The suggestion that a stray sheep may have caused the road accident in the Falklands involving former Argentina and Tottenham Hotspur stars, Osvaldo “Ossie” Ardiles and Ricardo Villa was refuted on Tuesday by Ardiles’s son Federico in an interview with Mercopress in Stanley.
At around 7pm on Monday, the two former football stars and a group of five documentary film makers including Federico Ardiles were returning in a rented 4X4 vehicle from a visit to Goose Green and the military cemeteries at Darwin and San Carlos. They were approaching Swan Inlet and still some miles from the Mount Pleasant air base when the accident happened. Osvaldo Ardiles, who has a British driving licence, was at the wheel, with Ricardo Villa in the front passenger seat, when in Federico Ardiles’s words, “we were coming round a corner, downhill, not particularly fast, when he ever so slightly lost the back of the car; you could feel just the back wheels going out a bit. He tried to compensate, then he tried to compensate the other way and we started spinning and spinning. Then I think we rolled and rolled down a bank and crashed onto the side.”
This kind of incident is not uncommon on the gravel rural roads of the Falkland Islands, particularly when taken in conjunction with strong cross winds and drivers unaccustomed to such conditions. Often there have been tragic consequences, but fortunately on this occasion all the occupants of the vehicle were able to get out of the vehicle alive and, in the majority of cases, dazed but relatively unharmed. Osvaldo Ardiles, however, was bleeding profusely from a large gash in his head and the film group’s sound recordist had suffered a severe blow to his neck.
Fortunately one of the group was equipped with a mobile phone and even more providentially was able to get a signal and call the emergency services in Stanley. A military police car from the Mount Pleasant air base was dispatched and an ambulance from Stanley, which arrived just before the military search and rescue helicopter which transported the whole group to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Stanley, arriving around 9.15pm.
Once in Stanley, the majority of the group were treated for superficial wounds and then released, but Osvaldo Ardiles, whose head wound required some twenty-five stitches was kept in hospital overnight for observation, along with the sound recordist. On Tuesday, it was decided that the latter required a CT scan and should be flown by air ambulance to either Santiago or Buenos Aires. With these arrangements in hand, a well, but much bandaged and still somewhat shaken Osvalso Ardiles decided to avail himself of the opportunity to leave the islands. It is estimated that the pair should have arrived in Buenos Aires in the early hours of today, Wednesday.
In the late seventies, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, were the first and most successful in what has since become a flood of foreign players into the English football leagues. The two Argentines were signed by Tottenham Hotspur and soon became firm favourites with the London club’s fans: Villa, in 1981, scoring what was described as “the goal of the century” to give the club victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup Final.
The events of April 1982 created a difficult situation for both players. While still at the peak of their playing abilities and at the height of their popularity, suddenly an armed conflict involving British and Argentine forces, over a group of islands in the South Atlantic that many of their fans had never previously heard of, cast them in the role of ‘enemy’. This situation was to become even harder for Ardiles, one of whose cousins, an Argentine Air Force pilot, was killed in the Falklands soon after the war began.
Both players took part in the semi-final of the FA Cup in 1982, shortly after the Argentine landing in the Falklands, but immediately afterwards Ardiles left to join the Argentine national squad for the 1982 World Cup and then went to France, Tottenham Hotspur having loaned him to Paris St Germain for the 1982-3 season. Ricardo Villa returned to Spurs, but because of public feeling against Argentina, was not allowed to play in the subsequent FA Cup final. As Federico says of his father and his old colleague, “At that time they were amongst the most famous Argentines in Britain, so it was a very difficult time. They were caught in the middle of it all.”
With the world cup in Brazil approaching and Argentina among the favourites to win it again as they have twice before, the documentary which Federico Ardiles is co-producing for the sports channel ESPN USA , concerns his father and Ricardo Villa who were stars of Argentina’s world cup victory in 1978. Federico, was just three in 1981 and still only nine or ten when his father’s playing career with Spurs came to an end, but he remembers going to matches as a child and says, “It was terrific; my father’s always been a good guy; it was terrific.” He was very keen that the documentary should reflect the impact that the Falklands war had on the careers of both players, hence the reason for their visit to the Islands.
Fortunately, the TV crews’ major objectives for their filming in the Falklands had all been achieved before the accident. One of their few disappointments, said Federico, was that on Saturday they had been unable to find anywhere to watch Spurs live on TV. While he regretted that their busy schedule had left few chances to “meet people and try to build bridges” the group had been wonderfully received everywhere.
Singled out for special praise were the Falkland Islands emergency services, both civilian and military, which had been “absolutely fantastic.” Federico, who moved to England with his family when he was two or three weeks old and still lives there, gave the hospital staff in Stanley the ultimate accolade, describing the friendliness and care that had been shown them after the accident as “almost unimaginable in England.”
John Fowler - Stanley