Yesterday could have been a celebration of a very different kind. On 13th March 2017 Colombian football player Andrés Escobar should been taking a deep breath to blow out 50 candles before they melted into crooked shapes. Instead his life was ended prematurely at the young age of 27. After scoring an own goal at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA, that effectively sealed his team’s elimination from the tournament, he was gunned down in cold blood in a restaurant carpark 48 hours after returning to his home country. The six shots that pierced the deathly silence of early morning Medellín on 2nd July 1994 echoed around of the world. It was a national tragedy that inspired global action.
At the time, Jürgen Griesbeck was in the same city working towards his PhD. Shocked by the murder of a man known as “El Caballero del Futbol”, the gentleman of football, Jürgen decided to investigate the ever-escalating violence in the country. Medellín had become the capital of the international cocaine trade and averaged 80 murders a week. Jürgen’s search for a new approach to conflict resolution lead him back to the football pitch, a place where opposed parties were willing to lay down their arms and engage in a peaceful exchange. He developed the youth project “Fútbol por la paz”, football for peace, which planted the seed for the establishment of streetfootballworld in 2002, to use the power of football for global impact.
Andrés Escobar Saldarriaga was a quiet and disciplined man who became a leader of the “golden generation” of Colombian football. Throughout his short life he was committed to fair play and respect. His close friend César Mauricio Velásquez, a journalist-turned-diplomat, remembers his belief in the good side of the game on and off the pitch: “He saw soccer as a school of life to teach values and tolerance”. Escobar was passionate about the sport and all that it stood for, choosing a career on the pitch in favour of other opportunities his middle class background offered him. A bold decision in the midst of two colliding worlds: crime and football. But his love of the game spurred him on: Escobar began his professional career in 1988 aged 21 and made his debut for the Colombian national team within a year. He was a defender throughout his career and played for Atlético Nacional in Colombia and Swiss club Young Boys.
Even in times of difficulty, Andrés Escobar cultivated a positive outlook on life and even after the worst moment of his career – the unfortunate mistake resulting in his infamous own goal – he found “motivation in the good things to come”. He was soon to marry his girlfriend, Pamela Cascardo and had reportedly accepted an offer to play for A.C. Milan in the upcoming season. After Colombia’s elimination from USA 1994, Escobar penned the following words for Bogota’s El Tiempe newspaper:
"Life doesn't end here. We have to go on. Life cannot end here. No matter how difficult, we must stand back up. We only have two options: either allow anger to paralyse us and the violence continues, or we overcome and try our best to help others. It's our choice. Let us please maintain respect. My warmest regards to everyone. It's been a most amazing and rare experience. We'll see each other again soon because life does not end here".
His words have become immortal. As has his legacy, carried forward by the football for good movement.