1969 Football War

Get a better understanding of the soccer war and the real role that the sport played in it.

News headline of the Football War

Has there ever been a war caused by football or soccer? Although not directly, the series of World Cup qualification matches between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969 set off a four-day war that killed thousands from both sides.

The two neighboring countries were already at odds with each other prior to the qualification matches. The height of their tension coincided with the World Cup qualifying games, which resulted to a war that then became known as the Football War.

Underlying causes of the war: immigration & land dispute

In the early part of the 20th Century, thousands of Salvadorans began migrating to neighboring country, Honduras. By the 1960s, Salvadoran immigrants already owned a big part of agricultural land in Honduras.

Many Hondurans felt that the immigrants were stealing jobs and land from them. In 1966, big landowners from Honduras established an organization called National Federation of Farmers and Livestock-Farmers. Their aim was to prevent more Salvadorans from acquiring land.

The organization also lobbied the passing of a land legislation which took away land from Salvadorans and redistributed them among the natives. Spurred by national pride, many Hondurans began discriminating immigrants and even committing violent crimes against them.
At extreme cases, Hondurans tortured the immigrants (children and women included). Many Salvadorans were forced to go back to their homeland. Newspapers in El Salvador published pictures of their violently oppressed countrymen in Honduras. The Salvadorans and their government were outraged by the atrocity that the immigrants went through.

1970 World Cup qualification and the conflict escalation

From June 8-26, 1969, Honduras and El Salvador were scheduled to meet in three World Cup qualifying matches. The first game was in Honduras. Salvadoran players had not much sleep the night before their game as they were harassed by local fans who threw stones to their hotel windows. The morning after, El Salvador football team lost 1-0.

The lost caused a distraught Salvadoran fan by the name of Amelia Bolanios to kill herself, a death which caused greater outrage in El Salvador.

The second game was in El Salvador, which was won by the home team 3-0. The visiting squad was threatened prior to the game and their supporters were violently mistreated during the game. Honduras coach Mario Griffin said such treatment took his players’ focus out of the game and considered themselves lucky to have lost (implying that the worst could have happened to them if they won over El Salvador).

The qualification for the 1970 World Cup does not use the goal difference system, teams are only rewarded two points for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss. Because El Salvador and Honduras have two points each, they had to play a third game on neutral ground.

Their knockout match was set on June 26, in Mexico. Prior to the game, El Salvador stated that they are cutting all diplomatic relations with Honduras. They cite the Honduran government’s lack of action towards stopping the crimes and atrocities committed against Salvadoran immigrants.

The match ended 3-2 in favor of El Salvador. The days that followed the match saw tension escalate between the two countries, which resulted in the Football War.

The start of the Football War

Immediately after El Salvador severed diplomatic relations with Honduras, minor armed conflict along the borders began to erupt. The start of a full-scale began on July 14 when the Salvadoran air force attacked military airports in Honduras.

Salvadorans also launched ground offensive and made it well inside the Honduran soil. Honduras’ air force struck back and was able to bomb oil facilities in El Salvador. Such damage to strategic locations prevented El Salvadorans from forwarding supplies to the front.

Intervention of the OAS

On July 15, just one day after the start of El Salvador’s attack, the Organization of American States (OAS) demanded the withdrawal of Salvadoran troops from Honduras to stop the conflict.

However, El Salvador refused to stop unless Honduras promised to make reparations to the displaced Salvadorans and to prevent harm to those who remain in Honduras.

A ceasefire was reached in July 18 but El Salvador did not withdraw its troop until they were threatened to be sanctioned by the OAS.

Casualties & aftermath of the war

At the end of the war, a total of 6,000 people died and 15,000 more were injured. Thousands more were left homeless. The war lasted a total of 100 hours, which gave it its other nickname “The 100 Hours’ War”.

With hundreds of thousands Salvadorans returning from Honduras, El Salvador’s economy suffered greatly. El Salvador did not have a successful campaign in the 1970 World Cup, going out of the group stage without scoring a goal.