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The Ponies that never became Stallions

Club Alianza Lima – known popularly as Alianza – are one of the oldest and most successful teams in Peru, having won twenty three league titles.

These days they are languishing in the second division, but in their heyday, in the 1970s, they were one of the best teams in South America,, with a celebrated midfield trio of José Velasquez, Teófilo Cubillas and César Cueto that helped Per win the Copa América in 1975.

However, after winning the title in 1978, Alianza embarked on a barren spell, and their fans were forced to watch as city rivals Universitario and Sporting Cristal began to dominate the championship between them.

Nine years later, they had hopes that things were about to change though. They had compiled a team full of youthful talent which became known as Los Potrillos (The Ponies) because of their energy and exuberance.

Typifying this spirit was Luis Escobar, an 18-year old who was regarded as the successor to Cubillas and even drew comparisons with Pelé.

And they were managed by Marcos Calderón, a man who had not only won ten league titles with various clubs, but who also led Peru to the Copa América success twelve years earlier.

In December 1987, they went top of the table with just a few games to go after an away win against Deportivo Pucallpa, based in the Amazonian jungle in the east of the country.

The team was buoyant as they boarded the plane, a Fokker, leased by the Peruvian navy, for the journey back to Lima. The maintenance log filed before the plane took off revealed that it had several mechanical problems, including an oscillating altimeter, the control on the dashboard that indicates how high the plane is flying.

It was also subsequently determined that the pilot Lieutenant Villar, had little experience at night and that he had recently failed a training course designed to test the ability of pilots to cope under pressure.

As the plane approached Lima, which is a coastal city, the air crew reported problems in determining whether the landing gear was down or not, and requested a fly-by so that air traffic control could check. Having been given the all-clear, Villar attempted to land for the second time but he misjudged the height and the right wing clipped the Pacific Ocean, plunging the plane into the seas.

All on board died, with the exception of Villar, who was able to swim to safety.

When the news broke, a sense of shock enveloped the team’s fans. Thousands went to mass, whilst others went to games at their home stadium organised to honour the fallen.  

However, the league season still had to be completed, and Alianza cobbled together a team comprised of youth players, those lent by other clubs, and former stars who were dragged out of retirement.

Unfortunately, the makeshift side was not good enough, and they were overtaken by rivals Universitario for the title. It would not be until 1998 that they finally achieved league success once more.

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