Lolo Fernandez: One of Latin America’s Most Popular Footballers
Throughout his 12-year career with the Peruvian side, between 1935 and 1947, Lolo Fernández was not a World Cup player such as Obdulio Varela of Uruguay and Brazil’s Leonidas da Silva. Despite all this, he is still an inspirational leader in the history of Peru’s soccer. On the field, he did a lot to stimulate the men’s football in all of the country, one of the most soccer-crazed places on the planet. He was very popular in the outback of Peru, from Trujillo and Ica to Puno and Cajamarca. His passion for his homeland was reflected in all facets of his life.
He began to play soccer before it was a professional sport on Peruvian soil. Football — the world’s most popular sport— was imported by Britain’s expatriates in the second half of the 19th century and is known as Peru’s national pastime.
The oldest and most powerful of three soccer-playing Fernández brothers, he — known affectionately as “Lolo”— is considered as one of the country’s greatest athletes of all time, along with Edwin Vásquez Cam (Olympic gold medalist at the 1948 London Summer Games), Cecilia Tait Villacorta (among the world’s top volleyball players in the past century), Juan Carlos “Johnny” Bello (winner of 12 Bolivarian titles in the early 1970s), and Gabriela “Gaby” Pérez del Solar (silver medal in women’s volleyball at the 1988 South Korea Games).
During Fernández’s tenure with the national side, the Andean republic gained one South American Cup (1939) and one Bolivarian Championship (1938). At the club level, he earned the Peruvian League Cup — nationwide competition— six times with his club Universitario de Deportes, having scored a club-record of 157 goals — a record that remains unique. Also, he was the top goal-scorer in the country’s top division of itcscore.com teams in 1932 (11 goals), 1933 (9), 1934 (9), 1939 (15), 1940 (15), 1942 (11), and 1945 (16). Additionally, he is one of best-known Peruvians Olympians of all time. He holds the distinction of being the first (and only) top player from that nation to compete in the modern Olympiad.
Peru’s First Genuine Top-Class Athlete
Since then, the apex of his career came in the late 1930s when he was the hero of Peru’s South American Football Confederation Cup win, putting the Peruvian flag on the sporting map and making him one of the most exciting players in the game. A Lolo Fernández-inspired Peru defeated Uruguay in the gold-medal match, a surprise to most fans and sportswriters on the American mainland (Campomar, 2014, Penguin). He had been called up by England’s coach Jack Greenwell. Before the championship, Peru’s sportsmen had never won a continental trophy (equivalent of the European Cup). Previously, this Cañete-born footballer was a member of the 1936 Peruvian Olympic football team, which competed in the Berlin Olympics. Curiously, Western Europe was the first continent to recognize Fernández’s talent. Although his homeland’s squad succumbed in a controversial game against Austria (a match they should have won) during the Men’s Olympic Games Soccer Tournament— the unofficial world cup of soccer at that time— he was regarded as one of the South America’s most celebrated sportsmen (Hilton, 2011).
Back in Peru, he led his own “soccer revolution” in Universitario de Deportes, winning many top division cups, setting off a wave of explosive emotion in Lima, the nation’s capital. In fact, he was one of the first superstars of that club. The national squad and his club had been his first loves. He could have played abroad, but decided to play for the Peruvian side and the Limean club, one of the nation’s premier clubs (Newton, 2011).
In fact, Lolo Fernández was Peru’s first genuine top-class sportsman in the world of sports in a time when some Spanish-speaking republics began to produce world-famous competitors. Already, in 1928, Argentina’s fighter Victorio Avendaño had caught the public’s attention with his Olympic gold medal in the Games of the IX Olympiad in Holland’s capital city of Amsterdam (Grasso, 2013). Two years later, the Soccer World Cup was won by the host country Uruguay— called the Celeste. Meanwhile, the men’s shooting contingent of Brazil picked up a total of three medals at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics in tiny Belgium (Almanaque Mundial, 1976). On the other hand, on March 19, 1938, four Ecuadorans — Ricardo Planas, Carlos Luis Gilbert, Luis Alcivar Elizalde and Abel Gilbert— swept the gold medals at the Swimming South American Tournament (Almanaque Guayaquil, 2003).
The Life and Times of Lolo Fernández
Teodoro Oswaldo Fernández Meyzán was born on May 20, 1913 in San Vicente, Cañete, near Lima, Peru’s capital. He was the seventh of eight children born to Tomas Fernández Cisneros, a farm administrator, and his wife, the former Raymunda Meyzan.
Cañete covers an area of 4,577 km2 — the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut. It lies around 140 km from Lima. This Connecticut-size territory is blessed with a fertile land and is well-recognized for its African-Peruvian culture, cuisine, fruits and birthplace of notable people such as Héctor Chumpitaz (footballer), Caitro Soto (musician), Enrique Verastegui (writer), and Rolando Campos (singer).
Fernández spent his early childhood on a farm in Cañete. Like many Peruvian children, he became fascinated with the game of soccer at an early age. But not everyone applauded that passion, among them his father.
He invested his life in this sport since he played for his hometown club Huracán of Hualcará in the early 1920s. The then little-known player was the first to arrive to the stadium and the last to leave. In his land, he trained with a lot of intensity. The exercise and fresh air made him feel better.
During his first appearance, he led his club to a victory over Alianza San Vicente in a local event in his native Cañete. His debut could not have been better: he scored the winning goal. The date was August 30, 1923. On that occasion, his play (without being paid a salary) impressed his team-mates early on. He was celebrated throughout Cañete, whose people are addicted to football and other Olympic sports as canoeing, boxing, and track-and-field.
Toward the end of the 1920s, he was allowed to leave his home and went to Lima to live with his elder brother, Arturo Fernández, who had played for Universitario de Deportes after being a member of Ciclista Lima. In this context, Lolo, as he was more often known, was introduced to Universitario by Arturo.
In the Peruvian place, his personal life underwent some significant changes. Unanimously elected player by the club’s chairman Placido Galindo, Fernández signed a contract for 120 soles a month. Relations between he and his new club were excellent and friendly since that day.
He kicked off his career with the Lima-based club when he made his official debut on November 29, 1931 during a friendly match against Deportes Magallanes of Chile. Some young athletes would have been intimidated in such situation, but not Lolo. The Lima-based club, with a young side, was the winner. The Peruvian victory was due largely to Fernández’s leadership. He scored the winner against Magallanes in a 1-0 win. Gradually, his talent was recognized by experts, coaches, and sportswriters in his homeland country. As a player, he was without peer in his generation.
An Athlete In Troubled Times
Like many Latino champions such as Alberto Spencer of Ecuador (football),Mateo Flores of Guatemala (track-and-field) and Chino Meléndez of Nicaragua (baseball), Lolo Fernández lived in a country plagued by political violence, poverty, and economic difficulties. Despite these hurdles, he emerged as one of Latin America’s top athletes in the first half of the 20th century.
In the 1930s, his native country had a record of short-lived governments and eight conservative rulers. By 1933, Peru’s military warlord Luis Sánchez Cerro was killed. At the same time, opposition-led demonstrations broke out in Lima in response to an electoral defeat (Loveman, 1999).
During the global financial crisis, the economy fell into chaos, which was vulnerable due to the nation’s dependence on minerals and agricultural products.
Due to these and other reasons, the country’s sport activities had been all but ignored by the governments. Under this atmosphere, Peru was one of the last countries to make its international debut in the Football South American Championship (known as the Copa America later), having competed for the first in the XI Cup in 1927.Similarly, their athletes could not attend the Summer Olympics between 1900 and 1932. But that wasn’t all. Upon competing in Great Britain in 1948, this Spanish-speaking republic did not have Olympic representation until 1956, despite having Pan American gold medalists —among them Julia Sánchez Deza and Edwin Vásquez— and continental champs.