scots club in Kearny. The two friends who had de­parted New York to­gether hop­ing to star for Boca were to square off on op­pos­ing sides.

“Bobby played out­side left and I played out­side right so we had a lot of con­tact that game,” Mil­lar laughed.

Then came the un­ex­pected in­ter­ven­tion of the US draft board. The war in Vietnam was rag­ing, and as a green card holder, Mil­lar was sum­moned for duty. Soon, Waugh, too, was called up. Just like that, the dream was over. The two un­knowns, who had plot­ted an un­prece­dented trail from the west of Scot­land to the cusp of the top of the Ar­gen­tine game to lit­tle fan­fare, would trade their play­ing uni­forms for mil­i­tary fa­tigues.

“I had a de­ci­sion to make,” Mil­lar said. “I could ei­ther go or stay in Ar­gentina and have the pos­si­bil­ity of never see­ing my fam­ily again be­cause if I did not re­port, I would not be able to re­turn to the United States.

“One of the things that helped me make my de­ci­sion to go back was that Boca, like most of the teams down there in South Amer­ica at that time, were no­to­ri­ous for be­ing late pay­ing the play­ers. There were some­times you were three months be­hind be­fore you got paid. What they would do is pay you the bonuses and you would live off of that. I was say­ing to my­self, ‘Is it worth it stay­ing here and liv­ing day to day’.”

As fate would have it, Mil­lar avoided the the­atre in Vietnam, in­stead spend­ing his ac­tive duty on an army foot­ball team in Ger­many, play­ing games in a string of coun­tries across Europe as the side acted as a kind of good­will am­bas­sador for the US mil­i­tary. There were reg­u­lar train­ing matches against the lo­cal side Stuttgart, and a mem­o­rable vic­tory over Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt.

Waugh, mean­while, was sent to serve in Vietnam, and it would be some years be­fore the pair would meet again. MIL­LAR would go on to spend a sea­son play­ing in the new North Amer­i­can Soc­cer League with the Bal­ti­more Bays un­der the for­mer Queens Park Rangers man­ager Gor­don Jago. That led to the US na­tional team. Now a US ci­ti­zen, he won 13 caps and scored eight goals for the Stars and Stripes.

“They call that the dark ages in this coun­try, the 60s and 70s,” he said.

The US didn’t make a World Cup be­tween 1950 and 1990, and Mil­lar de­scribes a dis­or­gan­ised setup in which few if any friendlies were or­gan­ised be­tween qual­i­fy­ing cam­paigns.

Then it was back to New York In­ter where Mil­lar and Waugh would share a field once more.

“When Bobby got back from Vietnam we got back to­gether be­cause he lived in the same town I lived in,” said Mil­lar.

Waugh would go on to col­lect a cou­ple of Most Valu­able Player awards be­fore giv­ing up the game. In Vietnam, Mil­lar said, Waugh had come into con­tact with Agent Orange, the her­bi­cide used by the US mil­i­tary to clear for­est cover.

“I used to see him ev­ery week when we were play­ing but then he stopped play­ing be­cause he was get­ting sick.” THERE is an­other pic­ture Mil­lar still has in his pos­ses­sion. It is of Boca’s 1964 team, the one that would go on to win the Ar­gen­tinian league cham­pi­onship that sea­son, his fi­nal one with the club.

“It’s of all of the pro­fes­sional squad,” said Mil­lar, who is now 76 and still help­ing to run his fam­ily sheet metal busi­ness, the trade he picked up when a part-time player in New York. “I’m ac­tu­ally in it. At just 21 years of age. That’s one thing I trea­sure.”

Play­ing in the re­serves was like play­ing in the first team be­cause they were all big names All these games were treated like it was the cup fi­nal. There was loads of drama

The pho­to­graph hang­ing up in a Scots Amer­i­can so­cial club near New York, of Scots Peter Mil­lar and Bobby Waugh meet­ing up prior to kick-off in a Rosario v Boca Ju­niors re­serve game

Peter Mil­lar, back row, sec­ond from left, with his Boca Ju­nior un­der 21 side

Packed gal­leries in the Bom­bon­era Sta­dium watch as Peter Mil­lar strikes home for Boca’s un­der 21s against Rosario in 1963

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