Brazil’s Football Roots and Its Debt To Scotland

Brazil owes a debt to Donohoe for giving them football (Image from PA)As Brazil hosted the world this past summer at World Cup 2014, few in the country spared a thought for Scotland who failed to qualify. The Scots had a torrid campaign that started poorly under Craig Levein only to finish on a brighter note thanks to a turn around by new coach Gordon Strachan. Scotland have failed to reach the World Cup on the past four tries with the last one (France 1998) a fading memory. But Scotland were  represented at the summer tournament with every kick, not through current player participation but instead through Brazil’s footballing history. After all, it was a Scot who brought the beautiful game to their shores many years ago.

Thomas Donohoe - the father of football in Brazil  (Image from Archives
Thomas Donohoe – the father of football in Brazil
(Image from Archives

The name of Thomas Donohoe will mean little to many except for a select few and now anyone who happens to walk past his statue in western Rio de Janeiro. It was Donohoe who in the early 1890 introduced Brazilian texile factory workers to football and not as many claim Charles Miller who is wrongly seen as the father of the game in the country. Yes Miller was the first to organise a match between two teams on Brazilian soil in April 1895 but that was eight months after Donohoe’s kick around at the factory. Credit is still due to Miller for taking the initiative and establishing the countries first league shortly afterwards but Donohoe official holds the title as the father of Brazilian football, following his six a side match months before. Born in Glasgow, Donohoe started his career aged 10 following in his father’s footsteps by joining the print works, working as a dyer. Some years later with limited opportunity and a now expanding family (wife and two boys), Donohoe started to look outside of Scotland for a new job that would be more financially rewarding. He found that the Latin America textile industry was booming but running short of workers so decided to set sail for Rio and new opportunities. Leaving his wife and kids behind, Donohoe landed in Brazil and immediately found a job as a master dyer at a new textile factory in Rio. Settling into life in this new country, Donohoe quickly established himself with the local expat community and was shocked to learn that football did not exist in Brazil. It was this that motivated him to write to his wife, telling her and the boys to join him in Brazil but to also bring a football when they came. She arrived shortly after and it wasn’t long before Donohoe had organised the countries first match on a pitch next to the factory. Football was born, going from strength to strength over the next 100 years.  

A bronze statue of Donohoe has been erected in Bangu  (Image from Getty)
A bronze statue of Donohoe has been erected in Bangu
(Image from Getty)

Donohoe’s role in creating football is not questioned by historians or fans of Miller but what is questioned is what consititued as the first game. Many believe that the six aside match that Donohoe organised was not a real match and that Miller’s eleven aside match only a few months later was, making him the father of football. But for Clecio Regis (who has built a bronze statue in Donohoe’s honour) and historian Carlos Molinari, they believe that his match was legitimate and are fighting hard to get it fully recognised by the BrazilIan FA. The claim is backed by Scottish Football Museum curator Richard McBrearty who has confirmed the validity of Donohoe thanks in part to the British census of the time. Data from the 1891 census has confirmed that Thomas Donohoe, originally from Busby near Glasgow, Scotland arranged Brazil’s first organized football match. This has been confirmed further by historians in the Bangu region of Brazil, where the game took place. Brazil kicked off the tournament against Croatia in Sao Paulo, less than five hours away from where that famous game took place. It was another chapter in Brazil’s footballing history which started all those years ago by a Scot who simply wanted to play the beautiful game in his new homeland.

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