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Pele, Ronaldo and Miller

He may not be a household name worldwide, but in Brazil Charles Miller will always be considered a soccer hero.

October 02, 2005|From Associated Press

LONDON — They're some of the greatest names in Brazilian soccer -- Pele, Zico, Ronaldo, Charles Miller.

Charles Miller?

Born in Sao Paulo of a Scottish father and English mother, Miller was educated in Britain but returned to Brazil in 1894 carrying his soccer boots, two balls and a book of rules. He set out to teach the locals how to play the game.

Five World Cup titles later, Brazil is still saying thank you.

"He's very famous in Brazil," said Gilberto Silva, who was on Brazil's 2002 World Cup winning team and now plays in England for Arsenal.

"Most of the people know about the man who introduced football to Brazil, although I didn't know he was born in Sao Paulo. I've watch some old videos of Charles Miller in Brazil. He loved British football and I think he created a very good mixture of British football and Brazilian football."

The story of how Miller introduced soccer to Brazil is recounted in British writer Josh Lacey's book, "God Is Brazilian," which was released last week in London. Lacey describes how Miller's parents, who met and lived in Sao Paulo, sent their 9-year-old son to England so he could get an English education.

Miller also became an accomplished sportsman, especially at soccer, and played for what later became the pro club Southampton and the amateur club Corinthians. At 19, he took a boat from Southampton back to Sao Paulo.

"His luggage," writes Lacey, "contained eight items that would change the course of Brazilian history -- an air pump, two football shirts, a pair of football boots, a book of rules and two footballs.

"Now, hardly more than 100 years later, Brazil is the undisputed ruler of world football, winning the World Cup with infuriating regularity, producing an endless stream of players who make the rest of us look like lumbering loons."

The book quotes Sao Paulo newspaper O Imparcial's description of Miller being met by his father at the dock. Instead of holding a school degree, his son was carrying a soccer ball in each hand.

"What is this, Charles?" said the father.

"My degree," his son replied. "Your son has graduated in football."

Miller was amazed to discover no one else shared his love for a game already well established back home in England.

"The expatriate community retained many British customs -- cricket on Sundays, afternoon tea at four, visiting cards on silver trays -- but not football," Lacey writes. "Charles had found his mission. He summoned old friends, divided them into two teams and explained the rules."

At the book release ceremony, Lacey told The Associated Press that, initially, the average Brazilian didn't get a chance to play the game Miller imported into Sao Paulo.

It was played by ex-pat Brits who wouldn't let anyone else take part.

"Because the British people out there were along the lines of Victorian gentlemen, there were a lot of overtones of the Empire and they really weren't very keen on non-British people playing to start with," Lacey said. "Then they let Europeans play and then kind of posh Brazilians."

Miller formed teams and set up a small league and it was then, Lacey said, that the local Brazilians took notice.

They formed their own teams and began playing at a local cycling arena. The soccer games became so popular that the cyclists had to move out.

According to the book, Sao Paulo became "gripped by a lust for football" and, as the town grew into a big city, the number of soccer teams increased dramatically with local youngsters taking up the game.

With Brazilians frustrated by a long wait for soccer balls from England, local shoemakers were persuaded to start making them.

The first truly Brazilian soccer team, Paulistano, joined the Liga Paulista that also included Miller's Sao Paulo Athletic Club, and the two teams wound up tied in points at the top of the standings in 1902.

They decided to stage a playoff and, watched by 4,000 fans -- all but 100 of them Brazilians -- Miller scored two goals in a 2-1 victory.

"As the sport's foremost missionary," Lacey wrote, "Charlie was now a famous figure in the city."

Miller died in 1953, five years before Brazil won its first World Cup and a 17-year-old Pele first made his mark with two goals in a 5-2 victory over Sweden.

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