by Alejandra Ocampos
The year was 1975. Around that time polo was dominated by Coronel Suarez and Santa Ana, and by a player who made up the former, Juan Carlos Harriott, better known as Juancarlitos. All eight were fantastic players, but Juancarlitos was the best; it was said that he should be rated at more than 10 goals. At the time, there were eight 10-goal players: All four Coronel Suarez players – Horacio and Alberto Pedro Heguy, Juancarlitos and Alfredo Harriott; three Santa Ana players – Frankie and Gastón Dorignac, and Daniel Gonzalez; and the eighth was Gonzalo Tanoira, who played for Mar de Plata, the team who posed the greatest threat to the other two. Something similar happened to Stirling Moss with Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s and the time of Mercedez Benz, the Silver Arrows, in F1.
While Tanoira played with the “third” team, that did not stop the polo world praising his skills as a player and his qualities as a person; he is remembered as one of the best players in the history of polo. Tanoira never won the Argentine Open; like Stirling, he is a champion without a crown.
In 1975 there were eight 10-goal players. That year also marked the 100 year anniversary of the first registered game in Argentina. The game saw Campo face Ciudad and was played at Estancia Negrete, Ranchos, Buenos Aires province, in August 1875.
The event was an important one and the Argentine Association of Polo (AAP) decided to commemorate the first 100 years of polo in Argentina with the first ever 80-goal match; it was called “The Match of the Century” and the eight 10-goal players took to Palermo’s number one ground to make history.
“At that time the AAP was presided by Luis Lalor Snr.” tells Frankie Dorignac. “He invited us to take part in the match, which was most memorable. I remember that Palermo was packed; so many people came to watch!” The event would also pay tribute to the teams who made up the first ever polo derby: El Trébol and Venado Tuerto. Both teams had dominated polo from the late 1930s to mid-1950s. “I was assigned to play with Venado Tuerto,” says Frankie. “Enrique Alberdi, original Captain of Venado Tuerto was my uncle. It was a true honour to play with a team I was a fan of.” Dorignac, member of Santa Ana polo team, and who played the Match of the Century with Venado Tuerto in 1975, is now President of the AAP, and has planned a new 80-goal match, to be played at Palermo on Saturday 14 November. “I was privileged to have played such an important game,” he continues. “Today, forty years later, the best players in the world will play another 80-goal match, and I am lucky enough to be at the head of the AAP. It’s a great honour. I hope the match gets such a response as the one we got in 1975, especially as the match is to raise funds for Scholas Ocurrentes, Pope Francis’s organisation.”
That year Alberto Pedro Heguy, Daniel Gonzalez, Gonzalo Tanoira and Alfredo Harriott played for El Trébol, while Horacio Heguy, Gastón Dorignac, Juan Carlos Harriott Jr. and Francisco Dorignac played for Venado Tuerto. The referees were also players of great esteem: Julio Menditeguy (El Trébol) and Juan Cavanagh (Venado Tuerto). Juan Carlos Alberdi, who played for Coronel Suarez in the 1930s and later played for Venado Tuerto in the 1950s (with two Alberdis and two Cavanaghs), was third man.
In attendance were two Olympic gold medal winners: Juan Nelson, winner in Paris in 1924 (substituted in Berlin in 1936), and Juan Miles, another 1924 Olympic winner.
The game was more than an exhibition. The challenge was a serious one; a chance to show the world the best that polo could offer. “We wanted to win,” laughs Frankie. “It wasn’t an exhibition match. We both went out wanting to win.”
The event drew attention from all over the world, with the Duke of Edinburgh sending his friend Gonzalo Tanoira a telegram to wish him luck in the game. The Duke was a fan of Coronel Suarez and had played with Tanoira in his Windsor Park team in the 1960s; Prince Philip had even nicknamed Tanoira “;Speedy” for his agility on the field.
As Frankie described, the match was a serious affair, reflected in the final score. El Trébol dominated the first half of the match, which came to an end with great goal by Gonzalo Tanoira, leaving the game 5-3. The following two chukkers were very tight, until Juan Carlos Harriott managed to score twice in the sixth to take the game to 5-5. The game remained tied in the seventh. Everything was to play for in the last. Gonzalo Tanoira and Alberto Pedro Heguy scored to give El Trébol a two goal advantage (7-5). Gastón Dorignac fought hard to bring Venado Tuerto back into the game, but it was too late. El Trébol were named champions of the century. (Score El Trébol 0-0, 2-0, 3-1, 5-3, 5-3, 5-5, 5-5 y 7-6).
That afternoon in Palermo made history, as eight players gathered to honour the “Game of Kings”. This Saturday, the best players in the world will pay tribute to that memorable match in 1975 and remember two historic teams: Coronel Suarez vs. Santa Ana.