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One World Cup? Surely we deserve some credit for the other five?

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Written by : published Friday 29th July 2011

One World Cup? Surely we deserve some credit for the other five? main image

As far as the FIFA record books, the most replayed piece of Wembley commentary in the history of mankind and the 98,000 thousand people who witnessed 1966 first-hand are concerned, England have only ever won the football World Cup once.

However, many forget about the other five occasions in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002; mostly because these are the years in which Brazil lifted world sports’ most coveted prize.

Yet England must stake a claim for these triumphs as were it not for an almost very English man named Charles Miller, Brazilian football would have never reached the favelas, let alone become the nation’s sporting religion.

Although any English pragmatism that flavoured the South American game has slowly been filtered out, as any match between the two sides since 1950 will testify, one should still feel some satisfaction when Kaká does a back-heel or Ronaldinho passes whilst looking the wrong way.

Miller, the son of an English farther and Brazilian mother, was sent from São Paulo back to England to be educated, where he learnt of the beautiful game, going on to represent Hampshire and play a handful of games for St. Mary’s, the forerunner of Southampton.

On return to São Paulo, he brought back with him two footballs; disembarking with one in each hand – as legend would have us believe.

“What are those, Charles?” his father is supposed to have asked. “My degree,” he replied. “Your son has graduated in football.”

Of course, it has to be pointed out that this is myth, questions can especially be raised about the specifics of the story, which are almost certainly untrue, but there is no reason why we have to question the fundamentals of Brazilian football’s conception.

By 1902, the sport had grown enough to form a thriving league programme in São Paulo and quickly spread further afield; Rio de Janeiro was influenced by another Anglo-Brazilian, Oscar Cox, who picked up the game in Swiss education.

Cox, along with some friends, founded Fluminense, a club which followed the trend of most globally English-founded clubs: “almost a parody of Englishness, all hats and moustaches, hurrahs and manliness,” described historian, Jonathan Wilson.

Dribbling was the name of the game – the English way of the time – and probably the last tenuous link between Brazilian and English football.

 Of course this gave way to much a more familiar link between the Brazilians and the Scottish, who, on arrival in South America, brought with them their passing game.

The Scottish Wanderers, a team of Scottish ex-pats formed in São Paulo in 1912, ensured the passing way spread as the national style.

They practised the intricate pattern-weaving approach, which, confusingly, became known as the ‘systema ingleza’ – ‘the English system’.

It is not out of the question to, when awing over those in gold, green and blue, see a very very ever-so-slightly Englishness about them, like an extremely weak tea or herbal remedy – after all, their ‘founding style’ was the ‘systema ingleza’, it has our name on it, why should we not claim credit?

Ok, so in the 112 years since Miller stepped off his plane clutching those two footballs under each arm, any Englishness in Brazil’s flair-rich, individual style barely reaches negligible but you can’t help but think: If it were not for us, we would have never even known of your existence, Pele.


*Jonathan Wilson is a football historian who released his book, Inverting the Pyramid, in 2008. The story of Charles Millar and the foundation of Brazilian football – the origin for this piece of writing – is but just one of many, many stories covered from football’s long illustrious past. A must read for any football fan, budding manager or even those just interested in the historical aspect. Daily Telegraph writer, Henry Winter described it as: “Fascinating and thought-provoking” and: “Simply one of the best books ever written about the world’s game” by Dominic Sandbrook.

About the author Joe Smith

Joe Smith

My name is Joe Smith and I currently attend the University of Huddersfield in Yorkshire, England. I am in the first year of a Sports Journalism BA Hons degree with a view to becoming a professional sports journalist at a national newspaper. I help with the running of Caistor Town Cricket Club's website and also contribute to WriteAngleMedia, a company associated with various midalnds-based newspapers, reporting on semi-professional (non-league) football matches. My top three sports are cricket, football and tennis, closely followed by rugby league. I follow many sports teams, but  my favoured clubs are: Grimsby Town (football/soccer), Lancashire County Cricket Club and Huddersfield Giants (rugby league).

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