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Music meets football in South America

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Tim Vickery | 07:36 UK time, Monday, 23 February 2009

Coming back from a game in the Maracana stadium on Saturday, the Rio underground was even more packed than usual. In addition to the football fans there was the carnival crowd, revellers who had spent the afternoon with one of the street parties, some dressed as florescent green monsters, off to take part in the night's parade. I was on a train dedicated to the twin pillars of popular culture, music and sport.

In Brazil samba and futebol help define the national identity. In Argentina and Uruguay it is tango and futbol. In all three countries the two elements took opposite routes into the national soul. The music came from the bottom and worked its way up. The sport began with the elites and made its way down.

In their early days samba and tango were low class, low prestige rhythms, frowned upon by polite society. Football, on the other hand, was introduced by the British, who had huge trading interests in the region. Along with their industrial products and their railway lines, they brought football, which, with its first world seal of approval, was initially seen as an activity for the sons of moneyed families.

The story of the early years of South American football is one of the game moving socially downwards, being taken up and re-interpreted by the masses, who replaced the straight line running, muscular British style with something much more artistic - and successful.

revellersattheriocarnival.jpgIt didn't happen without a fight. The local elites were reluctant to lose control, and the battle raged into the 1930s, when professionalism was introduced and meritocracy established as the basis for team selection.

This downward movement of the game was especially swift in Uruguay, and helps explain their early prominence in world football.

Earlier this month I wrote a column that touched on the decline of the Uruguayan game. But with a population little over three million staying at the top is all but impossible. Perhaps a more interesting theme is how such a tiny country ever became so dominant in the first place.

Nowadays the word 'Brazil' sets off an instant association with stylish and successful football. There was a time when 'Uruguay' brought a similar reaction.

Between 1916 and 26 the Sky Blues won six of the first 10 Copa Americas. They astonished Europe by slaughtering all comers on the way to winning gold at the Paris Olympics in 1924 - to my mind the event that marks the birth of the modern game. Four years later they repeated the dose in Amsterdam, then organised and won the first World Cup in 1930, won the next they entered 20 years later and lost their first World Cup match in 1954, a semi final against the great Hungarians that went to extra- time - after earlier in the tournament beating England 4-2 and Scotland 7-1.

The reputation for violence came later, when the rest of the world had caught up and they could no longer win, but national pride demanded that they went down fighting. For decades, though, their name attracted no negative headlines.

Part of this is a tribute to South American football - to the way the game had caught on in the rapidly expanding cities of the continent's southern cone. But specifically in Uruguay, it shows the effect of enlightened social policies.

In the early years of the last century Uruguay brought in the world's first welfare state and invested massively in education. This made it much easier for football to move downwards from the elites to the immigrants pouring in from Italy and Spain - and to the descendants of Africans, whose ancestors had been shipped across the Atlantic to toil as slaves.

Brazil only abolished slavery in 1888, and some would argue that its legacy remains strong. Not until the 1930s were black Brazilian footballers properly established, and the country's football continued to have a racial hang up until the 1958 World Cup, and longer in the case of goalkeepers.

The Uruguayan game was far quicker to draw on the potential of all of its citizens. A potent symbol of this is Isabelino Gradin, top scorer of the first Copa America in 1916.

He and team-mate Juan Delgado were black - which caused Chile to launch a protest on the basis that Uruguay were fielding Africans.

Gradin deserves to be ranked among the most influential players in the history of the game. His performances in Brazil in the 1919 Copa America did much to inspire the local black population.

In 1924 when Uruguay came to the Paris Olympics the star turn was Jose Leandro Andrade, the first black player most Europeans had ever seen. Andrade was also a carnival musician. He was a physical embodiment of popular culture, of the music from the streets and the sport which had come down from the elites. He would surely have felt totally at home on the Rio underground on Saturday night.

Comments on this piece in the space below. Any other questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

There have been reports linking Liverpool to the Palmeiras striker Keirrison. I know he is Brazilian, and 20-years old. I don't really care if there is any truth to the rumours, I'd just like to know - is he any good? What would he cost? Too early for him to move? Is he a support-striker, able to support a striker like Torres? Or is he like Torres?
Kobus Nell

No, he's no support striker - he's an out and out goalscorer. He's very promising - well built and finishes really well on his right foot, where can blast the ball but knows that he doesn't always have to. He's only just joined Palmeiras (from Coritiba) and I think he's made an excellent move - a step up without being too much, because I don't think he's quite ready for a big European club. He's not confident about shooting with his left - every time I've seen him he's run round a chance to take it with his right and given a defender time to get a block in. His involvement in the build up also needs a lot of improvement.

What is your take on Cristian Fabbiani, aka The Ogre, River Plate's larger than life super sub from last week? He says himself that he is a few pounds overweight, an underestimate in anyone's book!
Alan Moir

An inspiration to fat park footballers everywhere. There was a moment in one of his first River Plate games when his tiny team-mate Buonanotte was cutting in on the diagonal and then realised he would have to go round Fabbiani - it was quite a detour!
He was huge last year playing for Newells. A month or so of inactivity has sent him off the scale - but he does have class. He's terrific with his back to goal, turns very well and is an excellent combinations player. This could be the making of River's other main striker, Radamel Falcao Garcia. I just watched Fabbiani set a goal up for him against Banfield.
The River fans really seem to have taken to Fabbiani - there were several dressed as ogres in the stands.


  • Comment number 1.

    Spot the difference... Tim on a Samba underground train coming back from the game.

    Me on an underground train coming back from the Celtic game with, what I can tell, was a man who was drunkenly trying to sing 2 songs at once....

    Love the articles Tim... can I ask if there will ever be a week that goes by without a Liverpool fan wanting to know about a player??

  • Comment number 2.

    Lovely insight Tim, Never knew that to be the reasons for Uruguay's early dominance.

  • Comment number 3.


    Fascinating musings as ever.

    I'd like to ask you to elaborate on one point: the race issue with Brazilian goalkeepers. I had subconsciously noticed that over the years - up until Dida - the average goalkeeper of the national side was blonder than the average outfield player. Given that Brazil long ago acknowledged the importance of black players, what cultural barriers or stereotypes do you think made the goalkeeping position a 'white position' for longer?

    More generally, it's interesting to think about the role of stereotypes in the formation of football teams, and not necessarily racial ones. Perhaps there are studies to be written about how various stock formulae (like the big target man / tricky little player strike partnership or the 'midfield enforcer') have resulted in players from certain backgrounds (regional / class) being channelled into certain roles on the pitch...

  • Comment number 4.


    I used to live in Brazil about 20 years ago. The Maracana (200,000 capacity) and Morumbi (150,000 capacity) stadia were built in the 1950's and 1960's respectively. In both stadia are there still sections which are cordoned off for safety reasons?

    In the case of Maracana chunks of concrete were liable to fall from the ceiling in the stands - even a hard helmet would not help much. In Morumbi the upper tier above the television gantries had to be closed, as the supporters would jump up and down to the samba beat. Unfortunately the whole tier would also vibrate, which caused the TV pictures to have a permanent vertical hold problem!

    The problem with massive concrete structures is that they expand in the heat and contract in the cold. Even in Rio the difference between the heat of the day and cool of the night can be as much as 20 deg C. This process inevitably damages and weakens the structure.

    So my question is this. Are these stadia being refurbished, or are new replacements being built? When it comes to their safety track record, Brazil has been known to cut corners. For the World Cup that they are due to host, will the safety standards be of the highest order?

  • Comment number 5.

    Great article as usual Tim. Monday's just wouldn't be the same without this column!

  • Comment number 6.

    It isn't just Brazil though where goalkeeper tends to be a 'white' position. How many of the top European club sides have black keepers? France, England and Holland, three national sides with a number of non-white players still tend to have white goalkeepers (David James and Bernard Lama are exceptions).

    Pretty off-topic but interesting none the less as to why this might be.

  • Comment number 7.

    Reply to BognorRock:

    You mention France, England and Holland as 3 national sides who still have white goalkeepers despite having a reasonable proportion of non-white players.

    Apart from Bernard Lama who you already mentioned, there is also Kenneth Vermeer, the Ajax and Dutch U-21 goalkeeper. I think he played for Ajax against Villa in the UEFA Cup earlier this season.

    Obviously, there is also David James, who is of Jamaican descent.

  • Comment number 8.

    If I'm not mistaken the I think in Brazil black goalkeepers were seen as unlucky because it was a mistake by the goalkeeper in the WC final against Uruguay the cost Brazil the world cup and he happened to be black.

    I think this is the point Tim is refering to.

  • Comment number 9.

    Once again, Tim Vickery has produced one of the best pieces of writing that can be found anywhere on the web.

  • Comment number 10.


    You're right that there seems to have been a similar disparity in Europe - although the examples you mentioned perhaps suggest that England and France have now had their 'Dida moments'.

    I wonder whether this has something to do with the initial popular perception of players of African origin as primarily being superior athletes - faster / stronger. So perhaps these perceived qualities have made coaches at a grassroots level in Europe / the Americas more likely to promote black players in positions where their blackness could (unconsciously) make them 'look the part', e.g. wingers, strikers, etc.

  • Comment number 11.

    Very interesting article Tim. As many readers point out, MOndays r so good as 1 waits for ur blog.

    Would u be able to expand the comment about the goalkeepers please.

  • Comment number 12.


    There are alot of black goalkeepers in Brazil and there always has been, Read this article by Tim:

  • Comment number 13.

    Barbosa was Brazil's goalkeeper in the 1950 WC. He was pretty much forced into obscurity because of his team's failure to lift the trophy.
    After that historic defeat brazilian football was at a crossroads, many people believing that their players, and particularly black players, did not have what it takes to win.
    Therefore, Barbosa became the focal point of the issue.

    It was not until the 1958 WC, like Tim mentioned, that brazilians put their past failures behind.

  • Comment number 14.


    Wonderful stuff again.

    Wasnt there a story about uruguay putting on a disasterous training session in front of yugoslav scouts who reported back to their master that they would walk over uruguay....who promptly demolished them 7 nil!?

  • Comment number 15.


    Thanks for the link - that was just as interesting to read as this week's article, and it filled a gap in my knowledge on this subject. I don't think the earlier article clears up the issue once and for all, though. The unfortunate Barbosa might have provided a stereotype of the 'dodgy black keeper' but I can't see it persisting for decades without other factors.

    Tim Vickery quotes the comedian Anysio as saying "I adore black strikers, black centre backs, black playmakers and holding midfielders; I don't see how a white or yellow or red can be better than a black in the 100 metres, long or triple jump and long distance events... I just don't like them in goal." This is actually not far from my speculation that coaches might have tended to perceive black footballers as atheletes and therefore to be less predisposed towards a black player where the qualities of concentration and agility are more imporant than speed and power.

    On the other hand, I'd like to emphasise that I'm just wondering aloud: I certainly don't know enough about this subject to claim I'm correct.

  • Comment number 16.

    Tim what about Arthur Friedenreich?

    Arguably he was the world's first black footballing superstar! He played for the Brazilian national team from 1914, appearing in 22 internationals (including two wins of the Copa America in 1919 and 1922).

    On Brazil's 1925 tour of Europe, he was nicknamed the "King of Football".

    Unfortunately he wasn't called up by Brazil for the World Cup in 1930 because he was 38 years old.

    He retired while playing for Flamengo in 1935 at the ripe age of 43. It is rumoured that he played over 1200 games, scoring over 1200 goals!

  • Comment number 17.

    Great article Tim. As ever you examine the football and how it fits in with the wider South American culture.

    Yours is the best football blog on the BBC!

  • Comment number 18.

    Coaches (mainly white) would have also used black players in the outfield to "intimidate" opponents. Using a stereo type, rather than a real ability. Goalies are less of an impact on this aspect of play. In a black person the physical ability is still highlighted compared to their intellectual ability.
    That is why most debt collecting agencies still threaten you with sending around a big black guy to knock on your door. Our society has not grown up yet.

  • Comment number 19.

    While waxing lyrical about Brazil and Uraguay's contribution to South American football, you have largely forgotten about the other side, i.e. Argentina who during a period from 1978 - 1990 were the most successful side on the continent. Three world cup finals and two world cup victories.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ununous - so you mean, equally or less successful than Brazil or Uruguay in historical terms?

  • Comment number 21.


    While you are right, that piece of info is useless for this article. The impact of black players obviously doesn't apply to football in Argentina.

  • Comment number 22.

    Eduardo Galeano's book "Soccer in Sun and Shadow" has an insightful chapter on Barbosa.

  • Comment number 23.

    16 - Friedenreich was of mixed race - as his surname suggests, he was the son of a German immigrant. He was born into wealth, was entirely at home in a smoking jacket - there weren't the same barriers to his progress on the football field as there were to a low class black at that time - ie the vast majority.

  • Comment number 24.


    Great article again.

    It would be good to have a blog soon on how Brazil is gearing up for 2014. Such as what stadiums they are likely to use, capacitys, will they be building new stadiums or upgrading the old one.

  • Comment number 25.

    Nothing to do with the content, Tim, which is great, but the format of this webpage means I cannot copy/paste a small chunk of text from your article, only the whole text.

    I wanted to tell my mother about the Uruguayan welfare tradition (very interesting and surprising), using your quote as illustration in my e-mail, but can't see her wading through an article on football to read about it!

    I don't understand why, since most webpages on the BBC site aren't designed this way and one can copy/paste individual sentences no problem. Is it deliberate?

  • Comment number 26.

    Fascinating article. I'm always interested to read about about how football sits in a wider context, politically, socio-economically etc. Particularly like to hear opinions on the parallels between football, or sport in general, and music in different cultures.

    Also a really interesting discussion about race/class factors and the influence on playng positions on the board here.

    One trend I find interesting is the amount of players of African origin, or with close African ancestry who seem to play in a similar role. The kind of players I'm thinking of -

    Yaya Toure
    Vieira (Senegal)
    Makalele (Congo)
    Bouba Diop

    I'd just be curious to hear what people think of why these players, mostly from Western Africa, have dominated in this role?
    Is it even fair that I've grouped them together?
    For me most of these are notably the best and biggest African names in the game currently (exc. Drogba/Eto'o/probably someone obvious others I've forgotten).

    I don't think we should afraid to say that many of these guys are in the most part exceptional athletes, even in the context of rapid advances in player conditioning as a whole, and this certainly has impact on their success in the game. But I wonder whether the other characterics that great box to box or holding midfielders have are uniquely nurtured by the climate they grew up in their pre-European careers? For me I think there's something in that, and I wonder if the lack of more established orthodox coaching networks and formal facilities has actually benefitted these players, especially in their positional role? A natural development of not only physical excellence, but of mental strength and intelligence, with less technical emphasis?

  • Comment number 27.


    The title of the blog got me thinking of my favourite football song in the world "Vamos Vamos Argentina", I'm not Argentinian but there's not a footballing song on the planet that sums up the energy of the supporters like that one. Even my 6 and 3 year old niece and nephew love that song!

    Another football related song, as it was featured in the official FIFA WC 1986 video is "Me das cada dia mas" by Valeria Lynch, which to me sums up the beauty and elegance of that Argie 86 side.

    I may not be Argentinian but I do appreciate their appetite and love of the game!

  • Comment number 28.

    once again, an informtive article

    just going back to what Tim said on Keirrison - i would say that in fact, he's quite skinny and the player himself has said that he needs to bulk up a bit.
    he also scored a very good goal with his left foot on saturday vs Portuguesa.
    and i have to say that i think Keirrison is ready to join one of the big European clubs - he might be more of a squad player at first but the basics are all there and i think he could cope with the step up

  • Comment number 29.

    #26 a good point, especially when you compare them to there non-african counterparts who have been fantastic holding midfielders such as, deschamps, dunga, keane, hamann (exceptionally underrated), xabi alonso, maniche, toulalan, cambiasso, pirlo, gattuso and mascherano

    you're probably right in saying their environment has conditioned them to be exceptional athletes, I think the players I have mentioned were technically better, but pale into insignificance on a physical level (with the exception of mascherano and gattuso on both counts!)

    it's interesting to see how marcos senna has fared in spain as well...I don't recall him getting any abuse from rival fans either, but then I haven't followed his career in depth...

  • Comment number 30.

    I also forgot Carlton Palmer, which is just inexcusable, really!!

  • Comment number 31.

    #29 - I don't think that is true. Gattuso and Mascherano are terribly average players technically and in Gattuso's case, his stamina, which. incidentally, he says he gathered through running up and down flights of stairs as a kid, is around 90% of his game.

    Players of African origin used to have pretty lousy technical attiributes, not their fault obviously, but were exceptional physically. Nowadays, were seeing more technically accomplished Africans. When coupled with the extraorinary phyisical prowess these players have, creates players of so much more value.

    I think it's playing into sterotypes, especially when you give Gattuso as an example of a technically efficient player. Essien, arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in the world, is the finest product of the two attributes. A blessed player technically but a monster of a player physically. He is also a testiment to the benefits of the enviroment he grew up playing in.

    More schemes to get kids in Africa playing football at a technical and professional level will only prove more valuable to the modern game and prevent players such as Lucas from getting a look in :)

    [I actually like Lucas as a player and think he's been given a rough deal at Anfield].

  • Comment number 32.

    #31, Mascherano average? He is way a better passer and reader of the game than Essien.

  • Comment number 33.

    Tim, I have just finished reading two books which you recommended about the history if Fifa (How they stole the game and Foul!) and they have both been extremely informative and eye-opening.

    As the campaign for the 2018 cup heats up where or who would you recommend that I read to get an objective view of the campaign and the upcoming Fifa presidential campaign?

  • Comment number 34.

    Music meets football in South America is a nicely written piece by Tim.

    Here too in India's coastal State of Goa music meets football in these days in very many special ways.

    Annual Carnival celebrations are in full swing. Panjim, Mapusa, Margao and the Port City of Vasco da Gama take major share of the limelight. Villages too have their own version of Carnival but on a much smaller scale.

    This time around the annual I-League or Indian Football League is dominated by our footballers from the West Coast. Dempo Sports Club, Sporting Clube de Goa and Churchill Brothers are three Goan teams among the top four in the ongoing Indian National Football League.

    In the coming days reigning India's champion side Dempo Sports Club are to play a renowned outfit from the Middle East. A victory in that international tie will see the Goan giants rub shoulders against the very best in Asia in the Asian Club Champions League.

    Our Indian club sides are showing signs of challenging the might of outfits from South Korea, Japan and China.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 35.


    Another good article, I enjoy reading about the culture just as much as I do about the recent talent - especially in South America.

    I was wondering, which book do you recommend on the history of the South American game, there seems to be loads on clubs in Europe, but nothing of great substance I can find on South America.


  • Comment number 36.

    great article and sums up for many south Americans the beauty of futbol or futebol.As Jose Manuel moreno the great star of Rivers Maquina said The tango is the best way to train you maintain a rhythem,then change it when you move forward you learn the profiles then work on your waist and legs

  • Comment number 37.

    35 - I've recommended it before, and will do so again and again
    'The Ball is round- a global history of football' by David Goldblatt.
    Excellent on South America - with the considerable bonus that it's great on all the rest of the world as well - a book of breathtaking scope and rare intelligence.

  • Comment number 38.

    Fantastic article Tim. Wonderful read. Have just been offered a blog on a new sports site, and am currently living in Argentina before moving to Brazil, so I see you as a sort of idol! Tough act to follow. Brilliant.

  • Comment number 39.

    We know the British took soccer to South America via the railways and agricultural immigrants. So why didn't they take soccer to their colonies where they were building even more railways? For me it's one of the abiding mysteries of sporting history as to why soccer took off everywhere except the the non-British/Irish English speaking world. But for some accident of history could we have had Brazilian test cricketeers and Indian footballers wizards?

  • Comment number 40.

    #31 - I stated the non-african players were better technically and worse phyiscally than the african players with the exception of mascherano and gattuso on both counts.

  • Comment number 41.

    @35 worldsoccercolumns.

    Another good book on the history of Brazlian football is "Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life" by Alex Bellos.

  • Comment number 42.

    Great blog Tim, when of the best written so far,

    As always a few things not directly linked the Tim's article that I would like to pick up on

    21# I was hoping Tim or anyone could shed some light on the lack of players of African descent playing in Argentina? I find this incredibly strange considering the majority of Argentina's neighbouring countries have quite a substantial volume of these players active in the national game.

    31# I think it’s pretty outrageous to suggest that (Western) African players "used to have pretty lousy technical attributes"

    I can only comment on what I have seen due to my age but over the last 20 years I would say Africa, in particular Western Africa has created as many successful "technical" footballers as it has "athletic". In fact due to Western African culture, a player whose game is predominantly based on athletic ability would be branded European and disparaged much the same way one could imagine they would have been in South America 20 or so years ago. There is much more empathy for flair players in Western Africa than those who's game is based on athletic and physical capabilities. Players such as Abedi Pele, Augustine Okocha, Kalusha Bwalya, Japhet N'Doram, Emmanuel Ammuneke, George Finidi, Nwankwo Kanu, Doctor Khumalo are all players who possessed wonderful technical ability and in my opinion players who you would define as "African Footballers".
    I think the athletic tag is very much a stereotype peddled by Europeans. Probably derived from the European obsession, originating in the 90's with, "Holding Players" and field coverage. Possibly with Marcel Desailly being the template. Thus a role was created and players were selected based on there size and physique with there technical capacity an afterthought.
    Bearing this in mind I would suggest that it’s a complete myth that African players are athletes first and players second. I would hazard a guess that should you go anywhere in Africa you will find there is much more kudos in dribbling round a whole team than running 50 yards and making a tackle.

    Now if you want to discuss tactical discipline and African players your stereotypes may well hold a bit more water.

  • Comment number 43.

    37 - Tim, I'm currently Goldblatt's book on your recommendation at the moment and have to agree - it is excellent. The best book on football I've ever read.

    In fact it ties in with this article in that there is a piece on the black goalkeeper, Augusto Barbosa, who was blamed for Brazil's defeat to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup (mentioned above). Goldblatt tells us that Brazil did not field another black goalkeeper until Dida in 1995, that Barbosa was shunned by the Brazil squad in 1993 and in a particularly sad moment that Barbosa walked into a baker's shop where a woman recognised him and told her son: "Look, there is the man who made all Brazil cry."

  • Comment number 44.

    39 - Goldblatt also explains this in The Ball Is Round by suggesting that British colonies refused to take up football as a way of railing against Britain in the search for their own distinct sporting and cultural identity.

  • Comment number 45.

    42 - a couple of hundred years ago the population of Buenos Aires was a third black - nowadays an afro-descendent population hardly exist as a distinct entity.

    The country stopped importing slaves, many of the blacks joined the army in the liberation wars, many died in a yellow fever outbreak, and in population terms, they get swamped by the masses of immigrants coming in, especially from Italy.

    It's still there in the gene pool. There have been a few black Argentine players - Hector Baley, one of the reserve keepers in the 78 World Cup, for example.

    Nevertheless, the afro-descendent contribution to Argentine popular culture is huge - tango is an African word. and then there's the drum - so important in Argentina, especially with football crowds.

  • Comment number 46.

    I think the link between football and the domestic culture each league is based in is a fascinating one. There are many prevailing themes, sport born out of a distraction to poverty and hard work seems a common story. A style of play that somehow reflects the national character is one that people espouse with stylish attacking flair in South America and sound organised teamwork from the Germans or Russians, these arguably misleading stereotypes but remain commonplace. Countries that have experienced regular political upheaval and periods of dictatorship often take their club allegiance much more seriously than other nations because their regional identity inside a country is so crucial to them (Barcelona, Dynamo Kiev or the Old Firm.) However no matter which country or region you’re talking about there seems the same dichotomy within that regional, national culture and its link to football, namely how football/life used to be compared to how football/society is now.

    Our grandparent’s used to say you can’t understand WW2 if you didn’t live through it, they also tell is that you can’t appreciate how good Matthews or Garrincha were unless you saw them play. Last week we were discussing Alfredo Di Stefano and the journey he had to go through both in football and a cultural/political sense. I think these stories of players who had political significance, clubs that identified with class, religious or social struggles and the idea of how a player or team was an icon for a people as a whole is something that’s fading, and fading fast. It’s hard to argue whether this sanitisation of football and its link to society is a good or bad thing. The association of one club in a city as Catholic (e.g. Everton, Man Utd) and their rival as Protestant (Liverpool, Man City) is something football is probably better off without, unless you’re a Catholic priest who used to enjoy Old Trafford’s long standing tradition of not charging for tickets for the clergy. Equally football can do without people directly linking the proud Basque tradition of a fine club like Barca’ with those who advocate violent Basque separatism. These links are in many cases good natured and merely reflective of history and ritual but they so frequently lead to violence, and that is never acceptable in any circumstance as English football knows only too well. Football is, above all else a game, the fact its reach and influence far exceeds most sports and its influence on our lives is often greater than religion or our family is a testament to how deeply rich football’s tradition is and how stupendously enjoyable it can be, but it remains a game. Despite Mr Shankley’s suggestion, football is never more important than life or death.

    Yet when the blog above refers to days when black players emerged in South America, fighting prejudice, obstacles (some social, some physical) or how the poorer members of a Brazilian city overcame the rich European settlers to form their own club that identified with them as a native people it makes us remember the journey football is ultimately on, and that has brought us to today. Nowadays, Brazilians play in Wigan, Germans play in Spain and top players come from all backgrounds, creeds and colours. My children won’t recognize the world of football that existed 50 years ago, and the world of football I grew up in during the 80’s and 90’s will seem antiquated and parochial. They will love their team’s brand new 50,000 all seater stadium with a multi-national squad of players who were on more money than sense in their teenage years. I just hope they remember what city the stadium is in, who used to play for the team during the good and bad days and how there is a hell of a lot more to a football club than the players and the pitch they play on.

    Truly excellent article Tim, as always.

  • Comment number 47.

    Interesting historical analysis, congratulations, Tim. I missed a point, though: why do you reckon Uruguay's investment in education made it easier to football to move downwards?

    Being a Brazilian, I'm quick to find the opposite case: the country has neglected education for a long time now, but football is popular anyway. A quote, allegedly from Thierry Henry after the 2006 match Brazil vs France, synthesizes the matter: "No wonder there are so many good Brazilian players - they don't spend their childhood studying" (or something similar). I hate to say, but the man is mostly right.

  • Comment number 48.

    ... because Uruguay was creating a society in which there were fewer barriers to the participation of players from lower class backgrounds.
    Brazil has a population much bigger than Uruguay's, and a black population much bigger as well - but there is no way they would have taken advantage of a talent like Gradin's in 1916 - it took another 15 years for Leonidas and co to break through.
    The game stayed longer in Brazil as a pursuit of rich young men in smoking jackets.

  • Comment number 49.

    Thanks Tim,

    I appreciate the feedback. Its not only the writing that makes this the best blog on the net but sharing of knowledge and opinions.


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