England, Colombia’s El Dorado, Manchester United and the greyhound track.

When most think about the links between Colombia and England the 98 World Cup game, Tino Asprilla’s spell at Newcastle and Higuita’s scorpion kick are the three things that are likely to come to mind. Those with a more obscure bent may even bring up Colombia’s participation in the Rous Cup during the 1980s.

Neil Franklin
Neil Franklin

However, before the Chinese millions, before the Premier League era, before the Serie A glory days of the early 90s and even the NASL of the 70s and 80s the Colombians set up their own football league that would become the greatest football league in the world. And four Brits would make the trip to Bogota to become part of the period known as El Dorado. Neil Franklin (Stoke City), George Mountford (Stoke City), Charlie Mitten (Manchester United) and Bobby Flavell (Hearts).

Franklin, who excused himself from England’s World Cup 1950 trip to Brazil, had played twenty-six consecutive times for his country since the end of World War II. Perhaps England’s World Cup would have taken a different path had Franklin’s head not been turned by Colombian riches.

Mitten in Bogota
Mitten in Bogota

In the late 1940s the Colombians set up a new football league, a league that would have no salary cap. This new league would be outside of FIFA’s jurisdiction and thus led to the Colombian team being excluded from international competition. This however did not discourage the organisers of the league signing up some of the best talent from South America.

The reasons for the British players travelling across the world to Colombia were obvious. The Football League still operated with a minimum wage and the four players from the UK would earn ten times what they had back in their homeland.

Charlie Mitten's dog track
Charlie Mitten’s dog track

Rangoon-born Charlie Mitten, a left-winger playing for Manchester United departed the club’s US tour to fly to Colombia and sign for Santa Fe in Bogota. He was to stay in Colombia for a couple of years. Whilst he was there he came up with a scheme to import greyhound racing to the country. As ridiculous as it sounds Mitten’s plan was to head home to England and taking some dogs back to Bogota and setup a greyhound track. According to Mitten he had the goodwill of the Colombian government to do so. It is unclear whether the track was ever set up, and Mitten was back in England by 1951 and playing with Fulham.

After their return to England the “Bogota Bandits” were viewed with suspicion. Franklin signed for second Division Hull City and never played for the national team again. It was perhaps an ill advised move, but understandable when you consider the riches on offer. By 1954 the league was shut down and Colombia re-admitted into the international fold.

Excellent article on El Dorado from The Blizzard: The Ball & the Gun

Images from the British Newspaper Archive.