Taken from Issue 11 of The Football Pink
URI LEVY looks at the Brazilian club who led the way in racial and social integration during the country’s difficult modern history.
Football fields are not simply grounds for sporting competition. They are also for clashes between a society’s periphery and centre powers. But who determined which one of the two is the periphery and which is the centre? Often, large football businesses overwhelm peripheral football talents, and literally own footballers, traditions, game strategy and more. However, there are a few small clubs that have made a lasting impact on the greater football and sports world.
Mario Zagallo, Flavio Costa, Aymoré Moreira and Ademar Pimenta are part of an exclusive club of coaches. Most Brazilian football addicts would be able to tell you that all four coaches are key figures in the sizzling football scene of Rio de Janeiro and that they all previously coached the Brazilian national team; but the detail that most people miss, yet is perhaps more revealing about their careers, is that all four esteemed coaches played for a small, marginal club from the suburbs of Rio – Bangú.
Post-colonial football and the suburban factory community football club
Bangú is the name of a neighbourhood in the west zone of Rio. There are various explanations for what ‘Bangú’ means. In Tupí, the Brazilian indigenous language, Bangú means “a black wall”. During the 16th and 17th centuries millions of African slaves, who were deported to the region, landed in Rio de Janeiro’s. In their slang, Bangú originated as the sawdust of sugar canes which were stored in warehouses all over the suburbs of Rio.
There is dispute regarding how the neighbourhood came into being. At the end of the 19th century, British industrialists and entrepreneurs arrived in Rio de Janeiro as part of the economical British colonisation of Latin America. One of those companies, Companhia Progresso Industrial, established a British textile factory in the neighbourhood of Bangú.
Along with the increased industrialisation, the British imported to Brazil another notable icon of self-proclaimed ‘Great’ Britain – football. Executives and employees who came from Europe and settled in Brazil brought the game along with them; Bangú was no different.
The people running the textile factory in Bangú looked for a sport to keep their British employees excited and have a joint relaxing social activity. The first team of Bangú included five Englishmen, three Italians, two Portuguese, and only two local Brazilians.
Bangú was far from Rio’s developing cosmopolitan centre at the beginning of the 20th century. This isolation led the British managers to hire more black and mulatto Brazilians for a variety of roles at the factory. With the job, the locals also discovered the game and quickly picked up the ball and started dribbling. Bangú was the first team to field black and mulatto players in Brazil. On May 14th, 1905, in a friendly match against Fluminense, substitute player Francisco Carregal made his debut as the first black Brazilian to participate in an official football match.
Historian Thomas Skidmore studied racial relations in Brazil. He describes the processes that paved the way to the abolition of slavery and underlines three central factors: Brazilian society’s multi-racial classification system; the social role of the mestizo mulatto; and the Brazilian government’s ideology of ‘whitening’. All of these barriers were implemented in order to prevent the social peripheries to break into the mainstream. In Bangú, the club’s directors decided to try something else.
Bangú was an anomaly in its time. By giving blacks and mulattoes a chance to play, the club disobeyed the strait social norms of its time and cultivated a new society based on liberal values, representation and equality.
Even the seating arrangement at their ground was different and helped in shaping the club’s culture. There was no separation of fans in the stands, on the benches or on the grass. It was literally one flat surface. Families and friends of the workers/players, alongside neighbours who lived just by the pitch or the factory, attended the matches and formed a fan group that transcended social and racial divisions and slowly, Bangú became the symbol of the developing new working class of Rio’s suburbs.
As the popularity of the game and the team grew among the industrial town’s residents, the factory management decided to promote football as the plant’s bon ton. They began to use football for instilling discipline and values for the employees, and to encourage the workers’ identification with the factory, the company and the community. By encouraging white and coloured workers to play together, in a different atmosphere seen at other companies in Brazil, their level of commitment for the club and factory was inspiring.
After the club joined Rio de Janeiro’s first division, the Campeonato Carioca, the club’s fan base expanded extensively and the team became more famous than the factory it was representing.
Pink Mulattoes with a British touch
This model, of a factory team that is identified with an area or a city, spread across Brazil among the richest clubs from the country’s major centres. European companies who managed enterprises in Brazil began to invest in football clubs in Rio and São Paulo in order to provide the clubs’ growing communities with values of local pride, loyalty for the community and sports. In a way, they tried to gain the same impact that football had on the Bourgeois youth of Britain at the beginning of the 19th century, when the game started booming. The club’s first uniform, the ‘red and white stripes’, were inspired by the British. Red was the colour of St. George, the patron saint of England, and also the colour of the British workers beloved team, Southampton. The English club has its uniform adorned with two red roses and one white.
From the very beginning, Bangú had those British elitist values pinned to its logo. The club’s crest was designed and painted by one of the plant’s directors, Portuguese José Villas Boas. The letters A, B and C stood for the club’s official name: Bangú Atletíco Clube. Beyond the initials of the team’s name, the interpretation of the letters represents the club’s values and pillars. The letter B was painted as a pair of pince-nez glasses, which were very common then, and symbolised the intellectual and social aspects of the club; the letter A, which was drawn as a painting easel, is symbolic of the artistic and cultural side of the club; the letter C, shown as a horseshoe, signified the sporting success and the values of sport. Society, Culture and Sports, were inscribed on Bangú’s flag since its very first steps.
During the 20th century’s early years, Bangú competed only in the Campeonato Carioca. The club bounced between the first and the second divisions of the Rio de Janeiro championship. In 1911 and in 1914, Bangú won the second division title, but other than that did not leave a significant mark with its sporting achievements.
In 1929, Bangú gained the peculiar nickname “The Pink Mulattoes”. The story behind this nickname fits the club neatly. Many of the club’s players were mulattoes and blacks. The uniform was red and white, but since the quality of the shirts wasn’t great, when – during games – the players sweated, the colours would run into each other and turn the shirt pink. There is an urban legend that says a rival club president, who negatively called Bangú a “Creole club”, referred to the old social habits of the white Brazilian elite’s behaviour towards their coloured workers. The club president at the time, Antonio Pedrósa, answered: “Creole club? No. A Pink Mulatto club? Maybe”. This comment by Pedrósa, whether actually said or not, illustrates the fact that in those years, Bangú had firmly established its cultural identity in the changing Brazilian society.
A pretty girl for a totalitarian regime
In 1933, three years after the rise of Vargas’ dictatorship, Bangú won its first Rio de Janeiro championship. The team, made up of mulatto players from the neighbourhood itself, were renowned for their attacking style of play, overcoming bigger clubs such as Vasco da Gama, América and Bonsuccesso, and in the final they defeated Fluminense 4-0.
In 1947, the club’s stadium, the Estadio Proletario Guilherme da Silveira Filho, was built. Still in use today, it has a capacity of 9,574 seats and is commonly known as Moça Bonita (‘pretty girl’).
Two years after the military coup of 1964 and the fall of Joao Goulart’s regime in Brazil, Bangú qualified for the Campeonato Carioca final for the second (and last) time in its history.
In front of 120,000 spectators, in a boiling atmosphere at the Maracanã, Bangú faced Flamengo in what turned into a massive brawl between the two teams. Eventually, the Pink Mulattoes gained a 3-0 victory over the bigger rival, and captured the state title of 1966.
The symbolic significance of this win, during the dictatorship era, is unique.
A club which was based on black and mulatto players represented an accepting and supportive approach towards minorities. The fact that Bangú achieved such prominence at that time served the Brazilian military dictatorship nicely. The new regime aspired to silence any public opposition to the social and racial structure it had installed in the country, and to refute any claim against the ‘whitening’ process of Brazilian society. Therefore, some may assume, Bangú did not succeed accidently or by chance. The dictatorship in Brazil wanted to be associated with an icon like Bangú, because of its values, its players and the colour of their skin. They embraced it in same way they did with the Brazilian national team success at the 1970 World Cup.
The Beaver Years
In 1981, many fans criticised the club’s uniform for being characterless and pointed out that the issue makes it harder for the club to compete with the bigger clubs in terms of recognition and branding. As a response, the club’s sponsor at the time, Castor de Andrade, selected a mascot – a beaver.
The beaver was the first animal mascot in Brazil, a gimmick which all the biggest clubs in the country imitated thereafter. Even today, on the left side of their shirts, there’s the club’s traditional logo, and on the right side – a black beaver. Coincidentally or not, the word for ‘Beaver’ in Portuguese is Castor.
The logo has become an integral part of the club’s character, whilst also serving to honour its great patron, Castor de Andrade himself.
Castor’s dominancy in Bangú was absolute. It was so total, it was intoxicating. For the club and himself.
He was one of the pioneers and leaders of the Jogo do Bicho (Animal Games). These gambling games were very popular in Rio de Janeiro during the seventies and eighties. The phenomenon was illegal in Brazil, but thanks to a culture of bribery and corruption and the interests of various parties in power, it continued to exist. De Andrade was a Bichiero, a director of these games in Rio de Janeiro.
Castor learned the trade as a child under the tutelage of his mother. He used to mention this fact occasionally in order to underline the fact that the Jogo de Bicho were in his blood. At his peak, de Andrade employed hundreds of police officers, public officials, local politicians and judges as part of his semi-legal businesses. The Bicheiro phenomenon typifies the eighties in Rio de Janeiro. The trade was illegal, but widely accepted and known about. Everyone used to play and gamble; from construction workers and policemen, to legislators and politicians. The authorities knew who controlled those games but did not stop the business from proceeding.
The bicheiros were celebrities. They were interviewed on national television and were popular even though the game was illegal. Their conduct was selfish. They were rogues (malandros in Portuguese) – they cared for nothing but themselves and were not afraid to express it openly. They were mafia-like, making a living from the grey area between the legal and the illegal. The bicheiros publically invested money in football clubs. The biggest bicheiro of all was Castor de Andrade, and the biggest bicho club was Bangú.
De Andrade’s impact on Bangú’s development as a football club was huge.
During the time he sponsored the club, Bangú climbed to its highest professional level and became a famous club in Rio de Janeiro. There are some assumptions that Castor made deals with the Brazilian football association and government in order to foster success for his team which, in turn, would have benefitted his Bicheiro businesses. Politicians, celebrities and important social figures used to attend Bangú’s matches just to be seen next to Castor. The players called him “Padre” (dad) while he used to pay them in cash and the club’s president would consult with him on any subject. When Castor’s businesses went well, the team succeeded. When the roulette wheel went against him, the club scored less goals.
Castor’s legacy is preserved in Bangú’s history, and even today he is considered as the ‘Eternal Patron’ of the club. Nevertheless, opinion is divided as to whether his influence on the club was positive or negative.
During the nineties he was arrested and imprisoned several times on charges of running illegal businesses, but thanks to his connections within the authorities, he was released on home detention. Appropriately, his heart stopped beating during a card game at a friend’s house and he died in 1997.
The transition to democracy goes through the Maracanã
Brazil started its slow transition towards democracy in 1983, but the military dictatorship only officially came to an end in 1985. The shift took place relatively smoothly and was marked by the government’s attempts at handling the economic disparities between the rich and the poor, a serious economic crisis and rocketing inflation. The socio-economic reality of those years directly and indirectly impacted on the complex race relations between whites, blacks and mulattoes in Brazil. Just months after the fall of the ‘Junta’ regime, Bangú reached its all-time supreme achievement.
In June ‘85, the team qualified for the Brazilian finals – the Campeonato Brasileiro – against Coritiba, a club founded by German immigrants in the city of Curitiba in the State of Parana, from southern Brazil. Unlike Rio, Parana was considered then, and still is now, a region with a high percentage of white population. The racial difference between the social identities of the two clubs added symbolism for the prestigious encounter.
During that season, Bangú played attractive football under the guidance of coach Moisés, with a team made up of blacks and mulattoes. They achieved impressive results against established clubs like Vasco da Gama and Internacionál of Porto Alegre.
The final was played at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, in front of 91,527 spectators. Fans of the big teams in Rio (Flamengo, Vasco da Gama, Fluminense and Botafogo), arrived and supported Bangú against their “white” rivals from Coritiba.
The atmosphere in the stadium was like a typical Rio carnival. While local residents cheered on their neighbourhood team, for a moment it seemed that for a single evening, Bangú had transcended its traditional industrial suburb, the periphery, and had entered the heart of the entire Brazilian nation.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie and went to a penalty shoot-out. At 6-5 in favour of Coritiba, Bangú’s Ado stepped to take a decisive penalty and missed it. To the disappointment of its fans and players, Bangú lost on penalties to Coritiba, a loss that still hurts them to this very day.
From the ‘hood to the Maracana and back
After this final, the club participated unsuccessfully in the Copa Libertadores for one campaign but then gradually sunk down the leagues, unable to reproduce the great season of 1985. Since the early 2000’s, the club has operated mainly in lower league football of Serie C or D. In 2008, Bangú won the Carioca Second Division Championship for the last time.
Bangú Atlético Clube, was born as a recreation solution for the workers of a textile factory on the periphery of Rio de Janeiro. For years it obtained its values and culture from European workers, who were integrated into the emerging community of the neighbourhood around the plant, and in particular, around the club. The club’s officials subscribed to the battle against racism in the club motto, in the early years of “The Old Republic” (1889-1930) in Brazil, where racism was not defined as such, but was a normal perception and a given state of mind.
In hundred and eleven years of existence, Bangú have not achieved many impressive titles or won a ton of silverware; they have not become a permanent member of the mainstream, and their name does not stand alongside the biggest and most influential clubs of either Rio de Janeiro or Brazil. In retrospect, the club can be seen as a mirror for various transitions in Brazilian society. From the post-colonial British influence, through to race relations, various regimes, corruption and changing social attitudes.
Bangú actually was a trailblazer in Brazilian history.
The club’s journey since its establishment is a breakthrough for the original periphery from where it came – for mulattoes and blacks, for a working class in formation, and for the developing community life.
Should a small football club that deeply influenced the sport’s culture in the country be treated as “peripheral” just because of the social group it is representing, its sportive achievements, or its geographical location?
Bangú is challenging the definition of ‘periphery’ and ‘centre’ as we know it, confronting the relationship between both, and illuminating the seen and unseen parts of Brazilian racial, social and economic history.
URI LEVY – @Levyninho