Will Europe look to Brazil for its post-Covid-19 football calendar?

. Mar 30, 2020
Will Europe look to Brazil for its post-Covid-19 football calendar? Photo: oatawa/Shutterstock

Hello, and welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. Still in isolation, we’re having a look at the proposed models to change the football calendar after the coronavirus pandemic, and the outside chance of Europe taking a leaf out of Brazil’s book. Then, we go for a deep dive in Brazilian football history, with a piece on how the game was born in Brazil. Enjoy your read!

Brazil adapting to Europe, or the other way around?

The coronavirus pandemic has exploded the football season all over the world. Almost every national championship has been postponed, and there are no clear answers over when they will be able to resume playing, and how they will reorganize the yearly calendar in the coming seasons.

To play or not to play? The first issue concerns whether tournaments underway will be voided or completed at a later date, causing problems regarding the scheduling of future seasons, and promotion & relegation. In Brazil, this is less of an issue. The national championship has yet to kick off — normally running from May to December — and may well be canceled outright depending on how long isolation measures persist. The suspended state championships, which are of little competitive importance, may remain unfinished.

Going European? In the event that restriction measures are lifted around the middle of the year, there is a chance that the Brazilian season could switch to a European calendar, running from August to May 2021. Either as a temporary measure or a long-term switch, this would throw up a number of issues.

Other side of the world. The reason Brazil plays its football according to the calendar year is geographical. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, January is when Brazilians take their summer holidays, and the weather is far too hot for football. What’s more, the Copa Libertadores has recently established a new calendar — running from March to November — and will not change any time soon. 

Europe going Brazilian? Another possibility, recently floated by Marseille coach André Villas-Boas, is that the European calendar could take the lead from Brazil, switching to a calendar-year schedule. The reason for this is that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is on the horizon, and it will have to be held in December due to the inhospitable temperatures during the Qatari summer. 

  • Villas-Boas’ proposal is to use the remainder of this year to finish the ongoing 2019-20 season, and then hold two March-November seasons, adjusting back to the August-May model after the 2022 World Cup. Usually, Brazilian football is forced to look toward Europe for good ideas, this time it might be the opposite.

Olympic postponement offers second chance to banned athletes

Tokyo 2020 Olympics countdown clock. Photo: Fiers/Shutterstock
Tokyo 2020 Olympics countdown clock. Photo: Fiers/Shutterstock

The Tokyo Olympics has been postponed until 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While this will cause significant upheaval, with athletes forced to alter their preparation plans and associations forced to reshuffle their calendars, there is a group of Brazilian athletes who might well be punching the air.

Judo. After testing positive in a doping exam during the Pan-American Games in Lima, Brazilian judoka Rafaella Silva was resigned to missing out on the Tokyo Olympics, losing the chance to defend her gold medal won in Rio 2016. Suspended for two years, she was all but eliminated from the running, despite appeals to have her sentence cut down to six months.

Not certain. Still, however, as things stand, Rafaella Silva would miss the 2021 Games, as her suspension runs until August of next year. However, she maintains her innocence — claiming she kissed a baby who had used medication banned for competition — and there is a good chance she will manage some form of reduction to her ban. Just a month shaved off her punishment would be enough.

Other bans. Andressa de Morais (discus), Kácio Freitas (cycling), Gabriel Santos (swimming), and Bia Haddad (tennis) are in similar situations, and now have a good chance of competing in next year’s Olympics.

The birth of Brazilian football

This week, we continue our series of looking back at the history of Brazilian football, returning all the way to Year One, and the very first appearances of the beautiful game on Brazilian soil. 

brazilian football Charles Miller: third from the left, bottom row
Charles Miller: third from the left, bottom row

The official date for the discovery of Brazil is April 22, 1500, when Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral spotted the coast of Bahia after sailing west from Cape Verde. What followed was much colonizing and catechizing, forming the Brazil we know today. However, life existed there before the arrival of the Portuguese. How could Cabral have discovered Brazil when indigenous communities had inhabited those lands for thousands of years?

There are others who dispute Cabral’s claim. Some say the first Europeans to arrive were Spanish explorers Vicente Pinzón and Diego de Lepe, who had set sail from the Old World earlier in 1500. There is even the suspicion that in 1498 Portugal sent a secret fleet commanded by Duarte Pacheco to verify the existence of land south of the Caribbean islands discovered by Christopher Columbus six years before. Is it fair, in that case, to call Cabral Brazil’s founder? In broad terms, the answer is yes. His arrival led to the official recognition of Brazil as a territory, and saw Portugal initiate its plans for colonization. The discovery of football in Brazil is an equally contentious and nebulous subject.

Just as Cabral and his fleet anchored off the shore of Bahia some 500 years ago, the history of Brazilian football begins with another transatlantic arrival. In 1894, Charles Miller, the son of a Scottish merchant, returned home to Brazil after ten years at a boarding school in Southampton. His father, John Miller, had immigrated to São Paulo in 1860. In 1884, he opted to send his Brazilian-born son to Britain to study at the reputable Banister Court school in Hampshire. During his years in England, Charles learned the game of football.

He soon became a star center-forward at St. Mary’s, the club now known as Southampton FC. According to the legend, Charles Miller stepped off the ship in the port of Santos with a soccer ball under each arm, announcing to his father that his son had “graduated in football”. The story is most certainly apocryphal, not least as records show Miller’s father had died in Glasgow eight years previously.

However, while Charles Miller was scoring goals in the south of England, the sport had already arrived in Brazil. It is believed the first games of football on Brazilian soil were played by sailors, who would organize casual kickabouts on shore during stop-offs at the busy ports of Santos, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. The first concrete date for football appearing in Brazil is 1880, when students at São Luis College in Itu, a small town 100 km from São Paulo, began to play a rudimentary version of the beautiful game. They learned the sport from the school’s Jesuit headmaster, Father José Maria Mantero, who, the previous year, had traveled to France to learn new teaching methods and games for his students to play in their free time. Fourteen years ahead of Charles Miller, Mantero returned to Brazil with some leather balls and two sets of uniforms.

The sport they played was different from association football in some respects — for example, the balls used were larger — but it contained all its basic elements: two teams using only their feet or heads to move a ball into a marked area guarded by the opposition. By 1894, their game had evolved to become closer to football as we know it today, with wooden goalposts and carefully measured pitches.

The industrial revolution and Pax Brittanica brought British engineers, factory workers and other Empire-builders to the prosperous south-east of Brazil in the mid-19th century. Such was the case of the Miller clan, the sons of a humble porter from Greenock, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean to “Do America.”

Another such immigrant was Thomas Donohoe, a Scottish factory worker from Busby in Glasgow’s Southside, who took a job in the Bangu textile factory in Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of 1894. Donohoe, along with the rest of 1890s Glasgow, was football-mad. He could not believe his favourite sport had yet to take off in his new home country. When his wife and children followed him across the sea later that year, he demanded they bring a football. Donohoe rounded up whoever he could at the factory to get two teams together and quench his thirst for the beautiful game. All this predates Charles Miller, leading some people to doubt his status as the Father of Brazilian Football.

However, challenging Miller’s importance is unfair. He was a crucial figure in the organisation of the sport in Brazil. His efforts would lead to the creation of associations, clubs and tournaments that still exist today. The footballs Charles carried under each arm were far less important than what he was carrying in his bag: a Hampshire FA rulebook. Whereas Donohoe was just desperate for a kickabout, Charles Miller had bigger plans: he wanted to implant soccer in Brazil as they played it at St Mary’s. After his return, he set about recruiting potential players from his social circles and it was not until the following year that he was able to organise Brazil’s first official game of football.

Official, as unlike the sailors on shore leave, the students at São Luis college and Thomas Donohoe’s chums in Bangu, the match Charles Miller organised on 14 April 1895 followed FA rules to the letter. Each team had eleven players and their own kits. The match itself was meticulously recorded with team sheets and match reports. Miller’s team, São Paulo Railway, ended up winning 4-2 against their opponents from the São Paulo Gas Company.

The match was deemed a success and Charles Miller approached his sports club, São Paulo Athletic Club (SPAC), and convinced them to start their own football team. The growing popularity led Mackenzie University to form their own club, making them Brazil’s first club created specifically for soccer. The chain reaction continued and in 1902, the country’s first football competition took place: the São Paulo state championship. Five teams took part, with SPAC crowned champions. The tournament’s top goalscorer was, fittingly, Charles Miller himself, who scored twice in the deciding match against Paulistano.

Brazil’s other principal port cities followed suit soon afterwards. In 1905, the Bahia state championship began in Salvador, while the Rio de Janeiro state championship had its first edition in 1906.

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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