Back to where it all started for Brazil

Back to where it all started for Brazil
By Alex Murphy (Filed: 07/07/2002)

The eyes of the planet were fixed on the custard jerseys of Brazil as they bewitched Germany in last Sunday’s World Cup final. Millions were entranced by the dancing feet of Ronaldo and Co, yet how many would have known how Brazilian football was born, 88 years earlier, in a match against Exeter City?

Now the ambitious Third Division club are planning to renew their association with Brazil by persuading the world champions to play in a match at their St James Park ground to mark the club’s centenary in 2004.

The idea was hatched by City’s new joint chairman, Uri Geller, who has turned the Devon club upside down since he took on his boardroom role earlier this year. Geller, who made a living bending spoons years before Roberto Carlos began bending free-kicks, said: “Do not doubt that I can do this. I am probably a household name in Brazil because I have been on their TV many times. I know the right people to talk to and I am confident they will go for it.”.

Sceptics should remember that Geller has already enticed Michael Jackson to visit St James Park and persuaded him to become an honorary director of the club. According to Football League rules, the status entitles Jackson to free tea and sandwiches on match days at every Third Division ground in the country.

“There is no knowing how far Exeter can go,” said Geller. “I won’t be using the paranormal, but I will help to inspire and motivate the players. There is a huge buzz of positivity at the club. Positivity breeds optimism and optimism breeds results.”

Geller began supporting City after his son, Daniel, started following them seven years ago. “There were paranormal reasons why Daniel chose Exeter,” Geller said. “We lived hundreds of miles away, and I told him to support a big club like Manchester United or Arsenal. I believe he lived in Exeter in a previous life.”

The story of how Exeter became the first team to play a competitive match against Brazil is equally bizarre. On July 21, 1914, City pitched up in Rio during an accident-prone tour of South America, and were given the honour of playing the newly-formed national side. Brazil won 2-0 before 6,000 spectators.

The tiny Fluminense Stadium was jammed beyond capacity, with hundreds of curious onlookers clinging to the stand rafters for a view. Oswaldo scored Brazil’s first ever goal after 20 minutes, and the local A Gazeta reported: “The mass of spectators went wild. Sticks and hats were waved, and women waved handkerchiefs shouting hurrahs to the Brazilian team.”

>Alas, Exeter threw a tantrum of Italian proportions when Osman (no relation to Russell, the Ipswich Town stalwart) scored Brazil’s second. The angry City players walked off in protest at the refereeing, and only patient diplomacy by City captain, Jimmy Rigby, lured them back to finish the game. It was just another turbulent episode in a vexed tour. In Santos, several players were arrested and jailed for nude sunbathing. A match against Rosario was marred by riots and cavalry charges. Elsewhere, a newspaper complained about Exeter’s tactics. “Several times they resorted to brutal and illegal methods, to the displeasure of the crowds,” a reporter fumed. Exeter had given the most complete exhibition of forbidden manoeuvres ever seen in Buenos Aires.”

The First World War broke out during the voyage home, and the ship’s captain plotted a haphazard course to avoid a fleet of hostile German warships. In 1914, Exeter gave Brazil their first taste of international football. Now Brazil is returning the compliment, and exporting footballers to Exeter.

Two Brazilian triallists, 23-year-olds Marcio Gaia, a central defender, and midfielder, Volmar Manfrin, flew in from Rio to play a practice match at St James Park on Wednesday, and Marcio especially caught the eye of the manager, John Cornforth.

He said: “The lad looked to have a lot of talent. I want to have another look at him when we return from our tour of Finland.”. Since their boat was nearly torpedoed in 1914, Exeter no longer embark on South American tours.

Marcio and Volmar arrived just in time to benefit from a burgeoning, Ronaldo-fuelled love affair between English football and Brazil. On the day they lined up alongside triallists from as far afield as Portugal and Tavistock, Juninho was contemplating a return to Middlesbrough. The 29-year-old was clearly tempted by the prospect of a third spell on Teesside while Steve McClaren appeared thrilled at the prospect of snapping him up from Atletico Madrid for £6 m. It was one more twist in the England-Brazil romance – a romance started by little Exeter nearly a century ago.


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