* Este post é uma contribuição especial de Matthew Brown,
Professor in Latin American History, University of Bristol, UK.
Author of From Frontiers to Football: An Alternative History of Latin America since 1800 (2014).
Este artigo foi originalmente publicado em espanhol em El Malpensante, número 219, julho fr2020 https://www.elmalpensante.com/articulo/4385/el_brazalete_de_bogota.
It is half a century since the captain of the England’s men’s football team, Bobby Moore, was charged with shoplifting an expensive bracelet in Bogotá, Colombia. Questions remain over what happened and why. It is of course absurd to return to the theft of a bracelet in 1970 when Colombia’s under-resourced institutions of peace, justice and reconciliation are attempting to clarify the truth about an armed conflict that left over 220,000 dead, tens of thousands ‘disappeared’ and seven million displaced, and in the midst of a public health crisis that threatens the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable sections of society. The history of the Bogotá bracelet continues to resonate because it feeds off international cultural stereotypes both in Colombia and the UK that were only slowly being eroded by transatlantic travel and instantaneous news communications at the time. It also reveals the ways in which historical memory was constructed in an area of close links between media, politics and the institutions of justice.
The facts of the matter appear pretty simple. The England squad landed in Bogotá on 18 May to prepare at altitude on their way to the World Cup in Mexico. That same afternoon a female assistant in a jewellery concession in their hotel lobby accused Moore and Bobby Charlton of stealing a bracelet decorated with emeralds and diamonds. They denied it and turned out their empty pockets. The squad flew on to Ecuador where they played further friendly matches. Moore was discretely arrested and charged when they stopped over back in Bogotá on 25 May. After a three days of media speculation and legal process Moore was released and allowed to travel to Mexico, although the case continued for several years and a cloud was cast over his reputation.
Although I and others have looked over the years, there is no smoking gun or confession in the surviving archives. The emerald store owners we have asked can’t provide definitive proof. It is plausible that Moore took the bracelet, or that he took the blame for the horseplay of a teammate. His biographers have revealed the extent to which he struggled to maintain his impeccable image whilst drinking and socializing, and indicated that he pledged to protect a ‘third man’ and never reveal the secret. Moore died of cancer in 1993. The shop assistant who accused him, Clara Padilla Morales, went to live in the United States, and was never heard of again. Even if this anniversary finally brings her out of hiding to tell her side of the story, we will probably never know ‘the truth’. The ‘Bogotá bracelet’ has passed into the mists of time, dragging the histories of local and international institutions of sport, politics and justice with it.
As we pick through the surviving sources – the statements issued at the time, the memoirs of the players, and the documents that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office have allowed to emerge over time – we can get an insight into the ways that history and public memory are constructed on the basis of the stories that are told and the details that are withheld. The British players and journalists who accompanied them had very little knowledge or understanding of Colombia, and they travelled in a tense bubble in which their manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, struggled to control the group dynamics. Relations with the press were already strained. On the day that Moore was accused of the robbery, for example, the jetlagged journalists agreed not to write anything about the incident. That gentlemen’s agreement should have kept a lid on it. It was only El Tiempo’s correspondent, a young, ambitious journalist called Germán Castro Caycedo, who went on to be one of Colombia’s major writers of non-fiction, who wrote a small note on the front page the next day, without naming Moore. This appeared alongside the news that Bobby Charlton had lost his wallet – containing personal papers and some money – presumably to pickpockets during the outing to visit the Millonarios club. Stories of money, theft and confusion sat alongside the staged photographs of footballers in their smart suits and sunglasses.
In many ways it was the Colombian elite who most cherished Bobby Moore’s image of the uncorruptible, archetypal English gentleman who had wiped his hands before receiving the 1966 World Cup trophy from Queen Elizabeth II. For the Colombian football authorities it was a great honour to have Moore in their country, the epitome of fair play as well as a wealthy icon of Swinging London. As Ramsay remarked at the time, Moore couldn’t possibly have stolen the bracelet because he could have bought the whole shop. Photographs of Moore and his team-mates in the hotel lobby filled the front pages as they brought some English glamour to the new modern nation that was being built in Bogota on the ruins of the country’s violent past.
The modern hotel
The scene of the crime was the Hotel Tequendama, a luxurious hotel complex opposite the National Museum. The Hotel was two decades old, a Modernist structure with architectural input from Le Corbusier, built on the site of the old military school where Colombia’s first games of football had been played in the 1890s. The Hotel is still there today, owned by the armed forces, and emerald shops hawk their jewels to office-workers passing through on their lunch-hours. The high-end tourists and business travellers have long since departed for the more secure and expensive international hotel chains in the north of the city. In 1970 the Tequendama epitomized the new, modern Colombia which the capital’s elites hoped to bring into the modern world. The previous building on the site had been destroyed in the 1948 Bogotazo, the popular uprising that brought the political establishment to its knees and catalysed a decade of intense partisan civil warfare across the country, known today as ‘the Violence’.
The other robbery of 1970
In 1970 the political elite in Bogotá was struggling to maintain its control of the country at the end of the ‘forgotten peace’, as spiralling social inequality pushed the reformist social democracy to its limits. The reception of the England squad was a way of demonstrating that normality had resumed, just one month after disputed presidential elections held on 19 April. This date marks a ‘defining political event’ in Colombia’s modern history because it is widely believed that the establishment had stolen the election for their candidate Misael Pastrana at the expense of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, an ex-military dictator who led the polls after discovering democracy and populism. A power blackout during the vote count coincided with a remarkable turnaround in Pastrana’s fortunes, and he was never able to fully establish the legitimacy of his election. The M-19 guerrilla group (literally, the 19 April Movement) subsequently launched a rebellion against the state, carrying out a series of high-profile stunts and terrorist attacks, claiming to stand against a corrupt oligarchy that defrauded ordinary citizens, exemplified by the ‘theft’ of the 1970 election.
An election re-count may appear to have nothing to do with Moore and the emerald bracelet. Some gems glisten from the murky sources, however. Football was both public entertainment and media distraction. Colombian political scientists and historians have demonstrated the close links between the football and political establishments during the 1970s and 1980s. The work of historians such as Ingrid Bolívar and Andrés Dávila has shown the crucial role of football as both public entertainment and media distraction, as well as an avenue for social mobility and identity formation. The lawyer who represented the shop in the case, Pedro Bonnet, later joined the M-19, and worked as a fixer for one of the country’s biggest economic interests. A report in El Tiempo at the time cast aspersions on his character with a snide ‘and some say he is linked to Communism’. The outgoing president Carlos Lleras Restrepo made conciliatory announcements as the military and police forces prevented protest marches and asserted state control against the background of rising inequality and crime.
Bobby Moore was accused in the middle of a crime wave. The police had identified ‘a sudden rise in criminality’, up 25% in 1970 from the previous year. They lamented the transformation of Bogota from a sleepy town into a crime-ridden metropolis whose infrastructure was unable to cope with ‘the arrival of an uncontrollable horde of ignorant migrants from the countryside’.
Crime related to emeralds was also on the rise. Colombia was the world’s number one producer but the trade largely took place on the margins of the law. The police had little respect for the esmeralderos who brought the stones to market, ‘believing that everyone has their price’ and that ‘the threat of violence is the only way to get business done’. Foreign tourists were well-known to be ‘easy victims for thieves and frausters’. The violence inherent in the contraband emerald trade later segued into the narco-violence of the 1980s.
Bobby Moore therefore stood uncomprehending in a hotel lobby in the midst of a political, social and criminological crisis which he had no way of understanding. The police were on alert in the midst of a crime wave. The booming trade in emeralds was in the hands of migrants from the provinces who the police saw as natural criminals and liars. The election re-count put the legitimacy of elected rulers in doubt. The arrival of sophisticated sportsmen like Moore himself was supposed to help erase the memory of the disputed election and the smooth over social conflict. Instead the Colombian authorities had to invest their all efforts in getting the English footballer out of a complicated mess.
The football establishment
As news spread of Moore’s arrest, the Colombian football authorities gradually realised that they had a public relations disaster on their hands. Their failure to provide interpreters for their visitors had created the conditions where such a misunderstanding could take place. The incompetence of forgetting to unlock the training ground before the English squad arrived on their first full day triggered discontent that the Colombians were not up to the job of hosting the reigning World Champions. Their interests coincided with those of the British representatives, who sought to avoid the journalists whipping up headlines that would antagonise the legal process had delay Moore’s release.
It is clear that the British authorities wanted Moore released as soon as possible, and mobilized their contacts to achieve this aim. The representatives of the English Football Association travelling with the squad sent messages home in great alarm. The case was discussed at the highest level. When Harold Wilson’s Cabinet met on 28 May, the agenda for the Overseas Affairs section of the meeting was ‘East-West Relations: NATO Ministerial Meeting in Rome on 26-27 May – Arabia: Oil Prospecting – Mr. Bobby Moore – British Council of the European Movement: Grant-in-Aid’.
The defender’s defence was quickly taken up by the lawyer Vicente Laverde Aponte, who had been Minister of Justice between 1960 and 1962 under the reforming Liberal president Alberto Lleras Camargo. Moore was released after questioning on the condition that he went into house arrest in the home of Alfonso Senior Quevedo, the President of the Colombian Football Federation. Keith Morris drove him there in the middle of the night. Senior’s role in protecting Bobby Moore has tended to be overlooked in favour of the footballer’s stoicism and heroism. But Moore’s fate gave Senior an opportunity to demonstrate his capacity as a football administrator who achieved results, building a global dimension to his national achievements. Senior knew football distracted Colombians from politics. As a director of Millonarios it was he who had offered inconceivably large salaries to lure international superstars like Alfredo Di Stefano and Neil Franklin to play in the famous ‘El Dorado’ leagues from 1948. El Dorado had been a direct response to the urban riots and rural unrest which spread through the country in the early 1950s. The last thing Senior and his allies wanted as they turned football into commercialized spectacle and professionalized business (a good two decades later than in other South American countries such as Argentina and Brazil), was for it to be caught up in a mediatized legal expose of their own failures.
By protecting Moore, Senior and the Colombian football authorities aligned themselves with the British embassy and with the networks that were re-establishing control of the state after the disputed election. A re-enactment of the crime was staged that undermined the shop assistant. Photographs showed an imperturbable Moore training with Millonarios and strolling with Senior. There was nothing to see here.
Truth, history and injustice
Even with the support of the football authorities, a former Minister of Justice and the British Prime Minister, however, legal process had to be followed before Moore could be released. Things got serious when, four days after the alleged robbery, a new witness stepped forward to substantiate Padilla’s accusation. This was Alvaro Suárez, introduced by the shop owner as ‘a street vendor who was passing by’, who was well-known to the esmeralderos, and who revealed that he had seen Moore pocket the bracelet. The police and media dismissed him as an underworld put-up job. El Tiempo published articles with unsubtle titles such as ‘The People’s View: No One Believes that Moore Would Have Taken It’, and official statements of ‘the feelings of admiration and affection that the Colombian people feel towards the English people’. The new witness was effectively marginalized.
Conspiracy theories about who had paid Suarez abounded, including that the Brazilian military dictatorship was orchestrating a strategy to undermine English preparations. Moore was released and travelled to Mexico where he enjoyed a celebrated duel with the Brazilian Pelé. He played until England’s defeat in the quarter-finals which left them murmuring about poisonings, conspiracy theories and ‘latinos’. England would not qualify to participate in another FIFA men’s World Cup finals until 1982.
In contrast to the spiralling descent of the English national football team, Alfonso Senior’s star continued to rise. From his origins as a customs agent in the Caribbean port of Barranquilla descended from family on the Dutch colonial island of Curacao, Senior had big ambitions for Colombian football and won a seat on FIFA’s executive committee. From a position of influence within FIFA from 1974 – the year that the incumbent Englishman Sir Stanley Rous was defeated in FIFA’s presidential election by the Brazilian João Havelange, Senior was well positioned between the shifting European – South American alliances. The Colombian authorities had persuaded representatives of the English FA that they could be trusted to sort out a problem. When voting for the hosting rights to the 1986 World Cup took place just a month after Havelange took power, Colombia was selected unopposed.
Senior would have been just as disappointed as Moore and his teammates that the ‘Bogotá bracelet’ affair periodically resurfaced over the next decades. The British diplomatic team and the Colombian authorities had worked together to free the captain from the legal vortex, but the image of a sporting gentleman entrapped by a criminal underworld was hard to dislodge from popular memory once it had been created. By suppressing the history of what really happened in the hotel lobby they ensured that the episode would join other memories of injustice in Colombia’s past. There were probably many inconvenient truths stuffed into the stories that were told. We may never be able to peel away enough distorting layers to reveal them, or to coax new voices out of the silence. Unless one day someone finds an emerald bracelet in a box alongside the medals when they are clearing out the attic.
 Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, ¡Basta Ya! Memorias de guerra y dignidad (Bogotá, 2013).
 El Tiempo, 26 May 1970; El Comercio, Quito, 27 May 1970.
 To mark the anniversary Keith Morris, the acting British ambassador in Colombia at the time, was interviewed in the Sunday Express, and one of the squad members, Alan Mullery, offered his thoughts to the Mirror. Carl Worswick, who has researched the matter as much as anyone, published an article in the Guardian, and Moore’s biographer Matt Dickinson reflected on it in The Times.
 There are twelve separate documents from the FO7 and FO53 relating to the case, including Moore’s witness statement: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/results/r/1?_q=bobby%20moore.
 El Tiempo, 20 May 1970. The next day’s newspaper reported that Charlton’s wallet had been found ‘on the bus’.
 Robert Karl, Forgotten Peace: Reform, Violence and the Making of Contemporary Colombia (Berkeley, 2018).
 Andrés Dávila Ladrón de Guevara, ‘Fútbol y política en Colombia: reflexiones politológicas en un año mundialista’, Desbordes, 5, 2014; Ingrid Bolívar, ‘Footballers, ‘Public Figures’, and Cultural Struggles in the 1960s and 1970s’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 36:13-14 (2019), 1197-1217; Mauricio Archila Neira, ‘El frente nacional: una historia de enemistad social’, Anuario colombiano de Historia Social y de la Cultura, 1997. El Tiempo, 27 May 1970. ‘?Qué será lo que tiene el “negro”?’, Semana, 3 July 1994. I am grateful to Carl Worswick for this reference.
 Brigadier General Henry García Bohorquez, Director General, Policía Nacional de Colombia, Estadística de criminalidad 1970, No.13 (Bogotá, 1970), ‘Introducción’, 7, 11, 99, 100. Thanks to Max Hering Torres for sharing this source with me.
 Policía, Estadística, 74, 133-4; Pedro Claver Téllez, La guerra verde: treinta años de conflicto entre los esmeralderos (Bogotá, 1993). On the links of an Olympic cyclist to the esmeralderos see Matt Rendell, Olympic Gangster: The Legend of José Beyaert, Cycling Champion, Fortune Hunter and Outlaw (London, 2009).
 Policía Nacional de Colombia, Estadística de criminalidad 1970, 74.
 The cabinet agenda is at CAB 128/45/24 https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D7664766.
 Jorge Mario Neira Niño, 1001 anécdotas de Millonarios (Bogotá, 2012).
 El Tiempo, 27, 28 May 1970.
 Senior died aged 91 in 2004. He was remembered as ‘the most prestigious and respected administrator in all of Colombia’s sporting history’. Guillermo Tribin Piedrahita, https://web.archive.org/web/20080810023908/http://www.elalmanaque.com/actualidad/gtribin/archivo2004/art27.htm. Germán Zarama de la Espriella, Yo puse a bailar al ballet azul: biografía de Alfonso Senior Quevedo. Bogotá: Ediciones Antropos, 2006.
 For a sense of what this might look like, see Antiques Roadshow, BBC, 16 June 2019: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07d1tny/player