Paddy McCarthy – the man who built Boca by Dylan O’Connell
With seven Copa Libertadores titles and thirty-four Primera División honours, it cannot be denied that Boca Juniors are one of the most successful clubs in world football.
The foundation of the club can be traced all the way to Ireland to a school teacher from Cashel in Tipperary who left for Argentina in 1900 in search of a better life.
Paddy McCarthy sailed the Atlantic Ocean through rocky waters to the new world in South America. There, in the thriving metropolis of Buenos Aires he set out to make it as a professional boxer.
To make at that time in Argentina was an achievement in itself. The previous century had been dominated by a bitter civil war between the Federalists, who wanted the country to be a federation of independently governed provinces, and the Unitarians, who wanted a centralised government in Buenos Aires which represented the commercial and intellectual interests of the city. This sense of uncertainty had been enhanced by a national identity crisis spurred on by the mass immigration into the country from Europe. Famed journalist and writer Jonathon Wilson described the country as “only a few decades old as an independent nation and was racked by civil strife, Argentina was an unstable entity’; almost everything about it – its borders, its governance, its laws, its sense of self – in certain”.
Through the creation of the modern Argentine state, the 29-year-old began building a new life for himself in sport.
McCarthy’s first sporting success came in 1903 when he took part in the first-ever professional boxing fight to be held in Argentina. The bout, which was organised by El Gladiado” magazine, saw McCarthy win by a fourth-round knockout against Italian Abelardo Robassio.
While working as a PE teacher in a local Commerce School, McCarthy was approached by five students of Italian descent. The group asked him to become a coach, an offer he immediately accepted. He is said to have inspired the boys with his vision of a passing game built on style and flare.
From his leadership, the boys created Boca Juniors. They played their first game in April 1905, beating Club Mariano Moreno 4-0 with all of McCarthy’s students featuring. One, Santiago Sana, scored the fourth goal, in a game best remembered for Boca’s striking black and white kit.
Interestingly, Boca would later adopt the colours blue and yellow, the same as McCarthy’s home county of Tipperary. Despite claims that Boca was inspired by the Premier County, the real reason is over a Swedish ship which docked next to the boys as they discussed football.
McCarthy’s name can be found in all sorts of records in South America. As well as having the title as ‘president’ of Boca Juniors he later joined Estudiantes as a coach and brought them to Brazil in 1910 as the first-ever Argentine club to visit the country. This was a huge success for Argentine football, as they beat Rio Grande on three occasions, winning 0-4, 3–7, and 0-5, while also seeing off Pelotas RS 7-0.
This tour sparked conversations of pan-continental club competition in South America. Three years later this concept was semi created as the Argentine and Uruguian champion would play off for the Copa Aldao. This led to the creation of the South American Championship of Champions which then inspired the European Cup.
In later life, McCarthy became a referee and he further wrote his name into world footballing history when he refereed the first-ever Superclassico between Boca Juniors and River Plate.
McCarthy’s contribution to sport in Argentina became a regular feature in the football magazine
El Gráfico, a publication which is regularly held up as the bible for sport all across South America. In the pages of the age-old title, his interviews and stories would become apart of his legacy.
His contribution to sport in Buenos Aires earned McCarthy a celebrity like reputation. Through the 1930s, he was regularly called to meet celebrities upon their arrival in the city. Pictures of McCarthy show him with the President of Argentina, the Duke of Kent and the Prince of Wales when they visited Buenos Aires in 1931.
One of the most recognisable photographs of McCarthy, where he is wearing a Yale jacket, has its own claim to history as the jacket was gifted to him by former United States President Theodore Roosevelt.