From Sao Paulo to Southend: The Football League boys from Brazil
Sometimes I manage to convince myself that football no longer holds any real element of surprise. That everything has been done, or at least that the sparkle has faded in some way and been replaced by cynicism. And at the final moment, just when all seems to be lost, it saves itself. The story begins.
Brazil. The land of blue, green and gold. As in the flag, as in the colours of the national football team, as in the azure Atlantic Ocean, the vast Amazon rainforest and the sandy stretch of the Copacabana. We associate with it maybe the vibrancy of the carnival, the untold tales of the favela and, of course, the beautiful game. Jairzinho, Rivelino, Ronaldinho… Such romantic names, each syllable rolling off the tongue elastically. And every four years, we are told that millions of Brazilians are gripped to the edge of their seats for a month. After all, the weight of history gives them reason to believe.
But what of the domestic game? The names are equally exotic – Flamengo, Fluminense, Palmeiras… Just a breeding ground for European giants, the dismissal reads. Nevertheless, Brazilian club football inspires huge swathes of devotion across the nation. There must also be plenty who shun Corinthians, Internacional, Santos, Vasco da Gama. And they must all support those Spanish or Italian clubs that will inevitably lure their national heroes or famous old names from these shores?
You could be forgiven for thinking that any football-related prose regarding a 15-year-old Brazilian in this day and age must be referring to some extravagantly talented teenager with an eye for goal and a beeline for Arsenal or Chelsea. Gilmar Siqueira, however, is a bit different. While he does support Chelsea, he also supports Southend United. From his hometown of Jaboti in the Parana state, around 400 kilometres west of Sao Paulo.
There are two more of these strange, wonderful characters. Gustavo Rodriguez is a year older than Gilmar and lives in Caxias do Sul, further south towards Porto Alegre. He supports Juventude and Hull City. The oldest of the trio is 17-year-old Santos and Leeds United fan Lucas Leite from Passos in the Minas Gerais state, directly north of Sao Paulo inland. Together, they run Football League Brasil – essentially the Brazilian equivalent of The Seventy Two, focused on the very same clubs that adorn this site rather than the lower leagues in their own country.
While not fluent in English, Gilmar can get by. Far more comfortably than I can in Portuguese, certainly. And his phrasing is often accidentally more beautiful than anything I could conjure up myself, particularly when he says that Football League Brasil “is almost a year of life”. He may well mean that the site is a year old, but the possible alternate meaning – that it is a labour of love upon which he has spent many hours – is something that certainly strikes a chord.
I asked Gilmar why the soft spot for Southend.
“I started to cheer for Southend recently”, he says. “Even more when I met the exciting story of coach Paul Sturrock.”
I am delighted and intrigued in equal measure by this statement. He continues:
“Then I discovered a deep team, and moreover, each time I like best.”
I ponder whether I could stumble across an ability to relay the Portuguese language in such a fascinating way. Doubtful.
Gustavo and Lucas also have their reasons for following two Yorkshire rivals. Gustavo once watched Derby County during their disastrous Premier League season several years ago and became enamoured with Craig Fagan, who Gilmar confidently states as being Derby’s only good player at the time. When Fagan moved on to Hull, Gustavo read up on the history of the Tigers and now considers himself a supporter of the club. Lucas, meanwhile, saw a video from the Leeds heyday of the 1970s and has followed the Elland Road side’s fortunes ever since. The three all long to visit England, not solely to visit the likes of Old Trafford and Anfield but to see their respective Football League clubs in action.
Whereas the Football League Show may receive criticism in this country, it is a lifeline for these three young Brazilians, enabling them to watch all the goals each weekend from the Championship, League One and League Two. Practically all of which they will already have broadcast on Twitter. There is something truly magical about this service, two recent examples being:
“O Northampton vai tentar cancelar a expulsão de Abdul Osman. O meio campo de 23 anos foi expulso contra o Port Vale, no último sábado. #L2”
“GOOOOOOLLLL…do Norwich! Mais uma virada sensacional nesta rodada, Grant Holt faz 2×1 sobre o Reading! #Championship”
Every strike, it seems, no matter how unglamorous, is greeted with the traditional elongated cry associated with Brazilian commentators. When juxtaposed with names like Stockport and Rochdale, it takes on a very surreal new perspective.
Their friends think they are, to quote Gilmar, “completely nuts”, but Football League Brasil has been well-received by Brazilian football fans and journalists alike. The language barrier may prevent similar growth in this country for now, but it would be a hard-hearted individual who could not take any joy from the sheer enthusiasm, not to mention extraordinary hunger for knowledge, of the three teenagers. There are ambitious plans for a weekly podcast in the future.
The final word is Gilmar’s, in answer to the question of which three clubs will win the respective divisions that make up the Football League.
“We find that three – QPR, Brighton and Chesterfield – started well and opened a good advantage. And even with the problems, remain the leading candidates to win the Championship, League One and League Two.”
I couldn’t put it better myself.