Saints tour of Brazil in 1948 was part of the preparations for hosting the 1950 World Cup, or Jules Remit Trophy as it was back then.
The Southampton party regarded it as something of a missionary exercise. Not a lot was known about South American football in the United Kingdom, none of its Football Associations, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, had ever taken foreign football seriously and had snubbed invitations to participate in the 1930, 1934 and 1938 World Cup competitions.
Saints disembarked from the RMS Andes in Rio de Janeiro well fed (the strict rationing that had survived the war-years did not apply at sea), under-trained and with the expectation they were about to give the natives an education. Full-back Bill Ellerington confessed to David Bull (author of Dell Diamond: Ted Bates’s first 60 seasons with The Saints): “We hadn’t a clue what to expect”. For starters, they did not expect to train on a practice pitch equipped with what travelling director Rex Stranger described as “special night-light equipment”, made available to them by Botafogo. Given the heat and humidity even Brazilians trained after sundown.
The party were taken to see a professional match. The consensus was, “Ooh, isn’t bad, this; yeah, we’ll do alright here.’ With half-back Ted Ballard thinking it was “a load of rubbish … we’ll paralyse them”.
The first match was against Fluminense. Winger Eric Day: “They walked all over us”. Ballard:
They were all footballers in the team – eleven footballers which British football never used to be then. You played the position you were in. We had full-backs who were good kickers of the ball but couldn’t beat a man to save their life. And that was playing for England, as well … It was an entirely different game. They paralysed us.
David Bull adds: “this skill and technique was backed up by off-field preparation and resources, with training that Ted Ballard found ‘very hard – very tough; very deep’. In fact ‘they were right up-to-date with everything they did. First aid. Oxygen … that’s how far Brazil was in front of the world’.”
Saints lost 4-0. A score made respectable (sort of) by skipper Bill Rochford’s ability to organise the offside-trap, a tactical ploy strange to their hosts.
There were mitigating factors, other than the fact the Brazilians were technically better footballers. Travelling director Rex Stranger, who sent regular air-mail missives to George White, the sports editor of the Southern Daily Echo, pronounced in his letter of 22 May, following a 3-1 defeat to Botafogo, that the temperature was 90°F (32° centigrade), and the humidity at 90%. “They say that in England we never get humidity above 35.”
Nevertheless, he was under no illusions as regards what his players had experienced:
All we have heard of the Brazilian Football is wrong. Their ball control is better than any team in England, and nothing short of the best international team is any good to send out here. You see, their pitches are perfectly level and the condition of the ground is always exactly the same, that is, hard, so that whenever they are practicing they do not have to contend with varying conditions of ground – sometimes soft, which results in always having the opportunity to practice passing with precision. Also they are every man in the team greyhounds. The defence is as fast as any forwards, very strong, can kick from any angle with both feet of the ground. They also have the knack of falling on their back and kicking the ball over their head, both at goal and the backs also in clearing their own goal.
Every man in the team is running the whole time. When one of their men has the ball, there are at least 2 others running into the open spaces to receive it. Contrary to what we have heard, their shooting is very good, and not confined to shooting within the 12 yard line. Further, they play a clean sporting game whenever they have a good referee like George Reader.
Deftly Hallowed will have more to say about George Reader and his presence in the Saints’ party in due course, and more of Rex Stranger’s impressions. Suffice to say, for the present, that Saints played eight games in Brazil between May 16 and June 13, won two; drew one; and lost five.
First published Sunday 15 June 2014
First published Wednesday 25 June 2014
ABOVE: Bill Ellerington, Ian Black and Bill Rochford in Brazilian kit. Note Black’s padded lightweight goalkeeper’s jersey. Most British goalkeepers had their wives or mums knit them one.
England have experienced yet another disappointing World Cup. The hunt for scapegoats is on. Wayne Rooney is in many peoples’ crosshairs, but I cannot see how he, or even Roy Hodgson, can be seen as responsible for a failure that has been repeated, with one exception, every four years since 1950.
As noted elsewhere in Deftly Hallowed, Saints undertook a tour of Brazil in 1948, led by Southampton FC director Rex Stranger. Our lads did not exactly cover themselves in glory but Stranger, a former mayor of Southampton, sent a lively succession of letters to George White, the Sports Editor of the Southern Daily Echo. Snippets of the missives made it into print, along with terse news agency match reports, but few of Strangers’ impression of Brazilian football and its culture made it into print: luckily, the correspondence survives in the Echo’s archives. Well, it was still there in 1994 when I came across it.
The first letter was sent from the Luxor Hotel on May 11.
My dear George,
The boys arrived all very fit and well, and all survived the attentions showered on them (in more ways than one) crossing the Line. [Editor’s note: for those of you unaware of sea-lore, those crossing the Equator by sea for the first time are obliged to undergo an ordeal – a rite of passage.] As you perhaps heard on the wireless, we had a wonderful reception wading through tons of coloured streamers after nearly two hours of interviewing and being photographed on board.
Having been settled in the Luxor Hotel, “right on the Copacabana”, and more interviews, a reception at the British Embassy and much else, the Southampton party visited the stadium of their hosts Botafogo.
All the football clubs here have wonderful Club Houses attached. The Botafogo has two dance floors with full catery (sic) day and night. They also have a wonderful sailing clubhouse as well as running tracks, etc. We are agreeably surprised at the condition of the pitch … there is more grass on it now than there was on the Dell when we left, but of course the ground is harder. We are trying out a special light football boot.
Tomorrow night we are practicing by the special night light equipment just installed by Botafogo Club. …
All the major football stadiums in Brazil had floodlights by this time. The only sports venues illuminated by floodlights in the British Isles were greyhound stadiums.
After a 4-0 defeat by Fluminense, Saints lost 3-1 to Botafogo, under floodlights. “… it was much cooler”, conceded Mr Stranger, writing on May 22. However, the pitch was hard, “and the bounce of the ball also different. Our boys are always jumping slightly too soon and having to bend backwards.”
All we have heard of Brazilian football is wrong. Their ball control is better than any team in England, and nothing short of best international team is any good to send out here. You see, their pitches are perfectly level and the condition of the ground is always exactly the same, that is, hard, so that whenever they are practicing they do not have to contend with varying conditions of ground … which results in always having the opportunity to practice passing with precision. Also they are every man, an in the teams greyhounds. The defence is as fast as any of the forwards, very strong, can kick from any angle with both feet off the ground. They also have the knack of falling on their backs and kicking the ball over their head, both at goal and the backs also in clearing their own goal.
Every man in the team is running the whole time. When one of their men has the ball, there is at least 2 others running into the open spaces to receive it. Contrary to what we had heard, their shooting is very good, and not confined to shooting within the 12 yards line.
Further: “These Brazilians all practice jumping, and height for height, their men beat ours every time.”
He continued to enthuse about the local football in his letter of May 24. “They are all athletes and gymnasts as well as first class foot-ballers.
I don’t think I mentioned it before, but Brazilian teams live actually in quarters on the ground, secluded from the outside world for four days before a match. And they devote themselves to individual training, breathing exercises, gymnastics, with great emphasis on jumping at suspended balls, sprinting and really first-class massage, and marvellous food. They have oxygen at half-time.
Obviously, Rex Stranger was impressed, as were the players, but how much filtered through to Saints’ League performances? Were any of Strangers’ impressions discussed a board level? Manager Bill Dodgin was certainly a progressive, but nothing of particular note appears to have been learned from the experience.
Portsmouth and Arsenal toured Brazil in 1949, got slightly better results than the Saints, and also failed to revolutionise football when they returned. Brazil hosted the 1950 World Cup and England slipped home in ignominy having lost to the USA and Spain. As it happened, the competition was a disaster for the hosts too, losing to Uruguay in the final game.
Brazil took the defeat very seriously. Among other reforms, they went as far as changing their colours from blue and white to green and yellow. England plodded on. They continue to do so. Brazilian footballers remain more skilful, more athletic, and harder working than English players, their training methods and medical supervision more scientific. The Saints are, happily, an exception, but most English coaches would still probably mistake Rex Strangers’ musings for science fiction.
ABOVE and TOP: Saints at Fluminense. Rex Stranger kneels
Saints aboard the RMS Andes, above left.
The good honest British football boot, circa 1948. Play soccer in slippers! I should cocoa!
When I first began researching the life of Charles Miller, back in 1994, I came across the photograph (below) of him kicking-off the match between the Saints and São Paulo in May 1948, watched by Ted Bates (extreme left), Charlie Wayman, referee George Reader and George Curtis. Not much was made of the event at the time, in Brazil, and none at all in Southampton, nonetheless, I dropped Ted Bates a line at The Dell hoping he might recall something of interest. He was kind enough to send me the letter reproduced below.
A fitting introduction, I thought, for a re-presentation of material on Saints’ 1948 tour of Brazil.
I am particularly indebted to the Southern Daily Echo, who were kind enough to let me research in their archives at the time and since (it is a pity that the present editor has so little respect for what was a tremendous facility), Hagiology and, far from least, Aidan Hamilton.
Saints training at Botafogo’s training ground in Rio de Janeiro. Left to right: Bill Ellerington, Eric Webber, Frank Ballard (wearing the host club’s black and white striped shirt), and George Smith.
SUNDAY 13 JULY 2014
This evening’s World Cup Final will be sans any Saints – not one of the seven who headed for Brazil after completing the season at the Kath Arena made it past the last sixteen. To date only one old Saint has made it to a World Cup “final”: George Reader, a fifty-three year-old Southampton schoolteacher, who refereed the final and deciding game on the last occasion the World Cup finals were held in Brazil.
The year was 1950 and George also officiated the opening game of the competition, a 4-0 victory for the host nation over Mexico at an uncompleted Maracanã Stadium. Spectators made their way to the match through a building site, clambering over scaffolding and rubble searching for un-blocked entrances.
Brazil took to the field with a twenty-one-gun salute, an impromptu firework display staged by the crowd; the release of 5,000 pigeons; balloons and a blizzard of leaflets dropped by a plane. Nobody ever bothered to ask what George did during all this.
The championship was decided by the winners of the four qualifying groups: Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay competing in a mini-league. It was initially regarded as a happy coincidence that the final fixture, Brazil versus Uruguay at the Maracanã, on Sunday July 16 , would be the decider. Uruguay, the underdogs, had beaten Sweden 3-2 and Spain 3-1, while Brazil, having beaten them 7-1 and 6-1, needed only a draw to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.
Back in 1920 Saints had signed George for the grand sum of £50 from Exeter City. A native of Nuneaton, he had been in Exeter studying to become a teacher. After making three appearances for Saints he returned to teaching in 1921. He played non-League football before taking up the whistle and blazer, making quite a reputation for himself controlling prestige matches during World War Two, including two “War Cup” finals as well as “internationals”. After the War he began refereeing international matches in Europe.
George came to the attention of the CBF (The Brazilian Football Confederation) in 1948. As you can read elsewhere in Deftly Hallowed (here, here and here) Saints toured Brazil that year and, during the negotiations, when Saints director Rex Stranger suggested including a referee of George’s distinction in the tourists’ party, the tour’s sponsors responded with enthusiasm.
Mr Stranger, wrote to George White, the sports editor of the Southern Daily Echo, from the Luxor Hotel, Rio de Janeiro on 22 May, with his impressions of Saints 3-1 loss to Botafogo. “I am so pleased with myself that I suggested to the sponsors of the tour that we should bring George Reader with us. He is an outstanding success. Indeed, he has covered our failure. As one Brazilian paper put it ‘George Reader won the game that Southampton lost.’”
George refereed every mach of the tour and so taken with him were the CBF he was offered a job to improve refereeing and officiate matches. A job he declined. However, as Aidan Hamilton chronicles in An Entirely Different Game: The British Influence on Brazilian Football (Mainstream Publishing, 1998), English match officials were subsequently recruited and proved a success.
George’s association with the Saints continued. He joined the board in 1952 and was Chairman between 1963 and his death in 1978 – an interesting time to be associated with the Club.
As for the 1950 World Cup Final, it ended in tears. Following Brazil’s latest elimination from the World Cup – the 7-1 humiliation in Belo Horizonte – most commentators insist that the 2-1 defeat by Uruguay will remain the more traumatic result.
This is not place to disinter Brazilian skeletons, suffice to say, in the succeeding sixty-four years blame is still widely and generously apportioned, but nobody has seen fit to blame the man-in-black.
Not that George Reader was accorded any credit for his performance outside Brazil. I can find no mention of that Final in the Southern Daily Echo during the following week or George’s part in it. The Times (BELOW) had one of the more comprehensive Final reports, which appeared at the bottom of page seven of the Monday 17 July edition, beneath a brief account from Hamilton, New Zealand of a “Rugby Football” game between the “British Isles” and “a combined Waikato-King Country-Thames side”.
George Reader as seen in the Saints’ programme.
George Reader (right) calls time as Brazil (in white) attempt to equalize from a corner.
George Reader’s World Cup medal and ID Card, as seen in a trophy cabinate at St Mary’s Stadium.
Thank you to Southampton FC©
On the morning of 29 April 1948 a party of fifteen Southampton FC players accompanied by Manager Bill Dodgin, trainer Bill Warhurst, director Rex Stranger and referee George Reader, boarded the RMS Andes at Southampton Docks and set sail for Rio de Janeiro. Their intention, as Brazil readied itself to play host to the 1950 World Cup, was to teach the natives a thing or two about the noble arts of England’s “winter game”.
As it transpired, it was not the Brazilians who got an education.