The 70 years of Willington Ortiz, one of the legends of Colombian football

The former footballer is one of the idols of Millonarios, America and perhaps the best Colombian player who could never go to a World Cup

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Willington Alfonso Ortiz Palacio is turning 70 years old. 70 as the number of the decade he lit up so much with his football in our country. Old Willy is by far one of the most important and remembered men in the history of national football. He was born in San Andrés de Tumaco, on a day like today, in 1952. From a very young age, he stood out for his connection with the ball. He started playing football and soon developed the ability to protect the ball by using his speed. With his barely 1.69 centimeters tall, he was able to elude opponents much more portentous, physically speaking, than he was.

At the age of 17, he was discovered by the priest Felix Escota, who sent him from Tumaco to Girardot, in the center of the country, to try his luck in the ranks of Atlético Girardot, a team led by Tiberio Uribe Díaz. It is there that the young footballer begins to attract the attention of some teams in the professional league. He did tests with Deportivo Pereira and América de Cali, but failed to surprise those in charge. His stature seemed to be the main drawback. They were looking for forwards with greater physical bearing.

After several attempts to reach professional football, Ortiz manages to surprise Jaime Arroyave “El loco”, who finally ends up taking him to Millonarios in mid-1971. In the Blue Ballet, he would go from being part of the minor divisions to being part of the first team. He learned to compensate for his height with other skills. He perfected his gambeta and speed, and developed a clear vision of the game to move within the field. In addition, it increased its effectiveness in the face of the arc.

He made his professional debut in early 1972, against Inter from Porto Alegre, the Brazilian team. In that match, Willington would score the winning goal. With the ambassador team, he won two league championships, in 1972 and 1978, with the help of technical director Gabriel Ochoa Uribe. He was runner-up in 1973 and 1975. He shared a squad with players such as Alejandro Brand and Jaime Morón. The team's attack was wonderful. Old Willy ended up becoming an idol and, to this day, he is bluer than anyone else.

My dad tells me, because I couldn't see him play, that the best thing was to watch him run and score a goal without stopping the race. He was very good at it, he also managed both profiles, so he could easily attack from both sides of the field. His curly hair stood out from the heads of the other players. It was the fastest pile of hair in Colombia. He was the host of the national team for almost the entire decade of the 70s and one of the leading players in the sport on the continent.

When I was about to finish school, Caracol Radio was raffling the two volumes of the History of the Colombian National Team, written by Guillermo Ruíz Bonilla, and my dad won one of the games. He gave me the encyclopedia and I threw myself into it as a good football player. In volume 1 I found a text written by Willington Ortiz, with his photograph at the top, in which he narrated his memoirs with the national team. “I made my debut in that remembered team that wore the sapote shirt at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Colombia shared a group with Poland, in the end Gold Medal, East Germany, Bronze Medal, and the Ghanaian team. In front of the teams behind the iron curtain, we received two goals. Against Ghanaians we won by 3 - 1 (...) After that first experience I was demonstrating my great quality in the national rental, playing for Millionarios. For these great performances I was called by Yugoslav Todor Veselinovic to form the group that would be in the 1974 German Qualifiers. That June 5, 1975 would change history by being the author of the goal with which the national team beat Uruguay at the Centenario stadium in Montevideo, being the first time that the “charruas” lost as locals in history, an achievement that few remember today. People don't remember it much because there was no television at that time. It was an important goal because we beat a very strong Uruguay that had not lost for years. The play was started by Ernesto Díaz, with whom we made a wall, returning the ball to the space, he alludes to the score and throws the center; I played as a point starting from behind, I entered from the right side and I put the ball to the goalkeeper on the left side and he enters flush. That's how we won the game. The joy was great for the whole team at the end of the match (...). I always gave my best to the National Team, because Colombia deserved its players to give everything.”

Book page.
Image of one of the pages of the book “History of Colombian Football. Volume 1", in which a text by Willington Ortiz appears. (Personal archive, Santiago Díaz Benavides)

Old Willy was part of the national team from 72 to 85. He won the runner-up in the 1975 Copa América and played with the team in the World Cup qualifiers in Germany 74, Argentina 78, Spain 82 and Mexico 86. Unfortunately, despite always being very close, he could never play a world championship with his national team. What he did with his clubs was spectacular, especially with Millonarios, my dad's and my team, of which we are fans. Ortíz also wore the shirts of Deportivo Cali and America. He won six league titles and played three Copa Libertadores finals. The team of Pelé was close to arriving at Cosmos in New York, but the operation did not materialize.

He is one of the first 20 top scorers of the Colombia National Team and has been recognized by the IFFHS as one of the 20 best South American footballers of the 20th century. His football was a prayer to the wind, it was light. He seemed to kick a pen when he aimed at goal. How nice it would have been to see him. Blessed are those who could, and fortunate to be able to remember it today, when it is turning 70 years old. I hope his legend will last for a long time, as it should be.

Happy birthday, old Willy!