“On a chilly autumn afternoon in 1895 I got together with some friends and suggested playing a game of football. Even the name was new to them, because in those days people only really knew about cricket,” Charles William Miller told O Cruzeiro magazine in 1952. Nothing strange there you might think, except Miller was talking about Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil. That’s right - Brazil. The country of ... cricket?
Such was the sporting landscape at the end of the 19th century, before Miller, a Sao Paulo native from Scottish and English stock, did something that would both change the course of history and make him a pioneer for a sport that was to become close to a religion in Brazil.
More than one hundred years ago the most common name for the sport in Brazil was still ‘football’, unchanged from the original English word. But as with the game itself, it did not take long for Brazilians to leave their mark, in this case adding a touch of Portuguese. And so futebol was born, along with other terms derived from English words, such as chutar (shoot), driblar (dribble) and of course, craque (crack).
And it was with the help of craques such as Pele, Garrincha, Tostao and Ronaldo that Brazil went toe to toe with England in four epic FIFA World Cup™ clashes in 1958, 1962, 1970 and 2002. After a goalless draw in the first fixture, Brazil won the next three confrontations, each time going on to become world champions – the kind of pedigree that has earned the nation the nickname “the country of football”.
Even the name was new to them, because in those days people only really knew about cricket.
When the whistle blows
In a series exploring the links between some of the participating countries at Brazil 2014 and the host nation, *FIFA.com *has already traced Brazil’s historical connections with European nations such as Italy, Germany and Spain. Through large-scale migration to South America, these countries contributed to the growth of a footballing superpower. Yet were it not for England, the motherland of football, none of that would have mattered.
It was at the Banister Court School in Southampton that a young Charles Miller, after whom the square outside the legendary Pacaembu stadium, a World Cup venue in 1950, is named, immersed himself in football. The knowledge he acquired, and his love of the game, led to him stowing two used footballs, a pump, a pair of boots, two sets of kit, and a rulebook in his luggage when he next returned to Brazil. Then, after much discussion and explanation of the game to his Anglo-Brazilian friends, Miller organised what is generally considered to be the first game of football to take place in Brazil, played on a neighbourhood pitch in the Bras district of Sao Paulo on 14 April 1895.
There are historians who dispute this version, arguing in favour of earlier kickabouts in Rio de Janeiro or in the state of Para. But the match held on a field in Sao Paulo, which had a referee and was played in accordance with a set of rules, was certainly the first formalised and officiated game in the country. On one side were workers from the Sao Paulo Railway, including Miller, while the other consisted of men from the Gas Company of Sao Paulo. The railway workers won 4-2, but more importantly, the love affair between Brazil and football had begun.
“Brazil’s adaptation to the new sport didn’t happen overnight,” wrote the historian John Mills, author of the book Charles Miller: O Pai do Futebol Brasileiro (“Charles Miller: The Father of Brazilian Football”). “It is actually rather surprising that in 1894 people in Brazil still didn’t know about football. Contact between countries was not so difficult as to prevent people from discovering a sport that had been regulated in England since 1863, and which was now becoming popular all over Europe.”
As time passed, however, the sport began to win fans among the Sao Paulo working classes. The game spread across the city and a number of clubs began to spring up. One of these, founded by a group of workers on 1 September 1910, was Sport Club Corinthians Paulista. The name was a tribute to the team’s London namesakes, Corinthians Football Club, who had recently toured Brazil and routed all and sundry. Indeed the day before the former were established, the original English club recorded a 2-0 victory over Associacao Atletica das Palmeiras (no connection with the Palmeiras of today). In the crowd were Anselmo Correa, Antonio Pereira, Carlos Silva, Joaquim Ambrosio and Raphael Perrone, all of whom were founders of the Sao Paulo Corinthians.
Corinthians FC were just one of several British teams to visit Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century. Another was Exeter City FC, who made the long journey to Rio de Janeiro in 1914. In their first game they beat a team made up of their fellow Englishmen, before crushing a Rio de Janeiro select XI 5-1. The team’s most difficult game, however, would take place at Fluminense’s Laranjeiras stadium on 21 July. There were around 5,000 people in the stands to see it, and this time the English team lost 2-0. Their opposition that day were what the CBF, the Brazilian Football Association, considered to be the first ever selected Brazilian national side.
The English players, who were used to a more professional environment, played the game with more aggression and hunger.
“The English players, who were used to a more professional environment, played the game with more aggression and hunger, while the Brazilians, who were still amateurs, tried to play with more style and enjoyment,” wrote authors Antonio Carlos Napoleao and Roberto Assad in the official book of the Brazilian national team. “Even so, the skill of the Brazilian players surprised everyone.”
Do you speak English?
A year before the visit of Exeter City, Liverpool native Henry Welfare moved to Rio, planning to be a teacher at the Ginasio Anglo-Brasileiro school. However at 6’3 and strong as an ox, he was quickly snapped up by Fluminense, where he earned the nickname the “Tricolor Tank.” Welfare scored a hatful of goals for Flu, and even today holds the club record for most goals scored in a single game (six, against Bangu in 1917). He won the Carioca state championship three years running, was the competition’s top scorer and later became an honorary member of the club.
However, when he hung up his boots, Welfare became coach at fellow Rio side Vasco, which appalled many fans. “At the time it caused a lot of controversy, because he left Fluminense for Vasco. In those days moving clubs was frowned upon. We didn’t switch clubs because it wasn’t an honourable thing to do,” said Flavio Costa, who was at the Seleção helm at the 1950 World Cup and later a coach at Vasco.
But Henry also made history at Vasco, coaching a team that included the likes of Leonidas da Silva, Fausto and Domingos da Guia for ten seasons, during which the club won three titles and finished among the top three in the Carioca Championship eight times. Welfare’s story is rare case of a British athlete making a career with a Brazilian team, much the same way that it took Brazilian players a long time to establish themselves in English football.
Yes, I do*
*Which is where the striker Mirandinha, eight inches shorter than Welfare and 72 years his junior, comes in. After starring for Brazil in the Rous Cup, Newcastle wanted to sign him from his club Palmeiras. “They made Palmeiras an offer. I was close to signing for America of Mexico, but Newcastle were insistent so I went there instead,” he told FIFA.com.
Mirandinha moved to Tyneside in 1987 and played for Newcastle for two years. It was long enough for him to become an idol with the Magpies fans. “In those days most English teams still played the long ball game. But luckily for me, Newcastle didn’t play a typical English game. They didn’t depend quite so much on the long ball,” he said. “I love the club and the city, and I left a lot of friends behind when I moved on. Even today whenever I go back they give me a warm welcome. It’s very special.”
They play a different type of football in England these days. It’s much easier now than it was in my day.
In the nineties it was time for another Brazilian to leave his mark on the Premier League. At just 5’5, Juninho Paulista was even smaller than Mirandinha, but made up for his lack of height with wonderful skill and creativity. During his time at Middlesbrough the midfielder witnessed the technical and tactical changes in the English game firsthand. “I only went to England because Bryan Robson wanted to play a more skilful type of football,” he told FIFA.com. “When we were negotiating the deal, they sent me some videos of the team in action. After I watched them I thought, how could I ever play there? It was just whacking the ball from one end of the pitch to the other. But then Robson said to me ‘So, did you watch the tape? That’s why I want to bring you here, to change that kind of thing.’ They wanted more skilful individuals, who could play with the ball on the ground.”
Juninho was another Brazilian who had a special relationship with English fans. In 2013 he was asked if he was better known in Middlesbrough or in Itu, the city where he began his career. “I think in England, probably,” he laughed. That may change after Ituano, the club where he started out and where he is still involved on an administrative level, recently beat Santos in the final of the Paulista Championship. What won’t change, however, is the warm welcome he receives whenever he goes back to Middlesbrough.
Quite a number of Brazilians play in England today – four at Chelsea alone: David Luiz, Ramires, Oscar and Willian, all regulars in the Brazilian national squad. And Liverpool have Lucas Leiva and Philippe Coutinho, who topped the club’s shirt-sales charts at the beginning of this season.
“Those players are lucky, because they play a different type of football in England these days. It’s much easier now than it was in my day. All the players are top class, they come from all over the world, and the pitches are excellent. English football culture is completely different today to what it was in the past,” said Mirandinha.
So different, in fact, that it can represent quite a challenge for players moving from Brazil, such as Lucas Leiva. He arrived at Liverpool in 2007 having been voted the best defensive midfielder in the Campeonato Brasileiro. Yet that did not make adjusting to a new league any easier. “I felt that I was playing at 50km per hour while everybody else was operating at 100. I wasn’t ready. I even felt more comfortable playing in UEFA Champions League games than in the Premier League. It was one extreme to the other in terms of the speed of the game.”
More than a century ago, Brazil took the English game and made it a uniquely Brazilian experience. Today, Brazilian footballers have learnt to adapt to the best that England can offer. It is the story of the evolution of sport, irrespective of the country. As long, of course, as it is a country of football.