The cradle of Brazilian football

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Miller, around a month shy of his twentieth birthday, was returning home to his native São Paulo having spent the previous eleven years as a scholar at Banister Court School in Southampton (pictured right). It was an ideal place for sporty youths, being a muscular Christian establishment, and young Charles was certainly a sporty youth.

He excelled at athletics, cricket and football and his name starts popping up in sports reports in the local press (four newspapers were being published in Southampton when the town’s first daily, the Southern Echo, was launched in 1888).

Aged fourteen, Miller graduated to the Banister Court side during the second half of the 1888-89 season. It is worth bearing in mind that the first XI was selected from masters as well as pupils and such was the status of some of the teachers they were obliged to compete in the Hampshire FA Senior Cup. St Mary’s, then emerging as Southampton’s most popular club, confined themselves to the Junior Cup up until 1890-91.

“Ariel”, of the Southampton Times & Hampshire Express, in summing up Banister Court’s1890-91 season, pronounced: “The game is not played prettier anywhere in the district than it is at the Court. I say ‘prettier,’ in preference to ‘better,’ because teams with higher records would naturally claim to be better players.”  Their record was, all the same, impressive given the youth of many of the team; they scored 70 goals in 24 matches, winning 14 out of 24.    

Now Hants FA Senior Cup holders, St Mary’s kicked-off the 1891-92 season with a trial match on 19 September. Miller was selected for the B team at inside-left, and his schoolmate Frank Ellaby (the headmaster’s kid brother) was in the halfback line. The Southampton Times reported: “The weather was inclement, which mitigated against a large ‘gate’. The A’s kicked-off, but the B’s soon secured the ball, and taking the ball up past Carter, Miller sent in a shot which Fry failed to stop.”

“Carter” being George Carter; Saints’ skipper and widely reckoned the best defender in the County. The B’s eventually lost 7-5, with Miller conspicuous in the terse dispatches. Although he had caught the collective eye of the St Mary’s committee, Miller’s first loyalty remained to the courtiers, who finished the ’91-92 season in triumph when the Courtiers’ B team defeated St Mary’s A 4-1 (one goal against one corner) in the annual six-a-side tournament at the County Ground on April 2. Miller lead the attack and the goal was kept by Cambridge cricket and football blue, Corinthian and future double England international L.H. Gay.  

A few days later Miller was back in a Saints’ shirt, making his first team debut against the army select side Aldershot Division. He scored in the 3-1 victory. I cannot find a description of the goal. This appears to have been a particularly tame end of season affair.

Just two day after that the Corinthians, including L.H. Gay, pitched up at the County Ground to play the Hampshire FA, with only ten men. Banister Court School not only abutted the Hampshire County Cricket Club’s headquarters, the pupils were allowed access to its facilities, often playing their home cricket and football fixtures there, so the local FA officials did not have to go far to ask Miller if he fancied a game, assuming that he was not already on the ground.

The Corinthians were a distinctly upper-crust lot, predominantly if not entirely Oxford and Cambridge university men, assembled with the intention of maintaining the influence of “gentlemen” in England’s international side. Strictly amateur, they played regularly against top professional clubs and they usually won. Corinthians defeated the Hants FA 1-0. Miller was far and away the most prominent presence in the Echo report – probably because he was the only Corinthian the reporter could recognise by sight – in a side the featured the likes of Gay; Charles Wreford-Brown; C.B. Fry and, the most famous centre-forward of the era, G.O. Smith.        

Over the following two seasons Miller established himself in the Hants FA XI (inter-county football was a popular draw at the time) and continued to make the occasional appearances for the Saints as they began recruiting professional footballers.

The climax of Miller’s Saints career came over Easter 1894. He was selected to play in the Hampshire County Cricket Club Charity Cup, an invitation tournament in which all the matches were played at the County Ground.  He featured in two matches against the Lancaster Regiment, a 2-2 draw, on April 18, and the replay on the 21st, which Saints won 3-0. The final was a 5-0 defeat of the 15th Company Royal Artillery. Miller, who played on the left wing, was not one of the scorers.  

Two days later, at the same venue, he lined up, again at outside-left, against Stoke, of Football League Division One. Miller had been one of the side that had lost 8-0 to the same club at the same venue a year before. Ariel had pronounced that the crowd, whose knowledge of football up North was confined to newsprint, had “thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.” Saints lost 3-2 on this occasion. The local press were quick to point out that Stoke were not playing their strongest XI.

At this time St Mary’s were lobbying to become founder members of the Southern League and fully embracing the prospect of becoming fully professional. Meanwhile, Miller, who was the Banister Court football secretary decided to stand for the committee of the Hants FA. A rumour was also circulating that he would sign on for Saints’ greatest rivals Freemantle during the summer.         

He appears to have found work locally, and it would seem that short term at least Miller’s plans were to remain in Southampton. We can be sure that he was not planning a career as a professional sportsman, he was, after all, one of the “patrician class” – even if it was one of the ex-patriot patrician class but, supposing he could inveigle himself into a well paid profession, a life as a gentleman sportsman would have appeared attractive to a young Victorian. His headmaster, Christopher Ellaby regarded him as a potential county class cricketer as well as an exceptional footballer and, to underline the fact, when MCC & Ground played against Hampshire at the County Ground during the summer of ’94 Miller was recruited to substitute for an absentee.

If St Mary’s ever regarded him as a potential Southern League player we will never know. They already had Herbert Foster Ward on the books as an amateur and, during the summer recruited Stoke’s versatile Charlie Baker and left-winger Fred Hollands of Millwall Athletic (as Millwall were then named), and at 5’ 6” Miller, despite his dash and impressive skills, was regarded by some as being too slight for the county side.  

Unexpectedly, Miller did not get onto the Hants FA committee, St Mary’s and Freemantle, in a rare example of unanimity, colluded to ensure each other’s candidates were elected. Was Miller in anyway put out by this?           

Whatever the case, on  Friday 5 October, the day before the re-named Southampton St Mary’s played their first Southern League fixture, at the Antelope Ground against Chatham, Miller boarded the SS Magdalena with two footballs and a copy of the Hants FA rulebook in his baggage.  



A meeting of Hampshire FA club secretaries 1894, Charles Miller is

the one wearing a boater seated extreme right.

Charles Miller, with St Mary’s FC, April 1894, seated extreme left

First published Sunday 15 June 2014

I've never sailed the Amazon,

I've never reached Brazil;

But the Don and Magdalena,

They can go there when they will!

Yes, weekly from Southampton

Great steamers, white and gold,

Go rolling down to Rio

Roll down – roll down to Rio!

And I'd like to roll to Rio

Some day before I'm old!

I've never seen a Jaguar,

Nor yet an Armadill –

He's dilloing in his armour,

And I s'pose I never will,

Unless I go to Rio

These wonders to behold –

Roll down – roll down to Rio –

Roll really down to Rio!

Oh, I'd love to roll to Rio

Some day before I'm old!

Rudyard Kipling, The Beginning of the Armadilloes.

The October 1994 edition of Brazilian soccer magazine Placar celebrates the centenary of football: From Charles Miller to the World Cup – which Brazil had won the previous summer in the USA.

The first game of football in Brazil, history attests, was between employees of the São Paulo Railway and the city’s gas works on the 14 April 1895. The game was organised by Charles Miller, who worked for the railway company. There had been previous games of football in Brazil, what sets this one apart is that it had consequences.

Charles, following a decade at Banister Court School in Southampton, had returned to his native São Paulo the previous October, during Brazil’s cricket season, and being a keen and accomplished cricketer he had joined the São Paulo Athletic Club. Set up by British ex-patriots in 1888, SPAC was a general recreation club, but in the first six years of existence nobody had thought to add Britain’s “winter game” to its activities.  

Further matches were played among the SPAC members. Some, far from all, locals became curious. Other footballers arrived from abroad; some of them European, others Brazilians who, like Charles, had been educated in Europe. Teams were organised.  By 1901 there was enough interest in football for inter-club matches to be staged in the local velodrome (competitive cycling having already gained an audience thereabouts). On 19 and 20 October 1901 representative elevens from São Paulo, captained by Charles, and Rio de Janeiro played each other for the first time at SPAC’s Consolação ground. Both games were draws. Nil-all and 2-2.   

Brazil’s first football competition was launched in 1902: the Liga Paulista de Foot Ball. The principle architects were a Swiss educated Brazilian, Antonio Casimiro da Costa, and Charles Miller – Miller taking the lead in refereeing, organising other referees and getting the rules translated into Portuguese. Five clubs, all of them somewhat exclusive institutions, were SPAC; Clube Athletico Paulistano; Associação Atletica Mackenzie (an American run school); Sport Club Germania; and Sport Club Internacional.

The first season ended with SPAC and Clube Athletico Paulistano playing off for the title at the Veledrome on 26 October and SPAC winning 2-1. Charles scored both goals. He was also the league’s top scorer, with ten strikes.  The crowd was estimated at 4,000. The names of the SPAC players, the first Brazilian football champions, make for interesting reading one-hundred-and-twelve years on: W. Jeffrey; G. Kenworthy; A. Kenworthy; N. Biddell; Wucherer; Heycock; H.S. Boyes; Brough; C.W. Miller; Montandon; Blacklock.

The following season SPAC and Paulistano played-off again for the championship. SPAC prevailed 2-1 once again. Miller did not figure among the goalscorers, and the decider was an own goal.

As in 1902 and 1903, the Liga Paulista 1904 was decided between SPAC and Paulistano. A single Miller goal settled the issue and gifted them Casmiro da Costa’s trophy in perpetuity.  Thereafter, SPAC’s fortunes as a competitive football club declined as more Brazilians, many of them from social and economic backgrounds that would exclude them from membership of the original Liga Paulista clubs, got involved with the game,

Suffice to say, Miller remained an active sportsman into his veteran years, and a revered figure in São Paulo sporting circles; among the increasingly insignificant ex-pat community at least. His last noteworthy public appearance in a football stadium came on 25 May 1948, when he kicked-off a match between São Paulo and his old club Southampton FC (called St Mary’s when he played for them).   

Rex Stranger, the director travelling with the Saints, noted in his dispatch to the Southern Daily Echo: “As a special compliment, Charlie Miller, who was one of the first English footballers out here and is a well known character and who was connected with the Saints in 1894 and 5 [sic], kicked off.”  What Miller, who was by now a retired man of business and the former British Consul for the region, would have made of that depiction is anybody’s guess.

Charles Miller died on June 30, 1953. Josh Lacey writes: “The following afternoon, as the funeral cortège walked past the Pacaemu Stadium, the referee blew his whistle and halted the game. Fans and players stood in silence until the hearse had passed.”     


First published Monday 7 July 2014


 with Antonio Casimiro da Costa’s trophy, the

historian of Clube Atlético São Paulo (SPAC).

ABOVE: Charles Miller, man about town.

SPAC, Liga Paulista champions 1902, 1903 and 1904

 Books consulted for this section: Charles Miller 1894 * 1994 Centenánario: Memorium S.P.A.C. by John R. Mills (Price Waterhouse, São Paulo, 1996); An Entirely Different Game: The British Influence on Brazilian Football by Aidan Hamilton (Mainstream Publishing, 1998) and God is Brazilian: Charles Miller, the man who brought football to Brazil, Tempus, 2005) .

St Charles

Samba; Cristo Redentor; Ipanema beach, curvaceous young ladies in brief bikinis; Copacabana beach, curvaceous young ladies in briefer bikinis playing beach volleyball: yes! That was the World Cup! In Brazil!

The whole thing proved to be a massive embarrassment to the host nation, “the spiritual home of football”, but there can be no argument that for the last 60 years they have regularly produced players and teams everybody (with the exception of the FA) wants to see emulated. Brazil made the game its own, refining it into something the respectable British gentleman who first codified it in 1863 would find hard to recognise as their creation, but such is the case.

Back in the 1920s, when the Brazilians decided to fix the date when the Beautiful Game was brought to their shores, they did not pick the formation of their football association, a first match, or the formation of the first club, they chose October 1894, because that was when Charles Miller disembarked from the SS Magdalena at Santos with two footballs and, legend insists, a Hampshire FA rulebook in his luggage.