An extract from Jonathan Wilson’s latest book

Some footballers in 1914

Nowadays, the city is famous for its fierce rivalry between CF Municipal and Las Afueros, but before these clubs were established, local supremacy was contested between two clubs who have since disappeared into history. Zuid Amerikanse Boys were founded by a group of sailors from the Netherlands, while Bulingdon FC had their origins in an off-shoot of a cricket club comprised of merchants from Britain.

The latter club were unlikely pioneers of what we now understand to be the South American style. Named after a University society that its founders had been part of (with the spelling corrupted to fit local pronunciation), it was, under its first president, Oswald Easington-Collier, strictly for British expats only. In 1913, Oswald returned to England and passed the club on to his son Crispin, which proved a turning point in the club’s fortunes – Crispin had followed English football while studying back home, and decided that hiring an experienced coach would take the club to the next level. His choice proved to be inspired: Huddersfield-born Jack Warburton had played as an inside-forward for Woolwich Arsenal among others, but his managerial career had stalled due to his experimental ideas. He was seeking a new role having been laughed out of Workington Town for attempting to implement an unusually defensive 2-2-6 formation.

It didn’t take long after arriving in the country for Warburton to see the potential of native footballing talent. While hailing a cab from the harbour, he spotted some youths kicking around an empty box of Chompos – a popular local confectionery similar to a Cadbury’s Curlywurly – with great skill. Warburton convinced the board to recruit local players, and by the end of the decade, they would outnumber Brits, earning the club its reputation for ingenuity and trickery, even if this meant bending the rules on occasion.

Warburton would leave the club before the 1921 Championship playoff, returning to England to take over a toffee shop from his brother who’d died of consumption. After struggling to find a replacement, Easington-Collier had the brainwave of recruiting a man he’d met on a trans-Atlantic ferry three years earlier. Janos Wilhelm was a former Ferencvaros and Triestina inside-forward who was by now working in Chicago as a lion tamer and roadsweeper’s assistant, and he jumped at the chance to make a name for himself in a new country.

Wilhelm took the team to new heights, introducing the asymmetrical half-back style he’d conceived during an argument about pastries in a Bratislava café. This, allied with the players’ natural skill, brought the club titles in 1922, 1922/23, 1924 (spring), 1925 (summer), 1926 (Apertura), 1927/28 and in the 1929-32 season, which was played over four years. From 1927, Wilhelm was combining this role with coaching the Norway Olympic team, and in 1931 he returned to Europe permanently, having spells in charge of AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Bohemians Prague, Pro Vercelli, MTK, FC Basel, Grazer AK, Partizan Belgrade, AC Milan again, Utrecht, Sevilla, Charleroi, Livorno, Milan for a third time, Lazio, Barcelona, Hertha Berlin, Bohemians Prague again, the Swedish national team, Rapid Vienna, Inter Milan, 1860 Munich and Inter Bratislava.

After this three year period, Wilhlem returned to Bulingdon, but local, more professional clubs had by now overtaken them, and in 1937 he left the club as they dropped out of the top flight. In 1951 the club withdrew its football section altogether, although various attempts have been made to resurrect the name, including a current club in the fourth tier Metropolitan Interior division, who wear the club’s original colours of pink and dark green. The name still lives on in local footballing terminology – if a player takes a corner which rebounds off the opposite corner flag and into the goal, this is still known as a Buligol.

Wilhelm went back to North America, returning to Europe after the end of WWII, where he managed several more clubs, the last of which was Fiorentina, with whom he reached the 1957 European Cup final. Having said all this, there is no official record of him at any of clubs listed, and when I interviewed his daughter, at her small apartment just around the corner from MTK’s stadium, she admitted she’d never been to any of these places.

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