Day out for the subterranean homesick reds

First the ordeal, then the world tour as Chilean miners are fêted at Old Trafford

Once they were famous for being trapped for a very long time in a deep, dark space. Now, it seems, they are everywhere – including the VIP stand at Old Trafford, watching last night's top of the table clash between Manchester United and Arsenal.

Twenty-six of the 33 Chilean miners who gave the world the best good news story of 2010 were at the Premier League game as guests of that old Manchester United legend, Sir Bobby Charlton. Sir Bobby, 72, who is a director of the club, issued the invitation back in October, when "los 33" were still trapped underground and it was not altogether certain that they would ever emerge alive.

Until yesterday, the last image that most people in Britain had seen of them was when they were lined up in hospital garb as they underwent medical checks, looking relieved to be alive and free.

Yesterday, the 26 visitors sported brilliant red Manchester United shirts as they posed for the cameras with Sir Bobby. The remaining seven, who perhaps are not Manchester United fans, preferred to stay in Chile with their families.

The invitation was originally sent to the nephew of one of the trapped miners, Ronald Reyes, who passed the news on to his uncle on the day the rescue shaft finally reached the men. His uncle, Mario Gomez, who was 63 and battling with lung disease in the damp half-a-mile below ground, was reported to be "very excited" by the prospect of watching Manchester United in action – if he lived to reach the surface. In the end, all the men were brought out safely after 69 days.

As Sir Bobby greeted the arrivals at Old Trafford, he told them: "You took it in your stride and the whole world was very proud of you." Omar Reygadas, a 56-year-old bulldozer operator, replied: "It's an honour to be at Old Trafford. It's the theatre of dreams and we have only seen it on television. We are very glad and excited to watch the match against Arsenal."

The miners were trapped on 5 August, 2,300 feet underground at the San Jose mine in a remote part of Chile when an access tunnel collapsed. It was feared that they might all be dead, until rescuers made contact by lowering a probe into the mine, 17 days later. The first pictures relayed to the surface showed them in good health and remarkably good spirits.

On 12 October, a "Phoenix" capsule was lowered down a narrow shaft drilled through rock, and the first of the trapped men was winched to safety. The last was pulled out two days later, to ecstatic celebrations at the surface, led by Chile's President, Sebastian Pinera.

The last time Chile had attracted so much attention worldwide was 37 years ago, when Chile's elected government was overthrown and hundreds were killed including the President, Salvador Allende, in a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. Another famous story about Chile was that the journalist Claud Cockburn claimed in his memoirs to have won a competition for compiling the dullest newspaper headline ever, his winning entry being: "Small Earthquake in Chile: Not Many Dead."

The fortitude displayed by the trapped miners and the skill with which they were rescued has given Chile the best international publicity the country has had in living memory, and turned them into international celebrities – although Tomas Urzua, head of the Chilean government's international press unit, insisted that this was not something being orchestrated by the Chilean government. "They have organised this without government assistance," he said.

In November, several of them visited Los Angeles, where there are plans to turn their ordeal into a Hollywood blockbuster. Their trip to the UK was sponsored by the South American wine producers, Concha Y Toro, who sponsor Manchester United.

Sir Bobby had two reasons to watch the drama of their imprisonment with even more emotive attachment than the ordinary viewer. His father was a miner who spent his entire working life down a pit in Ashington, in Northumberland.

And Sir Bobby has vivid memories of Chile, which he visited with the England squad for the 1962 World Cup, and scored one of the goals that knocked Argentina out of the competition and took England into the quarter-finals.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam