The Brazil national football team was born one hundred years ago thanks to an innovative South American tour by Exeter City Football Club in 1914. To celebrate that historical moment in football folklore, Exeter City FC travelled once again to the South American continent this summer, to re-create that momentous occasion. By doing so the Devon side would re-establish their Fluminense links, celebrate the birth of Brazil as a footballing nation and acknowledge the year of the World Cup, held in Brazil for the second time in the tournament’s history.
In 1914 Exeter City FC endured an arduous eighteen day voyage to South America to play in Argentina and Brazil. The football fraternity in Buenos Aires in Argentina had asked the English FA if a team would travel out there and play some local sides. Exeter City FC was chosen by the FA as a “truly representative English side”, and at the time Exeter was positioned around the mid-table spot of the Southern League. The English club played in Argentina and then managed three games in Brazil on the return journey home, becoming the first professional club to play in the country. Exeter beat their first two opponents (3-0 over English ex-pats and 5-3 Brazilian Rio clubs) but then succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of a select team in the final match. The triumphant “Selecao” team comprised of players from both Rio and Sao Paulo and included the legendary Brazilian player Artur Friedenreich. This manufactured team playing against Exeter in the Laranjeiras Stadium (home of Fluminense FC) in Rio on July 21st 1914 is now considered to be Brazil’s first match as a country. For posterity the first goal-scorers for the 25 year-old republic of Brazil were Oswaldo and Osman.
The travel in 2014 to Brazil I’m sure was a lot more comfortable for the Exeter players. At present the club is under a transfer embargo, and a special loan was taken out with the Professional Football Association (PFA) to fund the trip. This ensured that no funds already committed for use by the Devon club were used. Considering the historical importance of the Exeter/Fluminense/Brazil links in the realms of the football game as a whole, and the necessity for pre-season games to ready a team for a new playing year, I’m glad the Exeter lads went to Brazil.
Once again three games under the Brazilian sun had Exeter City as the visiting opposition. The first game held on Sunday July 20th at the Laranjeiras Stadium featured the Fluminense under 23 team. This game; celebrating the 100th anniversary of that historical first Brazil match; seen the teams wear replica strips of the 1914 colours, and I believe may even have used the original ball from 1914 as well. At the end of ninety minutes the match remained goal-less with the Brazilians squandering the possession they had, and Exeter not having the killer instinct to capitalise on their three scoring opportunities. The second game was held on Wednesday 23rd July and seen Exeter face third division side Tupi in Juiz de Fora situated 112 miles north of Rio. Tupi took the lead with a goal from Maranha but Exeter’s keeper Christy Pym kept his side in contention with several stoppages. Keohane equalised for “The Grecians” and Coles gave his team a 2-1 victory over Tupi with a finely executed header close to full-time. The final Brazil pre-season game for Exeter was on Friday 25th July at the Cricket Ground in Rio, when a Brazil elect team comprising of former professionals and youngsters were the opposition. Despite going one behind before the break Exeter rallied to win 3-1 to secure their second win of the tour. Once again Keohane was on the score-sheet along with Matt Jay and Ollie Watkins.
Exeter City FC will now return to the UK to ply their trade in the English League Division Two. Chairman Edward Chorlton has stepped down, and although the future of the club may seem a little precarious with a transfer embargo in place, the club would appear to have a crop of able young players and a keen manager. By travelling to play on the hallowed turf of Brazilian soil, and undoubtedly facing talented young South American players, “The Grecians” can only return stronger and more confident for the experience.
Unlike today’s players who play full-time as professionals back in 1914 the Exeter FC lads had “day jobs” and then played football as an extra activity. Those who travelled to Brazil a hundred years ago would be described as coal-miners, millers and farmers who could play football too. Within two short weeks of that historical game at the Laranjeiras Stadium Britain was at war. By some extraordinary chance all of the Exeter City FC players who served their country survived, although many were so badly wounded they never played again. The keeper of” Brazil 1914” Dick Pym played for Bolton in another historic football game, that of the “White-Horse Wembley Final”, the 1923 FA Cup. I’ve read that Pym returned home with a souvenir of his trip to South America, a parrot which happily survived, and at the end of its days was buried behind the goal at St James Park!!
And what of the national team of Brazil? Twice the nation has held the World Cup tournament, and twice Brazil has failed to win it on home soil. They came fourth in 2014 and second in 1950, but Brazil has been World Cup winners five times, and as a nation they have been an ever present participant of the tournament. That is some achievement, made all the more remarkable when you realise that for several years Brazil was ruled by a harsh military junta. During this period an amazing player by the name of Socrates played a crucial part in establishing the “Corinthians’ Democracy”, where players exercised their freedom of expression and thought whilst playing for the Corinthians football club. Slogans encouraging fans to vote in local elections were emblazoned on the back of football tops, and Socrates even suggested that he would not consider a transfer to play abroad if “free and fair” elections were held in Brazil. I firmly believe that politics should never come into sport, but the Socrates story is an exception. Somehow I think that only in Brazil could the flair of their football be utilised in such a way to help bring about the democratic freedom of the nation. That is something to be very proud of, so Vamos Brazil and Long Live Exeter City FC.
If you are interested in the Al Jazeera programme on Socrates and the Corinthians, you can find it here.