Though it is widely unknown, James Oswald Anderson has a pivotal place in Argentinian football history. Lamentably all but forgotten except among a small group of experts, he was much more than just a prolific forward during the dawn of the game in Argentina. He was also the first captain of the Albiceleste, but his contribution stretched even further: together with Alexander Watson Hutton, the so-called father of Argentinian football, he was one of the key figures in establishing the sport in the country.
"[Football] will be the favourite sport among the young people of the Argentinian Republic," predicted the now-defunct newspaper El Diario when previewing the meeting between Uruguay and Argentina on 20 July 1902, in what would be both nations' first ever international fixture. This prophetic vision of the future was also championed by a certain Juan O. Anderson, as he was known in his homeland as a result of a curious translation of the English name James, which is frequently rendered as Santiago, Jaime or Diego, but rarely as Juan. He was special even on this score.
He was born to English parents in Buenos Aires on 18 March 1872, five years after the first recorded football matches in Argentina, contested by young immigrants working for British trading companies and banks. There were not even enough participants for an 11 vs 11. However, as the years passed, wave upon wave of Brits arrived to work on the railways and other public utilities, several British schools sprang up and organised football flourished.
Nevertheless, Anderson himself did not witness these early developments. He studied at Bedford Modern School, in the east of England, from where he would return steeped in footballing passion. Once back in Argentina, he took it upon himself to help the phenomenon boom, both on the pitch – as a centre-forward – and off it, channelling what he had experienced in the land where the game was formalised.
From 1895 he could be found celebrating goals in the green and gold shirt of Lomas Athletic Club, the first great Argentinian champions and one of the six founding members – in 1893 – of the Argentine Association Football League (AAFL), the precursor to today's AFA. He played until 1902, winning three titles, and scored 31 goals in 37 appearances according to unofficial figures.
During those seven years, Anderson did more than simply give opposition players a torrid time with his robust physique and aerial prowess. A big believer in the power of organisation and in football's potential to be the sport of the future, he also served as the AAFL's Secretary and later as its vice-president. As if that were not enough, he oversaw another sport's rise in Argentina, founding the River Plate Rugby Union Championship – now the Argentinian Rugby Union – in 1899 and spearheading the first few 'rugger' matches.
Captain in a historic fixture
So indefatigable was Anderson's enterprising spirit that he blazed another trail by organising the first international football game in South America. On 16 May 1901, Argentina and Uruguay faced off for the first time, in Montevideo. The visitors ran out 3-2 winners, but the fixture does not figure in the official history books. The reasons include the fact that the Argentinian line-up bore the name "J. O. Anderson XI Team" – making it a sort of equivalent of the "Messi and Friends" exhibition sides we see today, 115 years on.
The official maiden international would follow a year later, a collaboration between the AAFL and its counterpart, the Uruguay Association Football League. It was played at the Montevideo home of Albion Football Club and was, according to the Argentinian newspaper La Prensa, "the first River Plate football championship, with a silver cup of artistic value at stake".
As AAFL vice-president, Anderson picked the team together with the President, Francis Hepburn Chevallier Boutell. They chose the best players, but were careful to draw on every club to avoid any offence. Argentina won 6-0 in front of a decent crowd – 5,000 people were in attendance according to El País, while the Buenos Aires Herald puts the number at 8,000. A thousand of these, in any case, were Argentinians who had made the journey specially to cheer on their team, whose kit had not yet taken on the form with which the Albiceleste are now synonymous. "That day Argentina played with a sky-blue shirt, white shorts and black socks. Uruguay sported blue shorts and a blue jersey with a diagonal white stripe, as well as a Uruguayan flag sewn on the chest," the Argentinian historian Oscar Barnade told FIFA.com.
Captain Anderson's involvement yielded several interesting details. He posed holding the ball in the group photo. Typically of the period, he won the coin toss and elected to play uphill on a pitch that, in Barnade's words, "had a big slope". And, although he went on to score the fifth goal, he never appeared for Argentina again.
Anderson's life had other adventures in store. From 1904 to 1905 he was the President of the Argentinian Rugby Union, after which he returned to England, playing cricket for Hertfordshire in the Minor Counties Championship between 1906 and 1912. He died in Reading in 1932, just a year after Argentinian football had turned professional. By then, this pioneer's prophecy had come true: the beautiful game was now the most popular sport among the country's youth.