Switzerland &Midwest Connections: Waymond Bardel: Trailblazer with African-American Roots
Welcome to the History Blog featuring the connections between Switzerland and the Midwest. I am Joerg Oberschmied, Deputy Consul General in Chicago. My interest in history started at an early age and continues to this day. The views expressed are solely mine and I hope you enjoy these journeys through time.
Switzerland’s recent superb display on the football (soccer) pitch was carried by many players born outside of Switzerland, all which play in top European leagues. Many of them have African roots such as Akanji (Dortmund), Embolo (Mönchengladbach) and Zakaria (newly signed with Juventus). One could be forgiven to think they, or perhaps Canadian-born Philippe Douglas, to be the first player of color to play for Switzerland. Douglas played against Belgium back in 1989, which incidentally turned out to be his only game for the Swiss team. However, the honor of being the first person of color to compete for the Swiss national team goes to Waymond Bardel, who played over 70 years ago against Germany, but has since been mostly forgotten.
“An Exotic Note”
Waymond was born in 1928 to a Swiss mother, Marie Bardel, and an American father, Waymond Rhodes. Bardel played some years for Lausanne-Sports and won the Swiss Cup in 1950 and the Swiss championship in 1951 with the team. On April 15th, 1951 he was called up to represent Switzerland against Germany in Zurich. It was the 200th international game for the German team and Switzerland lost in front of 45,000 spectators 2:3. Journalist Jacques Ducret soberly writes in his 1994 book about Swiss soccer: “The colored halfback of Lausanne-Sports, Raymond (sic) Bardel, made a courageous debut in a team without Neury and Kernen”. A few pages earlier, there is a photo of Bardel protecting the exit of goalkeeper Georges Stuber, with the caption: “Bardel in the team: an exotic note”. Bardel added one more game for Switzerland a few months later in Belgrade when he was granted a brief leave from Military Service to play the game. Arriving exhausted, Bardel and his Swiss team colleagues were down 0:6 after only 40 minutes of play against a brilliant Yugoslavian team. In the end they lost with the slightly enhanced score of 3:7. It was to be his last game for Switzerland and Waymond Bardel was never called up again. He later also played for his home-team, Yverdon Sports, where he was known as “Ben”. Following his soccer career, Bardel lived a quiet life in Switzerland working as a mechanic, electrician and instructor. He was a member of the Model Airplane Club of Yverdon-les-Bains, recalling “there were about ten of us and we were passionate about it. While we were flying, our ladies were making jam.” The Club made him an honorary member in later years. Waymond Bardel died in Yverdon in 2019.
Midwestern Soccer Connections
The Midwest has a long soccer tradition, with the first competitive games in Chicago going back to 1883. The first game in St. Louis took place in 1882 and in 1903 the Association Football League was established there. At the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, local teams from Christian Brothers College and St. Rose Parish won the silver and bronze medal respectively. This marked the only time the United States won Olympic soccer medals. Whereas Swiss contributions to the rich history of soccer in the Midwest were rather modest in the past, recent developments may give it a boost with Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto purchasing 113-year old Swiss club FC Lugano. The Fire’s Swiss Sporting Director, Georg Heitz, has been tasked to oversee both clubs and the teams are likely going to take advantage of exchanging players between them. Forward Ignacio Alseda became the first Fire player to join FC Lugano this winter. Founded in 1908, the most successful team from the Italian speaking Ticino region, Lugano won 3 Swiss national championships and 3 Swiss cups in its long history. The bianconeri (so named for their black and white colors) even managed to oust Italian powerhouse FC Internazionale Milan in the 1995/96 UEFA Cup competition. Lugano currently plays in the Swiss top league and recent performance raises optimism it can connect to its past successes.
For more information on the FC Lugano, visit www.fclugano.com; the Chicago Fire website can be found here: www.chicagofirefc.com. You can read about the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis here: https://switzerlandusa.medium.com/history-blog-switzerland-midwest-connections-dbfc1e0e6e81.
TRAILBLAZER WITH AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROOTS