another cloudy and windy morning as I head towards the lovely Victoria
Plaza in the center of Montevideo. After talking with Fernando yesterday
I'm very keen to visit the club even though there are no games this weekend
due to the Easter holidays. I took for a taxi and show the driver the
map Fernando drew for me, the driver nods his head in understanding and
I get in. It doesn't take me long to realize that my driver has absolutely
no idea where he is going and this isn't my only worry as he has also
developed a nasty twitch in his neck! He knows about the crash but little
about rugby as he asks me later at the club "Why are the goal posts
so high?" In the end the journey is not too difficult and with Fernando's
instructions and the help of a couple of friendly locals we finally make
it to the club in about an hour.
It's a grey day with a swirly wind as I walk out onto the main field at the Old Christians Club, the grass is beautifully kept and there is a small uncovered concrete grandstand on the clubrooms side of the field. Trees line the playing field. I walk around the field and imagine the voices of Fernando and Roberto Canessa and their teammates as they would have sounded the many times they played here together. The history is so strong, it's impossible to imagine what it was like for this group of young rugby players up in those hostile and beautiful mountains.
As I reflect on their experiences I am surprised to hear the sound of aircraft engines approaching. I look up and see a commercial jet on its way into the nearby Carrasco airport, amazingly it flies directly above the Old Christians goalposts. It's incredible to see the plane and goalposts together for an instant and it seems to powerfully symbolize the relationship between the club, the accident and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. The plane seems to me to serve as a reminder of those who didn't make it, ensuring their ongoing presence at the club where they made shared many special moments.
I meet Nunez the caretaker and he kindly opens up the clubrooms for me. It feels like a combination of a hunting lodge and a rugby club. There are comfortable chairs and sofas, plaques around the walls, trophies and shields. There is a photo of the 1972 team but little else to indicate the historic nature of the club. Its warm and it feels very friendly here. Over at the youth clubrooms there are jerseys, posters, and all sorts of rugby memorabilia including a poster from the All Blacks "Stand by Me" campaign in 1987. There is a photo of a group of youths in the snow which I presume is at the crash site. Here it's easy to forget the history as is it seems so similar to many other rugby clubs from around the world.
I circle the field once more and reflect again on the incredible history of the Old Christians club. It's been an amazing experience for me to travel to the crash site, to meet Fernando, and to come here to the Old Christians club. Sometimes it takes a history like this to remind us of what life is really about.