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  • 11/24/2004

Charles Miller

father offootball inBrazil

November 24,1874

After ten years spent studying inEngland, Charles Miller returned to the country of his birth Brazil and was amazed that no-one knew how to play football. He educated the nation and his legacy still lives on, explains Ben Lyttleton.

The birth of football inBrazil can be traced to 1894, the year 19-year-old Charles Miller disembarked at Santos port clutching two footballs. On the long voyage to Brazil, Miller had been practising his ball skills, dribbling from one end of the ship's deck to the other. His Scottish father John, a rail engineer based in São Paulo, had sent him to English boarding-schools for a decent education. All Charles had learnt in his ten years away were the rules of football.

"What have you got there, Charles?" said John when he saw him on the dockside for the first time. "My degree," came the reply. "Your son has graduated in football."

Miller was amazed that no-one else knew the rules and, once the cricket season was over, divided friends and colleagues into two teams and taught them how to play. The first game, between expatriate employees from railway and gas companies, took place on land where the mules that pulledSão Paulo's trains grazed. One journalist wrote in 1896: "It gives them great satisfaction or fills them with great sorrow if this yellowish bladder enters a rectangle formed by the wooden posts."

Miller himself said: "The general feeling at the time was, 'What a great little sport, what a nice little game." Within six years, the Brazilians were playing the game alongside the English elite. "I was asked to referee a game for small boys, which was 20-a-side," Miller said. "Even for this match about 1,500 people turned up."

The British community inBrazil was numerically small, but they exerted a large influence on the country's development - bringing railways and bank loans as well as football to the country. Within ten years, the game was popular as a private hobby of the rich white urban elite and among gangs of poor black youths: by the 1910s, football was Brazil's most popular sport and Rio had more pitches than any other South American country.

And so what happened to Charles Miller? He had been a talented left-winger and even played for St Mary's FC, a forerunner ofSouthampton. After retuning to Brazil, he worked for the São Paulo Railway and the Royal Mail Line, before starting his own travel agency. He also watchedSão Paulo grow from a small town to a vast metropolis and his wife, Antonietta Rudge, became one of the greatest Brazilian pianists.

Miller has not been forgotten inBrazil. His memory lives on in football terminology - his famous trick of flicking the ball up with the heel lives on in as it is now referred to as a 'chaleira', after 'Charles'. He has also been immortalised in a street name in central São Paulo which is now called the Praca Charles Miller.



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