Second Part of Growing Up With the Cup by HARTMAN DE SOUZA.
Brazil playing the Soviet Union in the 1958 World Cup, ‘stamping their imprint on the game’, as Hartman puts it below. (Image from here).
It is an interesting coincidence that my mother ended her part of the scrap book for me, with the World Cup in Sweden 1958: while I ended that scrap book in 1963 with the World Cup in Chile in 1962.
In both tournaments, for contrasting reasons, Brazil played an important role. So, at the outset, it ought to be said that the style of playing they gave the world – by virtue of stamping their imprint on the game in 1958 – continues to be the universal model aspired to. You can always find reasons to deny this, rationalize matters, but when push comes to shove the whole world knows who plays authentic football!
This is largely because the Brazilians continue to bring their gifts and place them on a football field where everyone partakes, rival players as well as spectators. The élan with which they play is an inspiration that is duly acknowledged, respected, bowed to and imitated, in every single part of the world where they learn to love playing with a ball and get to see re-runs of Brazil’s old matches. While rival players may hate them with a vengeance, no spectators whose teams have lost to them ever bear them a grudge.
There are only five notable exceptions when the Brazilians left their magic at home and travelled abroad to a fate that was nothing less than reprehensible. These are the Wold Cups of 1966, 1974 and 1998, all three, ironically, immediately following World Cups where they had won!
In all three instances they gave signs that they had ignored the subaltern roots of their style of play and had forgotten their own postulates surrounding the game. The other two instances, the World Cups of 1994 and 2002, when they actually won the World Cup, they had already succumbed to the mystique surrounding marketing. Those who recognized their football did not come from prosperity and plenty, sincerely wished they had lost…
Barring the anomalies noted above, at all other World Cups – as will happen this time I hope in this tournament currently underway in Brazil – they will spread joy as is their wont and provide evidence, even if they lose, of goals that could easily have been scored but for that chance miss….
If one harks back to 1958 in Sweden in fact, it is because the Brazilian team were harbingers of a major change in the way the game was played. They sparked the first revolution in football.
(It bears mentioning that there have been two such revolutions at the World Cup, both ‘powered’ by the Brazilians. The much-needed third revolution, so desperately needed for both football (and the world) has yet to occur. This may yet be unveiled at Brazil 2014 this June and July, but fittingly – poetically, some would say – it may not be the Brazilians who bring it to the field).
To come back to 1958 however, and to understand exactly what the magic-wielding Brazilians managed to achieve, is to first know the magnitude of what they were up against. This wasn’t a rich, prosperous beef-driven Uruguay untouched by war winning the cup by luck in the World Cup of 1950, at a time when Brazil as a nation, and its players as a team, were yet to find their feet or even know what it meant to be ‘Brazilian’.
In 1958, this was a team of largely uneducated players who had come through the ranks of Brazil’s black-skinned populations from the slums, intent on finding a voice for themselves through their football. In fact the picture was far bigger: as Pele said a few days back in an interview on TV in his inimitable way: “In 1958 when we go Europe nobody they knew where this Brazil is…where this country they ask? (Laughs) They only knew of Amazonas (laughs). But when we won the cup that year (Laughs), the whole world she knows (Laughs)”…
The ’58 Brazilians took their magic to a continent literally at the other end of their world, reaching there in a journey that involved several days travelling by ship to the US, possibly Miami, then an overland trip to New York and even more days on an ocean going liner across the Atlantic. As yet, planes had not started their trans-Atlantic flights. Given past cultural ties and the need to train before the actual cup, and have some friendly matches to tune up, it is likely the Brazilian team of 1958 stopped over in Portugal or France before heading via another ship or propeller plane to Sweden.
It helps to remember that thanks to India’s own freedom struggle, the late 50s also heralded opposition to Colonial rule and influence right through Africa and Asia and indeed much of Latin America at that time. This unity of purpose and shared freedom was later to coalesce in the Non-Aligned Movement, a phenomenon that was anything but – premised as it was on the existence of a ‘Third World’ and a very real ‘us’ versus ‘them’ situation.
In weather they must have shivered in, the Brazilian players of 1958 forced the first glimpse of what these revolutions in the former colonies could be all about, because they too were fighting for their place in the sun as black-skinned people. As Sartre was to say of Fanon not that many years later, this was a case of the ‘Third World’ very much speaking to itself…
In expressing themselves through football the black Brazilian players gave themselves an identity few could even dream about, built as it was around something as simple as a ball. They set this in a rousing counterpoint to the more prosperous and largely white Brazilians of their own nation – later day settlers from Portugal and Europe – and indeed, to white-skinned people all over the world.
In 1958, for the first time perhaps after Jessie Owens had faced Hitler down, peoples of the prosperous and ‘free’ world were to see black-skinned players with crinkly hair wearing the same clothes they did, playing with an effervescence and style they could only be dazzled and stunned by.
This was not the USIS taking Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington on tour to Europe and Africa – or organizing tours of the all-black, Harlem Globetrotters basketball team – to show the world that all was tickety-boo curtailing well-fed, home-grown racism. This was In-Your-Face-Here-I-Am-revolution. Quite literally, the Brazilians of 1958 ran rings around their befuddled opponents and you understand the sheer audacity of what they did when you watch old clips of those games, and, indeed, listen carefully to the sheer disbelief and grudging admiration and respect of the commentators.
(How important the Brazilians were in 1958 can also be gauged by the fact that it was to take another two World Cups – eight years in all – before a nation from the Northern Hemisphere (Portugal in the World Cup in England, in 1966) would have a non-white football player in their team.
Contrary to popular mythology, the 1958 triumph was not just about Pele, but a very lively ensemble that did not march through their opponents with martial music and harry them with bayonet and boot – but, literally, danced past with the ball stuck to their feet…
Almost unanimously, the phrase ‘Samba Football’ came into being, thanks perhaps to Brian Glanville who may have been the first to use it as a descriptor. The names from that ’58 team that danced to glory still resonate from my old scrap book – Djalma and Nilton Santos, Vava, Didi, the solid bass, percussion and rhythm section that gave a 17 year old prodigy called Pele the space to improvise.
I can’t even remember the goalkeeper in that team…was it Gilmar? Who cared? The European press laughed at Brazil’s goalkeeper like they still laugh at all Brazilian goalkeepers. It doesn’t matter how many goals the poor guy lets in they said, these Brazilians will just laugh, pick the ball from the back of the net and go up and score two more. That’s exactly what happened in the final that year.
What the Brazilians did in 1958, as if carefully plotted on a blackboard with chalk, was dismantle an outdated system and formation followed by the rest of the world, and bringing the first real elements of play into the game. They did this in a manner so sustained, that the headiness and froth continues to ferment till today.
In 1958, the European football powers believed that they could vanquish all who came before them. For them, World War II had not really ended; they only shifted the battlefield to the football field. They were fresh from victory in the World Cup of 1954 in Switzerland that one remembers today precisely because the press of that time referred to the final as the ‘Battle of Zurich’ – which it was.
Till 1958, it seems fair to assume that the tactics surrounding football at that time, inspired as it may have been by British and other Colonial troops who took the game elsewhere, followed strategies that were rooted in tales and victories of war.
European and British teams had supremely fit players capable of running long and hard and who were good on the ball, but very much part of a drilled unit on a battlefield. Like the first rugby players from England who appropriated the beautiful game of football, sat on the ball to make it look like a misshapen egg and made the game more of a battle, the English and indeed British style of playing football was not that different. They relied on long, accurate passes, and the ability to trap the ball dead under one’s foot or take it on the go; and then kick or punt the ball ahead and like rugby players, chase it down.
Not that dissimilar in technique or style from enthusiastic Labradors chasing rubber balls on the downs or wherever in England. Their battle cry was ‘one for all, all for one’. They were good in the air, good at volleying, and good at hustling people off the ball with their shoulders to set up someone to boot the ball into goal. They did this for King and Country.
Starting from the back, the formation was ridiculously predictable in its interpretation of the game. You had a good goalkeeper with a thunderous kick able to reach past the half-line – he was the big cannon. The two backs in front of him were the artillery; good at charging out to tackle, getting the ball and booting it to one of the three halves in front of them. The three halves themselves were the tanks, and the five forwards in front of them, the infantry or foot soldiers. In boarding school, my coach referred to this as the ‘2-3-5 System’.
The five forwards in this old style harried and pushed forward; the three half-backs gave them solid support, and inspired fear; and the two backs and the goalkeeper, if they got the ball carried on an endless aerial bombardment. The rule was simple: you get the ball you kick it up field. As far as possible you fed this to the two wingers who would fly to the corner flag and boot the wall into the goal where it could be sent past the posts with a ‘header’. Right till 1966 when they finally modernized their military formations, the English, somewhat stupidly, stayed at re-inventing the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade over and over again.
In 1958, Brazil turned this formation on its head. They brought to the world the 4-2-4 system, kicking off the game with four forwards on the front line leaving both the wings, on the face of it, untended; they played with two halves; and behind them, four backs in a line that made trapping their opponents off-side (receiving the ball behind the last back) all the more effective.
Rival coaches and players sneered until the first fifteen minutes or so when they knew they had been had by sheer genius. They found a team with a smooth fulcrum. They were fluent going forward with the ball, with the two halves magically transformed into forwards, and their places in the midfield taken up by three advancing backs, leaving behind a solitary back who would sweep up any stray balls booted long. Instead of mindlessly booting the ball ahead like the European nations of old, they were audacious enough to turn their back on goal and start passing the ball all the way to their own goalkeeper, taking a needed breather and starting all over again. It left rivals somewhat punch-drunk. When the other team attacked their goal, miraculously, the Brazilians had their four backs in front of their goal area, and two halves just waiting for the ball to see-saw the fulcrum the other way. Almost instinctively, they seemed to know where the other player was going to be, before they even passed the ball.
It may have had to do with the ergonomics of their uniform. The shorts were shorter and tighter as were the long sleeved thick cotton jerseys to ward off the cold. Unlike 1954 where the players lined up in RSS-like shorts, these guys may have displayed the first tighter fitting ‘designer ware’. Their boots were of far thinner leather, cut below the ankle like a normal shoe, as close as possible in design to the bare foot and kept tight with long lacing that went below the boot a couple of time before being knotted at the top. Gone forever was the need for army boot lookalikes with thick studs.
The Brazilians of ’58 created the ‘wing back’: which translated into one of two or three players from the half or back line primed to push the ball to a player in front of him, facing him; then sprinting ahead before the ball had even reached his colleague’s foot to be just past him as the same ball was passed ahead, for him to take the ball – but behind the defence, thereby breaking a creaky off-side trap of just two backs marking the rear line.
It was the world’s first glimpse of what today is called ‘possession football’, and erroneously credited to Dutch coaches in the early 70s – the simple tactic being to hold the ball as long as one could and not give it to the other team. Interestingly, it is also how most kids learn to play it before adults tell them they have to score goals…
The Brazilians did to the ball with their feet, what many, many years later Bishen Singh Bedi would do to a cricket ball with his fingers. They didn’t ‘boot’ the ball and chase after it like terriers, they made the ball speak. One of the their tricks was ‘the falling leaf’ as it was dubbed, where the ball was stabbed, and the follow through held back, so that the ball ballooned over one or two or even three opponents and landed at the feet of a marauding forward – who then delicately flicked the ball past a flaying, helplessly sprawled goalkeeper…
They left their opponents gaping helplessly because they built and conditioned their stamina by training with quick, sharp sprints, repeated again and again with brief pauses of up to a minute in between. They were not unlike cheetahs. They needed neither the endurance nor the loneliness of the long-distance runner. Instead, they embraced the idea of being ‘guerrillas’ because that was the kind of world in which they were born…
It has been written ad nauseam but largely forgotten, that Brazil’s greatest players came and still come from the slums and poorer areas that dot its major cities – as did, in fact, the bulk of that 1958 team, including Pele. These days it just makes for an ‘inspirational story’ on TV.
At a very important level, a background steeped in penury shaped the magic they brought to football because being poor leaves a kid untouched by the mystique that comes with marketing merchandize around the game. He’s never going to get a Nike T-shirt with Neymar Jr’s name on it and a brand new ball that he’ll never be allowed to kick.
Football played by kids in a narrow gully with something or the other passing for a ball or goalposts brought its own virtues. The paucity of space to play within, constrained movement yet refined the innate exuberance and energy that comes with it. The individual kid with talent and imagination, regardless of his shape or size, was forced to find ways of being the smartest in the pack. If they didn’t stand out they merged with the surrounding detritus. The law of the jungle you could say.
Those who could play were helped by the fact that they could feel the ball, whatever kind of ball, with their bare feet. It was like touching it with their fingers; so they knew the behaviour of the ball, how it travelled on the ground, how it bounced and how it rolled. They did this without an intervening layer of leather and sole, on small grounds of open space bereft of dwellings, at the edge of a garbage dump perhaps. When those same feet many, many years later were coated in leather, those watching were left wondering how a ball could stick to them.
It is only now after the television channels got into the act this Brazil 2018 with ‘football-related’ features that the world is beginning to know the symbiotic space shared in the slums of Brazil between football and capoeira, a traditional, slave martial art that originated in Angola (derived from the Bantu ‘kapwera’, ‘to fight’) and which traced its continued practice in black people in Brazil towards the 16th Century when slavery was still very much a reality.
Capoeira was practiced by slaves but sublimated as a dance in order to prevent its practitioners or capoeiristas as they were known, from punishment or even execution. Slaves were someone else’s property in Colonial Brazil and as such, had no rights to either fight or defend themselves; and the martial art therefore was banned by law at various points of time in Brazil’s colonial and modern history. Interestingly, the ‘moves’ of capoeira are practiced with music and drumming much more African/Afro-Cuban in origin called berimbau, which may have had more to do with the Brazilian style of playing football at the 1958 World Cup, than the more popularly believed ‘samba’.
The rigour and movements of capoeira introduced those from the slums to the principles of the body being balanced, and made them supple. It was their in-house ‘gym’ before and after football and another chance for those males in their teens to impress the opposite sex with their ‘moves’. Placing a ball at their feet put different ideas in the heads.
With the ball they were perfectly balanced, their weight easily displaced from one foot to the other; they could feint one way, go the other, and put the opponent off-balance. More importantly, while Europeans somewhat one-dimensionally were still focussed on the legs as the motor of the game, the Brazilians brought a much fuller use of the body into play.
The colonial landlords naively thought they could curb the dangers of capoeira with chains linking the slaves’ legs, and chains linking their arms to metal wrist bands. They could still walk with a decent distance between their legs though, and still stretch their arms even if short of their full span. Those who practiced the art incorporated the chains, like kids with a ball, into a new part of the game. Their movement may have become more cyclical, hands on the floor, feet high up in the air; like children doing smooth cartwheel with their hands and legs a little bent. The way they spun their bodies was not that dissimilar from the dynamics of a moving ball.
One does not how many landlords were put to the test of the new ‘moves’, but what is known, is that capoeira continued, without chains, with greater freedom, without the intent of killing, and gently incorporating itself into the wider notion of play for slum peoples in Brazil. They were still slaves though by virtue of their skin colour and poverty. As the humorous travel-writer George Mikes was to note wryly in the early 60s: There’s no ‘racism’ in Brazil, the moment you make a lot of money, you just turn into a ‘White’ man…
So like they did with capoeira over a few centuries, in 1958, the Brazilians sublimated football, taking it away from the metaphors of war and violence that guided it in its previous manifestations. They showed the world that artistry and skill, suppleness and balance could triumph over strength and size. Given the times, British and European Colonies in Africa feeling the shock wave of rebellion rippling through them, the Brazilian team of 1958 made many see the possibility of a hundred David rising to every Goliath.
The early 60s may not have been as conducive to the playing of the game for the rest of the world as it may have been for me. The British and French empires in Africa were in full revolt, Apartheid South Africa was the beacon of freedom for the West; Fidel and Che were known figures, linking the aspirations of wanting more with their original root of rebellion; the Cold War was at its height and the world was even more divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’; Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard were still the rage and James Dean crashed his Porsche and went to heaven; and the US had not yet cottoned on – as they were to do in 1994 when they staged the World Cup – that very much like Coca Cola in Africa in the 60s, they could have marketed and used the Latin American thirst for football.
Instead, they chose to cut their teeth encouraging right wing juntas with arms and ammunition to keep socialism, the ‘terrorist’ of that time, at bay.
In those days when they really thought they had a right to rule the world, the US take on Brazil was a testament that was not as crass as it is today, post-Snowden, but their view of the ‘other’ was not based on the need for reciprocity but on working out the best deals they could get for themselves (https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v05/d278).
The World Cup of 1962 was demanded by the Latin American countries against the threat of a boycott if it was played in Europe. In 1960, though, a savage earthquake tore Chile apart, destroying several cities where matches were to be played. Amidst calls from Europe to shift the venue, the Chilean government battled to repair and relocate matches successfully. One stadium for the matches was provided by an American company with interests in mining.
In 1962 moreover, it was even obvious to those twelve year olds who documented the World Cup in Chile, that all was not indeed well with the world. While it is agreed that Brazil caught everyone’s eye in the World Cup of 1958, that year the French too were also discovering their own different style; the Soviet Union were showing they were not just soldiers drafted in from the army; and the Welsh team discovered the raw energy of players of good working class stock.
So, while Brazil gained the right to be world champions in 1962, it was other parts of the world that had come to the ground to show themselves. The host nation, Chile, led by the talismanic Lionel Sanchez, were flamboyant in play and that may have sparked the renaissance in the game that Latin America so badly needed to get out of Brazil’s dark shadow. In Chile too, the battles were not over. The match between Chile and Italy was possibly the most violent game ever played, and the Italian team needed an armed escort while they were in the country.
It was a country no longer on the map however, that was the surprise of that year: Czechoslovakia, part of the ‘Iron Curtain’, intent on its own place in the sun away from the glare of the Soviets, brought a freshness to the game that surprised one and all; the Soviet Union itself however, like Brazil, brought their 1958 team and paid the price. It was Yugoslavia though that was to show the world that year, that the whole world, if they really wanted to, could learn to play like Brazil.
The Brazilians themselves only provided palpable evidence of a stasis that would come back in four years to reduce the entire nation, and indeed one sixteen year old to tears. In 1962, Pele had got ‘white’ status and morphed into a highly successful figure destined to go even further up the social ladder. He was a pale shadow of himself and the team was largely made up of ageing players from the ’58 team who didn’t have to qualify for the event, and therefore took things a little too lightly.
It is more than likely that Brazil have won the Cup in 1962 on the basis of their reputation.
They unveiled at the tournament however, a young prodigious talent known in Brazil by his nickname, ‘Garrincha’ or ‘Little bird‘. Garrincha, born in poverty, also suffered from polio when he was child so one of his legs was shorter than the other. Pele got injured and did not play a part in winning the Cup. It was Garrincha who almost single-handedly led the charge, sharing the top scorer spot that year – a feat that may have been his alone had he not been sent off in the quarter final against Chile. He was stoned by Chilean fans and booed by his own supporters.
Garrincha was known to be moody and have a temper. Lower life lore surrounding football in Brazil is full of stories documenting the lives of players who couldn’t handle success, fame, failure, or just retirement for that matter. For every one Pele or Neymar Jr., there must be another twenty to thirty if not more, who don’t make it. The ‘Little Bird’ faded as fast as he came, and passed away in total misery, a dirt poor alcoholic forgotten by all but a few chroniclers of the game..
It may have been that I gave up on my football scrap book in 1963 because Brazil’s fall of grace coincided with the tumult and toil of my own adolescent years. If being thirteen was a shit life as they say, the next three years before the World Cup could come around again in 1966, was more of the same coated in sugar.
At the end of that year I was packed off to a boarding school in Nairobi, where I slept in dormitory with seven other boys, was woken by a nasty clanking bell at 6.15 in the morning, went to classes and played football every single day. The football in boarding school was the closest you could get to being in heaven if you were fourteen years old and dreamt nothing but football.
Every day till I finished school in 1967, at 4.30 on the dot, we willingly went to the grounds and played football till the sun went down and it was time for showers. After that you went to chapel if you were Catholic, bible studies if you were Protestant; or sent to an empty classroom by yourself if you were unlucky enough to be Jewish.
That’s the way the football rolled those days.
In fact, if you were dark-skinned it was a lot worse, because prior to Kenya’s independence, like in South Africa or the rich white farmers’ regime of Southern Rhodesia before it became the independent country of Zimbabwe many years later, the boarding school I was sent to was once a posh ‘Whites Only’ school.
Aged all of fourteen, I was to find out that being ‘white-skinned’ was not a status Kenya’s English and European settlers were willing to relinquish easily. On my very first night in the school chapel, I got a taste of ‘white supremacy’. While the rosary was being recited, from behind me I heard, then saw one of the seniors – thick set, twice my size at least, face covered with pus-filled pimples – nasally cursing me in a sing-song Indian accent: “Hey, chilly cracker, chootie boy, curry eating bastard, you can’t go to a fucking chootie school??”.
Around this lumpen colonial coffee-planter’s son, white boys his age and younger all chortled like it was the funniest thing in the world. “Chootie, chootie, chootie” they all whispered an octave above the response to the prayer hailing the Mother of Christ.
Eyes focused on a quasi baroque altar in a wood-panelled chapel and forced to ask tough questions of life, if a fourteen year old is unable to recognize, resolve and vanquish the contradictions inherent in religious belief and indeed its practice, he doesn’t deserve to play football…
It is more difficult if you begin adolescence with a complex but not uninteresting relationship with your father. In the face of racist taunts, two other younger boys from Goa in the school began telling everyone they were from Goa, pointing to the fact that they were also Catholic, and hinting without actually saying it, that thanks to their unique colonial connections they had Portuguese blood in their veins and were therefore ‘white’. Given my father, that was not an option.
When I made a ‘trunk call’ to him, going through a telephone operator at the exchange and ‘reversing the charges’ to complain about being bullied in the chapel my very first night, he was anything but sympathetic.
Get what’s good out of the school and fight back he said very simply. You’re Christian like them he added, so if someone hits you on one cheek you are duty bound to show him the other cheek; if he hits the other cheek, his him back…And use your head, don’t pick a guy bigger than you, that’s asking for trouble; don’t pick a smaller guy because that’s bullying; Pick someone your size and have one good fight so that nobody picks on you again…
He was right. The racism didn’t disappear though; they just kept it to themselves and went through the motions of being polite, they steered their white girls away from you, didn’t introduce you to their parents, and never invited you home.
It is truism though that a football team, regardless of its composition and focussing on its skills, has to perforce work collectively. In 1964, I was one of five ‘persons of colour’ my age in the school of some 400 or so whites; three of us played for the school’s Junior Colts team that year. By 1967, the year I passed out, those same three boys played in the school’s First XI and they were joined by three others the same colour. The balance of power had changed.
At fifteen, it was easier for white-skinned students of a former ‘All White’ school football team to transcend whatever incipient forms of racism still percolated in Kenya till the early 70s, than it was for those white students who couldn’t play for the team because they were not good enough. It may also have helped that we were blessed with young coaches in their mid-twenties straight from England and Ireland; who looked like boiled lobsters till they accepted the Kenyan sun and who were as eccentric as they were liberal. They supported Labour, doubled up as literature teachers, assistant House Masters and introduced us to The Animals, the Rolling Stones and music that brought with it the first sniff of revolt…
It is not strange that my feelings of teenage angst reached their lowest in 1966, coinciding with the Brazilian team at the World Cup in England being put to the sword, squeaking through their first match without sparkle, and then losing 1-3 to both Hungary and their former colony of Portugal.
For a sixteen year old this ought to have been the World Cups to end all World Cups, when the Brazilians would bring their sunshine to England and, as if ordained, achieve a hat trick of victories and keep the golden trophy for life, a sign for all that they were the custodians of revolution in the football world. Instead, we were both to mirror the same, hollow tones of woe and misery and defeat.
This was the year that the Voice of Kenya TV showed the matches in black and white from the quarter finals onwards, either that very same day, or the day after. The image was blurred, and it shook and quivered if the antennae on the roof moved too much in the breeze, but I saw the World Cup as it was being played…
But being sixteen also coincided with discovering girls were far more interesting than football; and that fathers, regardless of what they may have done the same age, can also be authoritarian. Just before the World Cup in 1966, and till the end of 1967, my father’s only reply to my question asking why I couldn’t do something was: “Because I said so…”
I am convinced that in 1966, out of sheer perversity, he chose to support England to win the World Cup. The dining table was loaded with his analyses of how England would not lose to Uruguay and would get past Argentina and Portugal and win the World Cup. He capped this campaign against his son by giving him the morning papers with the gleeful snigger, “Your Brazil lost!!!”
The papers carried the famous picture of Pele walking off, weeping, and wiping his tears with his jersey, for two days running. ‘The King’ had been shamed. “That’s your Pele,” my father said, sniggering even more gleefully.
I never figured this streak of proto-fascism he was struck with, because he had a far more interesting side to him. At the end of 1965, a year before my Senior Cambridge ‘O’ Levels exams, he confiscated my school history textbook that had the really grand title ‘A History of the British Empire and Commonwealth’, and forced Nehru’s ‘Glimpses of World History’ on me, carefully marking the book for the parallels I needed to read.
Nehru would have been proud of me. I learnt the virtues of civil disobedience and took on my father. More importantly, after the Brazilian team allowed itself to be shamed in 1966, I shifted allegiance to North Korea, the guinea-pigs of that World Cup whom the Western commentators press derided for being short and stocky. They looked more like table-tennis players, is how they put it. I read the news-reports of their match against Italy several times and savoured the fact that the Italians, pretenders to the tag of ‘good football’ were greeted back home with the derision and hoots they fully deserved.
The North Koreans fell fortunately to Portugal who presented little by way of a contradiction. I was not focused on the fact that the Portuguese had done to Goa what the British had done to the rest of the world, but on a black-skinned player called Eusebio, the first time a European nation would play a person of colour as they say. Although, interestingly, lighter skinned players from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and even Egypt were regularly playing in France’s nascent professional league from the mid-50s but were just never considered good enough to play for the national team until a good ten years and more in the late 70s.
In 1966, Pele had allowed himself to be so pampered he found his muscles soft and yielding. The continent of Africa was still considered neither ‘professionalized’ or developed enough to come to the party, so it was fitting that Eusebio took over his mantle. He was immediately dubbed ‘Black Panther’ and lit up the soggy English evenings with his powerful running, his stamina, and like Pele, his ability to go through players like a hot knife through butter. Single-handedly, he inspired the rousing display after Portugal had gone down 0-3 to the North Koreans, a match Portugal was to win 5-3.
When Portugal lost to England on a muddy pitch more suited to rugby, I boycotted the final between whichever teams made it that year and went into mourning as dark as my shitty teenage years. As far as I was concerned the World Cup of 1966 did not take place.
A few years later though, before Brazil itself would reignite the dying embers of its game, I found out Eusebio was originally from Mozambique. I had visited Mozambique courtesy a two-week holiday by ship with my parents when I was eleven and still living in Mombasa.
It was in Mozambique however, even as Brazil was licking its wounds and I was decrying the vanishing rights of teenage life, that the first embers were glowing of a new resistance. Mozambique saw the rise of the late Samora Machel, the guiding light of the ‘Frelimo’ forces that would do battle with the fascist Portuguese government of Antonio Salazar, aided and abetted by the South African armed forces.
While 1966 signified for me the death of a revolutionary moment in football gifted to the world, it did not seem that unlikely that a second revolution would in fact take place…