Joe MacPherson: The Scottish Peruvian

Words by Mark Gordon Illustration by Philippe Fenner
June 7, 2018

When Peru kick off their World Cup 2018 campaign against Denmark on the 16th of June, they will have a very interested supporter in the north-east of Scotland. Joe MacPherson spent last season playing for Aberdeen Under-20’s. Amazingly, in the midst of his season, he found himself training with the Peru national team ahead of their vital World Cup qualifiers against Argentina and Colombia.

Joe MacPherson was born in Lima, Peru in the year 2000. His Scottish father David is a minister and was in Peru carrying out missionary work when he met Joe’s mother, Martha. The family spent seven years in Peru after Joe’s birth before returning to Scotland. It was during his time in South America that Joe says his love of the game began, “football is just everything in Peru. Everyone plays at school, not just the best or most athletic kids but absolutely everyone”.

The fact that MacPherson is still only 17-years-old means that his formative years in the land of his birth are still very clear in his mind. “I was born in the capital Lima but we lived in a vey small village called Moyobamba. I just remember playing football anywhere and everywhere”. The love of the game travelled to Scotland with Joe when his family moved to Aberdeen when he was seven.

The defender continued to develop his talent through his school years and signed up for Aberdeen’s youth set-up. From there the youngster obtained Scotland caps at Under-16 and 17 level. “At the time, the Scotland caps felt like recognition of my ability, I didn’t so much think about it as representing the country, more just a personal recognition that I was doing well”.

Last year Joe’s Dad had seen an appeal on the Peruvian FA’s website asking if anyone knew of any Peruvians playing overseas and he immediately let them know of his son. To Joe’s surprise, Peru came calling quickly and asked to have a look at the youngster, “I was pretty shocked as I didn’t really think much of it when Dad told me he had emailed them”.

Due to Aberdeen FC’s sports science team filming every game, including youth matches, it was easy for Joe to show what he could do, “I basically just had to send them a log-on and they could watch every game I had played here”. The Peruvian coaching-team obviously liked what they saw and asked Joe to join up with their Under-18’s for a training camp.

“It was difficult to find a date that worked, it’s so far away that you can’t really go for a few days”. An international break would provide a near three-week window for Joe to go and he jumped at the chance. “It was the time of Peru’s qualifiers against Argentina and Colombia, it was a great time be there”.

As the Peruvians prepared to take on Argentina they invited some of the Under-18 squad to train with the first-team. “They were massive games for Peru’s chances of qualifying so they wanted to prepare thoroughly, they asked for some of the young guys to join with training and I guess it gave them a good chance to take a look at me”.

Stylistically there is a big difference between Peruvian football and its Scottish equivalent. “In Scotland it’s all about organisation, getting behind the ball and setting up properly, in Peru it’s much more off-the-cuff”. Joe’s different approach to defending seemed to impress head-coach Ricardo Gareca who used him for a lot of the sessions.

The thorough preparation of Gareca seemed to pay off as they managed to hold Argentina to a 0-0 draw. That meant Peru could seal a play-off spot in the final game against Colombia.

“I remember travelling in for training a few days before the game, the first-team arrived by bus but I was travelling from my hotel so I go there first in a taxi”. Even though Joe knew how much the upcoming match meant, what met him at the training ground took him aback. “There was what seemed like thousands of fans lining the street up to the stadium to greet the players into training, the atmosphere was like it was game-day”.

When the day of the game did arrive, the anticipation was at fever pitch, “the atmosphere in the ground was just amazing, it felt like the whole country was there”. The whole country would have been biting its collective nails as Peru trailed by a James Rodriguez goal with fifteen minutes remaining. When the big moment came, it was in the most bizarre fashion.

Paolo Guerrero whipped an in-direct free-kick over the Colombian wall and toward goalkeeper David Ospina’s left hand post. Ospina dived full length to get his fingertips to the shot but he couldn’t stop it finding the back of the net. Had Ospina left it, the goal would have been ruled out, but the Colombian’s fingertip had drawn Peru level and earned them a play-off against New Zealand.

“That was the game we qualified as far as the Peru fans were concerned, the feeling was that New Zealand would be easy to beat so the reaction in the stadium that night was a party”. It was in 1982 that Peru had last qualified for the World Cup, so few could blame them for celebrating a little prematurely. Although it wasn’t easy, Peru edged out New Zealand in a nervy play-off to progress to Russia.

Joe feels his homeland can do well in the summer. “I’m quietly confident. I think the first game is the most important one, you would expect France to win all three games so if we beat Demark in match one, we only have to take care of Australia to get through”.

Although Joe will be supporting his homeland from Aberdeen, he won’t be the biggest Peru fan watching on from Scotland. “Since she arrived in Scotland my mum has managed to reach out on social media to people in the city with connections to Peru, she’s formed her own little Peruvian community”.

Joe’s mum has already planned a big party for Peru’s first game – “it will be a typical Peruvian get-together, lots of food family and football” but the party at the MacPherson household will be nothing compared to what it will be like back home. “Peru will be unbelievable, they just love football so much, the whole country will stop and watch and if they win, Lime will just a one big party”.

MacPherson will take in the World Cup whilst looking for a new club and he is open-minded with regards to his future both at club and international level. “I’m happy in the UK at the minute and playing in Europe is where most players in Peru would want to be, I wouldn’t rule out a move to South America at some point though”.

In terms of his footballing nationality, Joe is equally open on his future prospects, “I’ve lived in Scotland most of my life and all my friends are Scottish, but equally I feel a real belonging to Peru”. With their own country absent from the World Cup, perhaps Scots looking for a team to get behind should throw the weight of their support behind Peru.

At least they can claim a Scottish player had a hand in helping them get there.

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