Honouring Jogo Bonito’s Scottish rootsComment on this story
Rio de Janeiro - Brazil may be the most successful international team in footballing history - but they have not forgotten their Scottish roots.
Those roots run deeper than many fans may realize.
For while the story has been told of how Charles Miller, son of a Scottish railwayman, brought organized matches to Sao Paulo, less known is how the game took off in Rio.
“That was largely down to Thomas Donohue, who we've just honored,” explained Clecio Regis, artist and sculptor whose statue to the Glaswegian dye expert was unveiled outside Rio on Thursday.
It's well documented how Miller returned to his Brazilian-based family in 1894 with two footballs and the rules of southern English regional association Hampshire in his suitcase.
Miller, who would become acting British vice-consul, promptly founded Brazil's first league in Sao Paulo state in 1902 and is generally seen as the “father of football” in Brazil.
But Donohue's role in setting up makeshift matches several months before Miller oversaw Sao Paulo's first formal games has earned him a towering statue on the site of the factory where he and his associates worked.
Whereas Miller enjoyed high society connections in Sao Paulo, Donohue was a dye worker from Busby, a village on the southern outskirts of Glasgow.
On May 4, 1894, seeking to improve his lot, he set sail for Brazil to work in the factory at Bangu, a western satellite city of Rio.
According to local historian Carlos Molinari “he had no connections,” and the factory owners were suspicious when he started organizing matches for the workers.
Molinari's investigations into the history of FC Bangu, founded in 1904, coincided with research by Richard McBrearty, curator of the Scottish football Museum.
“Cross references showed Thomas Donohue was a pioneer of football in Rio. We contacted Bangu and moved on from there,” McBrearty told AFP.
“You can understand the rivalry as to who was first (Miller or Donohue). We mustn't take anything away from Miller, who was the first to regulate the game and set up leagues” in Brazil.
“But I think Thomas Donohue is very interesting. He was a humble engineer and did not have any patronage.”
Donohue's main achievement was in contrast to the Sao Paulo league he did not exclude black players.
When Donohue arrived, “slavery had only been abolished a few years earlier so black people were still very much on the lowest rung in Brazilian society.
“So Bangu were pioneers; they made the sport more inclusive. That would take a number of years in Sao Paulo,” said McBrearty.
Aidan Hamilton, a writer and expert on South American football and the British influence on the embryonic game on the continent, said both men deserved their place in Brazilian football history.
“Miller's role is undisputed,” Hamilton told AFP.
“It's not about comparing the two. I see Charles Miller as organizing the game in Brazil.
Miller Hamilton noted “is arguably one of the first players to have a skill named after them” - the chaleira or backheeled pass.
“What is significant about Donohue is that football became incorporated into the activities of a factory - it was the beginning of the democratization of the game in Brazil. Certainly Bangu can take credit for beginning the process of black Brazilians being included.”
Donohue's son, Patrick reputedly scored the first bicycle kick goal in Brazil playing for Bangu, “where he was a real star, as he scored goals by the hatful,” Regis told AFP after seeing the statue unveiled at what is now a shopping center but where the factory workers once played.
“The first recorded instance of a ball being kicked in Brazil - that's what we have here,” said a proud Regis, who is also vice-chairman of Bangu museum.
“After all the talk about Miller we felt we had to do something to mark the story of Donohue, which we feel is hugely significant,” chairman Benevenuto Neto told AFP of the Scot who died in the city in 1925, 31 years after stepping off the gangplank of the S.S. Clyde.