Cian Manning charts the story of Louis Fulloné, the failed Waterford trialist who later tried to sign Maradona for Sheffield United.

Finalists of the Fairs’ Cup Leeds United began a tour of Ireland in August 1967 against Waterford at Kilcohan Park. The game was a testimonial for local player Peter Fitzgerald. The former Waterford Bohemians player was at the end of a career which saw him feature for Sparta Rotterdam in the 1959/60 European Cup campaign. The following season, he signed for the Elland Road club and was selected in the starting eleven for Don Revie’s first match in charge. Returning to his hometown club in the League of Ireland in 1963 he went on to helt ot team to their first League of Ireland title in 1965/66. 

The testimonial game would serve as preparation for the league seasons ahead for both teams. The Blues’ campaign was to start in earnest with the League of Ireland Shield tournament. Waterford could call on two new faces to their line-up, Martin Ferguson and the South American Louis Fullone. The game itself saw Ferguson make his debut as the new player-manager. The 26-year-old Scot had previously played for Partick Thistle, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers and had been capped at junior level for Scotland. If the name seems familiar, Martin was the brother of former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson although his own managerial career was nowhere near as illustrious as his brother’s at Pittodrie and Old Trafford. Ferguson was in charge of the Blues until he was relieved of his duties in February 1968. The story of which deserves an article in its own right. 

Waterford’s other debutant in Ferguson’s first game in charge was one Louis Oscar Fulloné Arce. Born in La Plata, Argentina on the 4th April 1939, his youth career was spent with Estudiantes de La Plata (four-time Copa Libertadores winners and that of Carlos Bilardo and Juan Sebastián Veron fame). Fulloné’s professional career took him to Independiente Medellín of Colombia in 1962. The club’s great rivals are Atlético Nacional which in the 1980s were linked to the Medellín Cartel led by Pablo Escobar as a way of laundering his proceeds from the drugs trade. Fulloné left South America in 1963 to ply his trade in Spain joining Real Oviedo. Prior to the Argentine’s arrival, the Asturian club had achieved its best ever La Liga finish of third place in 1962-63. At one stage of the season they were level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table. 

Yet some confusion surrounds Fullone’s playing career from his time at Oviedo until arriving in Ireland. A time before information could be quickly processed and verified, much was based on word of mouth. In a preview to the game against Leeds, the Evening Echo detailed that Fullone had played with French First Division side Rouen for the 1966/67 season. Over the course of the month of August, Fullone was recorded by the Irish media as starting out as a 23-years-old and ended the month aged 26. The 5”11 or 6”1 Argentine had also played a spell the previous season with Albion Rovers and was noted by the Waterford News & Star as being ‘acknowledged to be a “good un”.’ Fullone was considered adept as a wing-half or inside-forward. He was on a month’s trial with the Munster club and lined out for the 1966 League of Ireland champions at inside-left. 

A full strength Leeds side defeated the Blues 4-2 in front of a 7,000 strong crowd with Irish international Johnny Giles scoring the opener on the 25 minute mark. The Irish Press described the performance by Don Revie’s men as ‘power and precision to rip Waterford’s defence apart in an entertaining first-half.’ The Yorkshire club’s second goal came from the penalty spot (dispatched by Giles) on 35 minutes when Billy Bremner was floored by the Fullone. Such was his performance he was replaced by Mick Lynch at half-time. Of his 45 minute showing the Evening Echo described the South American as showing ‘some clever touches, but seems to be a completely left-footed player.’ The local News & Star was less sparing in its assessment: “Fullone proved something of an upset, certainly more to his own players than to the opposition.” 

Waterford were 3-0 down at the interval but put in a spirited performance in the second-half with Lynch scoring a free-kick and John O’Neill scoring five minutes from time as Leeds eased the pace. The Evening Herald detailed that ‘the Argentinian forward Luis Fullone was unable to do himself full justice after a hectic weekend’s travelling Glasgow-Manchester-London and back before coming to Ireland and he retired at half-time.’ Fullone had been travelling for nearly two full days before lining out against one of the best sides in England and Europe. 

He would not have to wait long to try for a reprieve as Waterford faced a Limerick side at Kilcohan Park in what was described as another ‘loosener-upper’. It was a visiting team that could boast new signings such as centre-half Paddy Kearns who had won the League of Ireland with Drumcondra in 1965 and Irish international Andy McEvoy from Blackburn Rovers (though he was absent for the exhibition against Waterford). The only newcomer to the Waterford XI was a young wing-half named Ritchie Power who had twice gained youth international honours against England and Northern Ireland the previous year. Power would go on to have a remarkable squash career and in 1979 became the first man outside of either Belfast or Dublin to win the national title. 

The game finished in a 2-2 draw with the Blues coming from behind through two John O’Neill goals in the last 15 minutes. It was to be the last time that Fullone would play in Kilcohan. In the Irish Press of the 15th August it was reported that Fullone had left Waterford after two trial games. Secretary for the club Michael Bolger remarked that ‘he did not suit our requirements.’ The Munster Express elaborated further in his match report of a game low on quality: 

“Louis Fullone got his second chance with Waterford in this game. The result is that Waterford have told him that they do not require his services and he will leave this week. He gave the crowd a lot of amusement on Sunday last and showed some fine Soccer moves, but I doubt if he would be any addition to our forces. He can hold a ball, sell a dummy, and give a well-directed short pass. But that is the end of it. He is essentially a one-legged player and he showed little likeness for following up. Possibly if Waterford could afford the luxury of holding him until he was adapted to the Blues style of play, he might be a valuable addition, but Waterford can’t afford that kind of generosity, can they?”  

So, what became of Louis Fullone? He moved to England and became known as Oscar Arce where he and his brother Hector joined Aston Villa in 1967-68 but neither would play a game for the first team. In 1969 both players were released by the club with Hector returning to Argentina. Upon retiring from playing, Louis went into coaching and in the late ‘70s, he was a youth team coach at Millwall. Around 1979 he numbered among the staff of Sheffield United and was noted as playing an important role in the attempt to sign a young Diego Maradona for the Blades. Missing out on El Diego saw the Argentine midfielder Alejandro Sabella sign for the Bramall Lane club for a fee of £160,000 from River Plate. He would go on to play for Leeds and returned to Argentina with Estudiantes in 1982. 

Acre (or Fulloné) was becoming an adept figure in the transfer market and played a role in probably one of the most successful transfers from South American to English soccer with World Cup winners Ricardo Villa and Ossie Ardiles joining Tottenham Hotspur in 1978. Under the guidance of Keith Burkinshaw, the two would win an FA Cup with Spurs in 1981 with Villa scoring a remarkable winner against Manchester City in the replay. 

For Acre, the ‘80s began with managing FC Sion in Switzerland before spending the majority of his career on the African continent. He would win league titles in the Ivory Coast, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. The former Oviedo player’s greatest achievement was winning consecutive African Champions League honours with two different clubs; ASEC Mimosas and Raja Casablanca. In 2001, he took over as manager of the Burkina Faso national team but resigned before the African Cup of Nations in Mali due to his wife’s ill health. He went on to manage nine more club teams before retiring in 2010. In May 2017 Acre died in Morocco, aged 78. 

The story of Luis Oscar Fulloné Acre serves as another example of the transient and nomadic existence of a professional footballer and coach be it starting at La Plata or Pittodrie. One wonders what could have been if more patience was provided by a League of Ireland team which would go on to win five more titles up to 1972.