2018-06-29 23:29:14 UTC
Hartman de Souza (***@gmail.com)
remembers two World Cups in Kenya and the
history they brought with them while he
battled adolescence. This is an extract from the
book 'Stars Next Door' by the Australia-based
former 'Daily Nation' (Kenya) journalist
Cyprian 'Skip' Fernandes.
I knew there was something called the World Cup courtesy an
eccentric mother who kick-started a thick scrap book
dedicated to football, to get me to start reading the
newspaper. I was ten years old, and lived in Mombasa, on the
coast of Kenya.
In it, my mother had gummed various newspaper and
magazine articles and features on football. In 1960
when she handed it to me to continue, the last
entry was her exhaustive coverage of the World Cup
in Sweden in 1958, with reports of every one of the
qualifying rounds and all the international
friendly matches leading up to it. The very last
clippings were news-items and commentaries talking
about the next World Cup in Chile, in just two
My tasks were cut out. Armed with a dictionary, I may have
been one of the first ten-year-old kids in Kenya if not the
so-called Commonwealth, to discover Brian Glanville, a very
bright and daring football columnist; a man who still writes
about the game as if it was the only pleasure worth pursuing.
I spent days and nights reading and re-reading my scrapbook.
I replayed countless matches in my head so that I could
tinker with them and change the results. I always changed the
results in my head, so logically the teams I supported always won.
I kept that scrapbook going with gummed clippings denoting
anything and everything to do with football in Kenya and
anywhere else in the world if it appeared in print and caught
my beady eye. No magazine or newspaper was safe from me. The
executive committee of the library and reading room at the
Goan Institute, Mombasa, for instance, was never to find out
who mysteriously cut out articles and news reports on
football from all the papers -- and then, to cap impudence,
chop up the football-related pages of papers and magazines
from England that came a good week or so later...
That scrapbook was duly pasted and updated and read and
analysed until 1963 ended, and I was uprooted from Mombasa
and moved to a small town called Embu in the foothills of
Kiri Nyaga -- 'The-Mountain-where-God-Lives', a sacred tribal
space that the British for reasons best known to them,
listlessly named 'Mount Kenya'. The town of Embu banished the
Indian Ocean from my head. I saw the mountain every single
morning that was free of cloud, standing tall and coal-black
with its sharp, jagged, gleaming summit. We lived in a house
with a huge lawn. The only saving grace was the formerly
'Whites Only' Embu Sport Club with its wood- panelled bar,
two dart boards, a table tennis table, three tennis courts
and a squash court. I learnt to play ping-pong, tennis and
squash with my dad, but life, as such, was shit for a
thirteen-year-old. I remember having no friends my age to
play football with. I ended up kicking a ball against the
side of the house; and in sheer viciousness, used it to bomb
my mother's rose plants...
The point of this pre-ramble is to note that life has
'changed' to the point, where in these merchandised days of
comfort, children have no need not take a circuitous path --
regardless how virtuous -- just to know that something called
the World Cup exists.
Take Pune where many, many moons later, I now live.
Not even fifty years ago, Pune was part of a poor,
pretentious, so-called socialist-inclined 'Third
World' country that rubbed shoulders with other
'Third World' countries like Kenya. You will recall
that countries in the southern hemisphere those
days banded together against hegemonic tendencies
and threats they rightly perceived coming from the
prosperous Western -- or 'First World' as it was
Now that everyone has agreed such divisions either do not
exist, or, if they do, then do not matter, or indeed, whether
the world has actually become less polarized, more inclusive
and more equitable, is neither here nor there! What one does
know with some certainty, in 1967 Pune was very much a 'Third
This part of the road I stand on introducing Pune, for
instance, was so far outside city limits, you had to catch a
State Transport bus from the railway station, and travel a
large part of the distance on a mud road. College students
came here for picnics on a Sunday because the area was known
for its guava plantations, its vegetable and rice fields, and
its many streams and springs.
These were yet to be either choked under garbage, or allowed
to deteriorate into open, festering concrete-lined canals to
carry waste water and sewage into one of the two main rivers
that flow through the city with thick, frothy, foul-smelling
dark water, their passage checked with small islands of
The hills on the southern side of this broad road were once
actually covered with trees, and below them villagers, with
excellent irrigation facilities, were still growing and
harvesting one or more of five grains twice a year. None of
the hills had been cut and hacked to make space for block
after block of concrete buildings with a "hill view" -- all,
ironically, three quarters empty because they've been bought
as a 'second' or even 'third' investments by people only too
willing to wait out the time when rates will go through the
roof, and as a result of which, they will be able to lead
even more comfortable lives.
Today, this area is an integral part of Pune and has, well,
'changed'. It is a part of a scenario with its attendant
pimples, warts and waste we will all get to see as we head
towards realizing the current Prime Minister's pipe-dream of
"a hundred cities blooming". In front of me, is a stretch of
concrete layered over what was once just good farmland with
the rich, almost black soil so native to this area.
In some stray plots here and there, a farmer waits for the
prices to go still higher before he too sells to buy SUVs for
his two sons, even though he still ploughs his field with an
old tractor and sows yellow maize, brinjal, onions, tomatoes
and bhindi; then, with his wife and children, bringing his
produce to this very same road I stand on, to sell.
This entire area and more was part of the dream project
fuelled by the infamous Suresh Kalmadi, well-known politician
turned freelance 'infrastructure consultant'. It was Kalmadi,
who brought the Youth Commonwealth Games to Pune, cutting a
highway through here to bring in 'development' and lead to
the huge stadium -- not even two kilometres away as the crow
flies. Hand in hand with the powerful real estate lobby
Kalmadi opened out another part of the city to link it to the
highway between Bangalore and Mumbai, on the other side of
the pitch. This was his 'dress rehearsal' you could say, for
what he was later to do when he took the senior, more
prestigious Commonwealth Games to New Delhi in order to milk
them -- which he did very well indeed.
On this broad 'bypass' that Kalmadi created, is now a slick
'delicatessen' that sells you Parma hams, varieties of Kenyan
and Australian beef, lamb from New Zealand, dark roasted
Colombian coffee beans, Heinz products and any one of twelve
different 'organic' pasta sauces from all over the world to
go with an equally stunning array of Italian, Turkish, Greek
and Israeli pasta. Vegetarians get to choose from different
types of frozen, flavoured, marinated tofu made from soya
bean curd that's been tempered with a touch of Monsanto.
There's a selection of soft sticky Japanese rice; seaweed in
four varieties; and sauces, marinades and several flaming
wasabi mixes that set your nostrils ablaze just looking at
You want something you see or read about in the glittery
pages; like at any one of ten or twenty or whatever outlets,
you ask for it, they'll get it for you, ordering it on the
net even as you provide the details. At the kerb, outside, on
any day of the week, you can see any one of fifty really
swanky cars in India that cost anywhere up to 5 crore rupees.
The change is predictable. On Sunday morning, relishing the
dhoklas, fried chillies and sweet-sour-hot tamarind sauce,
the right-wing columnists will come out to bray the same old
platitudes: So good for the GDP, encouraging of
entrepreneurship, driving the middle class to have more
aspirations, to dream, to buy more, to keep the wheels
turning, our chance to wave the flag and rule the world...
The only amusement I get when I walk past with my dog is that
he doesn't give a hoot about either class or aspiration.
He'll pee on the pavement and just as easily pee on the
150,000 rupee right rear tyre of the new Indian-owned,
English- made Jaguar.
I mention this road because as the media began its calculated
and fevered countdown to Brazil 2014 -- ten minutes of old
badly curated clips of matches regurgitated in a studio in
Singapore or Mumbai, followed by fifteen minutes of ads using
football to hock whatever product imaginable -- I remember
standing on this road in Pune that epitomizes the way life
Standing on that road, ruminating on life, I saw, coming out
of the swing-through glass door of this posh multinational
grocery shop a young, prosperous, and somewhat breathless
Indian mother, in her late twenties, early thirties. She was
as good an example as any of those young Indians who welcome
the 'change' we see around us -- even though, oblivious to
all but her, she needed some serious walking on footwear
other than the four-inch heels of the patent leather designer
shoes she tottered on.
She carried an eco-friendly shopping bag in her right hand,
even as she struggled to lift her smart-phone to her ear,
ending the call whining, "What could I do, yaar? He sent the
car for me ten minutes ago...I know...and I told him ten
times at least this morning. I'll be there, na? Soon, yaar"!
She blew a loud kiss at the phone and switched it off after
she rapidly read her 58messages, and replied to one. She
stood there, swaying like a badly loaded skiff, listing badly
leeward to keep her crafted leather bag from slipping off her
right shoulder even as she dangled the shopping bag. With her
left hand, fingers and wrists sparkling with jewellery, she
tried to pull her small son towards the rear door of her
swish car, where the door was being held open for her by a
chauffeur in gleaming white uniform, and peaked cap, wearing
what looked like her husband's white hand-me-down Adidas
Her son, maybe four years old or so had a small Nike
football gripped under his left arm, while he tried to free
his other hand from his mother's grip. He was tough this kid.
He made her do a crazy dance; one tottering step towards the
door of the car, two tottering steps back to him.
"I want to kick my ball," he insisted. He wasn't shouting or
throwing a tantrum. He was articulate, confident and firm; a
kid who knew what he wanted. "Just one kick, I promise..."
"No", she replied, "I've told you ten times already, we're
late...you can't understand English??"
Even as she said this, she stole a glimpse of herself in the
tinted glass of the door the chauffeur held open, bending a
bit and turning her head from one side to the other to see if
her hair was in place. She yanked the kid, but he stood his
ground with a side-on action, one foot in front of the other
-- and leant back transferring his weight, pulling her forward
even as he struggled to wrench his hand away and grip his
ball. A very balanced kid, you would say at first glance.
"Oh fo," she whined. Given her high heels and ballast, she
was anything but steady and wobbled in a semi-circle around
him. By now there were at least ten pedestrians who had
stopped or slowed down to watch the kid and her so I willed
her to have a gentle but indelicate fall -- not to hurt
herself or anything, just collapse like a large air mattress,
softly falling to the ground with a great whoosh of air.
Instead, she yelled to her driver to take the shopping bag
and her phone which he promptly did. Now she's going to thump
him I thought, so I willed the kid to kick her on her shin --
which, taking me totally by surprise, he did quite stunningly
-- taking a tiny step back and letting her have it just above
the ankle. There was no doubt in anyone about this kid's
ability to kick a ball. His mother almost but not quite
toppled back, drawing a high-pitched squawk that stuck
between shock and anger in her open mouth.
Before I could will him what to do next, she recovered to
give him an almighty 59thwack on his head with her meaty
palm, a clout alas, that took the fight out of him. His tiny
ball dropped to the pavement and bounced towards me. The kid
was beaten and the poor guy knew it. He was so concussed he
couldn't even cry. I gave him back his ball.
"Say thank you uncle," his mother said sternly, her voice
nasal and grating, her finger waving like a teacher's stick.
"Thank you uncle," he whispered between tears.
Loudly say it she screeched in Hindi. "Thank you uncle," he
promptly repeated. He caught my eye before she poked him
through the door telling him exactly what she was going to do
to him if he ever did that to her in front of other people.
With his eyes the poor kid said to me: "Just look at the shit
I got to go through when all I want to do is kick a ball".
I shrugged my shoulders, turned my mouth down, and looked him
straight in his tear-filled eye.
"Welcome to the real world, kid," I told him telepathically.
Who knows, maybe he'll even get to play football before he
sits for an entrance exam to join some level of useless
schooling or the other. He wore blue shorts, tiny little
matching Adidas sneakers with three white stripes slanted
down, and a bright-yellow Nike-embossed Brazil top with
green-and-blue trim, the number '10' and the name 'Neymar
Jr.' on his back.
What I can say with some certainty is that in 1960, on the
ghastly playground of the Goan High School, Mombasa, where we
played, there was no merchandise either surrounding or
influencing the game 4 played by ten-year-olds.
That was to come from 1961 or so onwards when a
well-known sugar-laden soft drink, as part of its
sponsorship of the game in Africa, began to send
free cases of their brew to school football teams
to gulp after practice for a good two years -- in
return for stocking it, at supposedly discounted
rates, in school canteens and tuck shops. That's
where they first rehearsed for the moment they were
then ready to trumpet to the world in the 90s, that
they were doing us a favour and we were actually
beholden to them for drinking their bottled cola.
In less than two weeks of doling this out free to school
football teams who made drinking it sexy, this global
behemoth had hooked thousands and thousands of school kids to
associating playing a strenuous game of football with
quenching your thirst. They were so good at it, by the early
60s, on the British Armed Services Radio Station that beamed
from Nairobi with a very popular announcer called David
Dunlop 5 , they had Ray Charles and then Diana Ross and The
Supremes singing "Things go better with Coca Cola, things go
better with Coke" in four-part harmonies that made our hair
stand. We played football and we drank Coke... life was
simple. The insidiousness of soft-drink strategies apart, in
1960 none of us had boots in primary school. We played with
bare feet, if it was on grass -- like at the football ground
of the Goan Institute, Mombasa, or with Bata canvas shoes if
it was on the muddy, sandy, stony surface of the school
ground. Best were Sunday picnics to the beaches outside the
island of Mombasa, where sons played in teams with or against
The boots for younger people were also part of a
merchandise that emerged in or around 1962, when
Bata in East Africa began to produce them: leather
boots with studs made from round bits of leather
nailed. Periodically, players filed off bits of the
nail where the studs had worn out.
(This style of boot was not unlinked to a major revolution
that had taken place two years before we turned ten, and
which all of us were blissfully unaware of. In the early 60s
we were not to know that the first boots we ever saw in the
Bata shop window were replicas of English football boots that
themselves were modelled on heavy hard-capped army boots that
came past the ankle. Two years before that, unknown to us
then, a magical team of Brazilian players was to discard
these for dancing shoes).
We just played football every opportunity we got, sometimes
with a real ball and sometimes with an old tennis ball. It
was not uncommon walking back from school to kick around a
stone between ourselves. We were all sweaty and dirty and
scuffed our leather shoes and tore out shirts and got whacked
for it, but life was all very simple, uncomplicated,
passionate and totally class-determined at the primary school
level. The guy that brought the ball along got to be captain
and pick the side against which the others could play.
More importantly perhaps, there was also a real, lived
history that linked us to the game; it was very much a part
and parcel of our everyday lives. Every school I can think of
while growing up in Kenya had a large playing field and there
were always kids playing football. When I was in primary
school, we had a games period every single day and even
stayed on after school to play. The sacred cow called
'homework' only beckoned after six and before dinner. Between
the hours of 2.30 and 6, we were either reading a book
because we were not allowed to go out and play, or we were
playing football. We badgered our mothers for money to go to
a film, but harassed our fathers to be taken to a football
Kids like us played the game as we tried to imitate the moves
of local players we actually saw playing every weekend in
Mombasa. This may have been a far more symbiotic process than
having the game first 'endorsed' by a nondescript Bollywood
actor with muscles in his mouth selling the game with the aid
of a deodorant spray or whatever. Football was still
football. It hadn't yet become a game that could be cynically
Taking lessons from Madison Avenue in the 60s, today's
advertising agencies have perfected the spurious art of
selling to ten-year-olds and taken this to many levels.
Today, consciences as clear as bottled spring water, they now
target privileged 16-year-old kids with stubble and give them
the balls to pretend they're 18 so that they can chill out,
quaff a few beers 'responsibly', and watch a live telecast of
a game played in Brazil beamed to them because it is
'powered' by a bad whiskey posing as mineral water;
'sponsored' by a deodorant; and 'in association' with
fibre-rich biscuits or peach-flavoured face bleach, or
whatever it is that people need to buy to keep this economy
As the 50s ended and the 60s began, football was still real
A few years before Kenya got its independence, at a time when
many Goans still thought of themselves as 'Portuguese'
subjects and not 'Indians' -- because that's what they were
prior to the December of 1961 -- there were about six to eight
teams in the First Division league in Mombasa. Matches were
played at the Municipal Stadium in Mombasa. It had a football
ground that to any ten-year-old appeared as beautiful as the
lush baize of a billiard table.
If you were ten years old and knew your football, you
supported one of two teams that topped that league every
alternate year. The best team in Mombasa as the 50s were
coming to an end was undoubtedly 'Feisal', a team that played
with dark blue shirts in league games, and with all-white
with a blue trim when they reached the finals. Feisal was
supported by those Kenyans of West Asian origin who had
intermarried and settled on the coast, and who were mainly
Muslim by religion. Over time, they were known as the
Swahili, a people who had no problems being Kenyan, given
that its national language, in fact, was born and nurtured
among them and those who lived on the islands off the East
African coast. They just wanted to be seen as 'different' and
football gave them more than enough opportunity to play in a
style distinctly their own and construct their own identity.
There were some great football stars in Feisal and they all
featured in my scrapbook: Ali 'Sungura' or Ali 'Rabbit', a
fleet-footed winger working from either flank, who danced his
way down the wing, then cut into the penalty area and headed
for goal, darting and wiggling and jumping till he rounded
the keeper and bulged the roof of the net with the ball. Then
there was Ali Kajo who played at the centre, who had no
dribbling skills whatsoever, because as everyone knew, he was
lazy and hated to run. The rest of the team just fed him the
ball as he grudgingly ran to the edge of the penalty area,
where if it was given to him on the plate, two to three feet
from his right leg, he could kick it so sweetly it would fly
five feet off the ground and even burst through the older
fraying parts of the net. The crowd would go wild even as the
ground staff rushed to darn the net.
Both were products of the mixed marriage Swahili
found along the coast, Muslim by birth and faith,
but dark-skinned and with crinkly hair. If Ali
Sungura won the penalty, hacked down in the area as
he danced his way through, it was Ali Kajo who took
the shot because the whole world knew that the
goalkeeper would quake. Between both the 'Ali Boys'
as they were called affectionately, was a player
who was their fulcrum, who created all the chances
and space for them: His name was Jimmy Linden, an
expatriate manager from Scotland in his late
twenties who worked as a technical manager at the
local cement factory at Bamburi, bang next to the
big and very popular public beach now jam-packed
with resorts that have divided and colonized it.
Same place we once played football at picnics.
Jimmy Linden was short, had blond spiky hair, and was very
nimble playing as a right-side forward, drawing everyone's
breath with the felicity of which he placed the ball ahead
and jumped over the beefiest of tackles. He came for every
match driving a now defunct German two-stroke car, the DKW (a
car made by the Auto-Union company that many years later,
after declaring bankruptcy, was to morph into the Audi). He
drove it into the stadium always accompanied by his
blond-haired wife and their blond-haired son, and was a great
hit with Feisal supporters. His nickname in Kiswahili was
'Baberu' or 'White Goat', a term commonly used to describe a
white man, but in this instance used with great affection and
love restricted as it was to his football skills.
Linden was also an exception because he was the first player
in Mombasa to wear the new, light Brazilian-inspired,
better-studded boot that Puma had started manufacturing.
Barring a few players who had moved to lighter English made
Gola boots with leather studs, all the other players were
barefoot, using thick white elastic anklets that left the
toes and heel free and protected the soles. These were
stitched onto stockings that were folded just below the knee.
Ali Sungura, Ali Kajo and Jimmy Linden were given the freedom
and space to move by a great half back called Ahmed Breik, a
tall, gangly, fair skinned player of Omani origin with a
squeaky voice who could make the ball stick to either of his
feet. Six and often seven players of the Feisal team,
including the Scotsman, Jimmy Linden, made it to the Coast
Province team to play the Remington Cup, the trophy pitting
Kenya's provinces against each other. Jimmy Linden, Sungura,
Kajo and Breik were also capped by Kenya in internationals of
Interestingly, Linden was not the first white-skinned man to
play for Mombasa or Kenya: that distinction went to Mauro, an
Italian who played goalie in a team of expatriate Italians
from Mombasa and Nairobi (families of those who stayed behind
in Kenya after they were captured in North Africa and
Ethiopia and held prisoner in Kenya). They called themselves
Juventus and even played in those familiar black and white
stripes. The 'All-White' Kenyan 'Juventus' were given
training facilities at one or the other of the posh 'Whites
only' sports clubs in Mombasa and Nairobi that played more
rugby and cricket.
Just after Kenya's independence, in fact, one more person
without colour was to play for Kenya. His name was Duncan
Erskine, a fantastic goalkeeper who may even have played
professionally in England. At that time he was serving in the
Scots Guards regiment stationed just outside Nairobi to
ensure the natives didn't stage a leftist coup or whatever...
I supported Feisal for very clear reasons. They had
a fabulous goalkeeper called Dodoma, who was a very
big hero of mine; there was a girl I was sweet on
at that time who was also a Feisal supporter; and
my sworn enemy at that time in the Standard V,
supported Feisal's fierce rivals, the number two
team in Mombasa, 'Liverpool'.
Like their English counterparts, Liverpool wore red and white
uniforms. They were a team owned by a consortium of local
businessmen of West Asian, Indian and Pakistani origin who
just loved the game and wanted nothing more than to win the
local First Division league and crow in the bars with their
many supporters how good their team was. One of the
distinguished players of this team was a Goan, Albert
Castanha, nicknamed 'Paka', Kiswahili for 'Cat', who was
capped by Kenya several times. He joined two other Goans from
Nairobi who made it to the Kenyan team: Oscar Rebello, an
amazingly athletic goalkeeper, and Lucas Remedios, an elegant
and commanding midfielder who also captained Kenya. While my
mother taught me to think about football, my father showed me
what it actually meant. He had played football for his
school, college and university in India, but was also a very
well-known football referee in Kenya. He was president of the
Coast Province Referees Association, and later something or
the other in the Kenya Referees Association and worked
closely with the Kenya Football 64Association. So there was
quite a bit of him in my scrapbook too, given that he
organized the first 'strike' of referees demanding protection
against crowd violence after one of the referees was attacked
after a match. Those were pre-yellow and red card days with
matters left to the discretion of the referee. When the
strike was resolved he still had the balls to kick out four
players, two from either side, in a match between Feisal and
Liverpool to stamp out as he said violence on the field of
play that later moves to the stands. The next day's sports
pages carried the headline in bold, with dad's photograph:
"Mombasa's referees will not tolerate rough play," says
Referee de Souza.
Thanks to him, I got to see just about every 1st Division
match played at the Municipal Stadium in Mombasa, including
the Gossage Cup 6 when it was held in Mombasa. This was a
British-instituted trophy competed for by Kenya, Uganda, and
the former Tanganyika and -- since the revolution hadn't
happened yet that would create a new country in East Africa
called Tanzania -- the then tamed and disembodied island of
Zanzibar, once the summer capital of the Kingdom of Oman, and
in the early 60s ruled by Prince Jamshed Abdullah, descendant
of a dynasty that once ran a flourishing industry trading
slaves from Africa.
My father refereed quite a few international
matches, the most memorable being in the early 60s,
when the Ghanaian national team, the famed 'Black
Stars' (so named because they had a black star on
the back of their yellow shirts) played Kenya at
the stadium in Nairobi, as part of the Republic Day
celebrations. By now everyone played in stylish
Puma or Gola boots and everyone drank Coca Cola
like there was no tomorrow.
The only problem was that the Black Stars hammered Kenya
13-2. At one point of the game, they made a circle of players
and had the Kenyans running after the ball. No one in Kenya
had ever seen such powerful football juju...
The score ought to have been in excess of 20-0, given it was
10-0 at half-time, but I think the High Commissioner of Ghana
had a word with them and they benched their forward line and
played the second half at a canter, letting Kenya score two
goals in the last ten minutes. The Ghanaians were given a
standing ovation and lustily cheered but the police were
called in to protect the Kenyan players who were booed and
stoned with whatever came to hand. 'Black Stars outplay
Kenya' is how the headlines politely put it....
"It's supposed to be a bloody goodwill tour," my
father who refereed the match muttered to me that
night at dinner in our hotel, "How are they going
to spread bloody goodwill if they thrash us like
this??" The Ghanaians may have been spoken to
sternly. Two days later, when he watched the second
match with me from our special seats, Ghana fielded
all their reserve players and Kenya struggled to
hold them to a 2-2 draw. Both teams were given a
standing ovation and the news made the front page
of The Daily Nation and The East African Standard
and had a picture of the Kenyan team bus surrounded
by cheering supporters. 'Ghana holds Kenya to Draw'
were the bold headlines.
It helps to recall that before they hammered Kenya, Ghana had
already shown spectators in England what they were capable of
when the Black Stars toured there after their independence
and won and drew against an English amateur team; as did a
team from Uganda, just before their own independence. Both
teams played without boots, wearing elastic anklets that were
part of the stockings they wore, and both said they would
have hammered the English if only it wasn't so bloody cold.
So till I was 13, days and even nights for me in Mombasa,
were beautiful and innocent. They had to do with playing
football every single evening, with watching football at the
Municipal Stadium every Friday and Saturday, and dreaming
about it as often as I could. 1966 signified for me the death
of a revolutionary moment in football gifted to the world,
such that it did not seem likely a second revolution would
ever take place...
It is an interesting coincidence that my mother ended her
part of the Kenyan scrapbook for me, with the World Cup in
Sweden 1958: I ended that scrapbook in 1963 with the World
Cup in Chile in 1962.
In both tournaments, for contrasting reasons, Brazil played
an important role. So, at the outset, it ought to be said
that the style of playing they gave the world -- by virtue of
stamping their imprint on the game in 1958 -- continues to be
the universal model aspired to. You can always find reasons
to deny this, rationalize matters, but when push comes to
shove the whole world knows who plays authentic football!
This is largely because the Brazilians continue to bring
their gifts and place them on a football field where everyone
partakes, rival players as well as spectators. The élan with
which they play is an inspiration that is duly acknowledged,
respected, bowed to and imitated, in every single part of the
world where they learn to love playing with a ball and get to
see re-runs of Brazil's old matches. While rival players may
hate them with a vengeance, no spectators whose teams have
lost to them ever bear them a grudge.
There are only five notable exceptions when the Brazilians
left their magic at home and travelled abroad to a fate that
was nothing less than reprehensible. These are the World Cups
of 1966, 1974 and 1998, all three, ironically, immediately
following World Cups where they had won!
In all three instances they gave signs that they had ignored
the subaltern roots of their style of play and forgotten
their own postulates surrounding the game. The other two
instances, the World Cups of 1994 and 2002, when they
actually won the World Cup, they had already succumbed to the
mystique surrounding marketing. We knew before it happened
that the possibility they would lose the semi-final 0-6
recently, was with those who recognized Brazilian football
did not come from prosperity and plenty, who sincerely wished
If one harks back to 1958 in Sweden in fact, it is
because the Brazilian team was the harbinger of a
major change in the way the game was played. They
sparked the first revolution in football.
To understand exactly what they managed to achieve, is to
first know the magnitude of what they were up against. This
wasn't a rich, prosperous beef- driven Uruguay untouched by
war winning the cup by luck in the World Cup of 1950, at a
time when Brazil as a nation, and its players as a team, were
yet to find their feet or even know what it meant to be
In 1958, this was a team of largely uneducated players who
had come through the ranks of Brazil's black-skinned
populations from the slums, intent on finding a voice for
themselves through their football. In fact, the picture was
far bigger: as Pele said a few years back in an interview on
TV in his inimitable way: "In 1958 when we go Europe nobody
they knew where this Brazil is...where this country they ask?
(laughs) They only knew of 'Amazonas' (laughs). But when we
won the cup that year (laughs), the whole world she knows
The '58 Brazilians took their magic to a continent literally
at the other end of their world, reaching there in a journey
that involved several days travelling by ship to the US,
possibly Miami, then an overland trip to New York and even
more days on an ocean-going liner across the Atlantic. As
yet, planes had not started their trans-Atlantic flights.
Given past cultural ties and the need to train before the
actual cup, and have some friendly matches to tune up, it is
likely the Brazilian team of 1958 stopped over in Portugal or
France before heading via another ship or propeller plane to
It helps to remember that thanks to India's own
freedom struggle, the late 50s also heralded
opposition to Colonial rule and inf+luence right
through Africa and Asia and indeed much of Latin
America at that time. This unity of purpose and
shared freedom was later to coalesce in the
Non-Aligned Movement, a phenomenon that was
anything but -- premised as it was on the existence
of a 'Third World' and a very real 'us' versus
In weather they must have shivered in, the Brazilian players
of 1958 forced the first glimpse of what these revolutions in
the former colonies could be all about, because they too were
fighting for their place in the sun as black-skinned people.
As Sartre was to say of Fanon not that many years later, this
was a case of the 'Third World' very much speaking to
In expressing themselves through football the black Brazilian
players gave themselves an identity few could even dream
about, built as it was around something as simple as a ball.
They set this in a rousing counterpoint to the more
prosperous and largely white Brazilians of their own nation
-- later day settlers from Portugal and Europe -- and indeed,
to white-skinned people all over the world.
In 1958, for the first time perhaps after Jessie Owens had
faced Hitler down, peoples of the prosperous and 'free' world
were to see black-skinned players with crinkly hair wearing
the same clothes they did, playing with an effervescence and
style they could only be dazzled and stunned by.
This was not the USIS taking Louis Armstrong and
Duke Ellington on tour to Europe and Africa -- or
organizing tours of the all-black, Harlem
Globetrotters basketball team -- to show the world
that all was tickety-boo curtailing well-fed,
home-grown racism. This was
In-Your-Face-Here-I-Am-revolution. Quite literally,
the Brazilians of 1958 ran rings around their
befuddled opponents and you understand the sheer
audacity of what they did when you watch old clips
of those games, and, indeed, listen carefully to
the sheer disbelief and grudging admiration and
respect of the commentators.
How important the Brazilians were in 1958 can also be gauged
by the fact that it was to take another two World Cups --
eight years in all -- before a nation from the Northern
Hemisphere (Portugal in the World Cup in England, in 1966)
would have a non-white football player in their team.
Contrary to popular mythology, the 1958 triumph was not just
about Pele, but a very lively ensemble that did not march
through their opponents with martial music and harry them
with bayonet and boot -- but, literally, danced past with the
ball stuck to their feet...
Almost unanimously, the phrase 'Samba Football' came into
being, thanks perhaps to Brian Glanville who may have been
the first to use it as a descriptor. 68The names from that
'58 team that danced to glory still resonate from my old
scrapbook -- Djalma and Nilton 7 Santos, Vava, Didi, and a
man often ignored, Zito -- the solid bass, percussion and
rhythm section that gave a 17-year-old prodigy called Pele
the space to improvise.
I can't even remember the goalkeeper in that team...was it
Gilmar? Who cared? The European press laughed at Brazil's
goalkeeper like they still laugh at all Brazilian
goalkeepers. It doesn't matter how many goals the poor guy
lets in they said, these Brazilians will just laugh, pick the
ball from the back of the net and go up and score two more.
That's exactly what happened in the final that year.
What the Brazilians did in 1958, as if carefully plotted on a
blackboard with chalk, was dismantle an outdated system and
formation followed by the rest of the world, and bringing the
first real elements of play into the game. They did this in a
manner so sustained, that the headiness and froth continues
to ferment till today.
In 1958, the European football powers believed that they
could vanquish all who came before them. For them, World War
II had not really ended; they only shifted the battlefield to
the football field. They were fresh from victory in the World
Cup of 1954 in Switzerland that one remembers today precisely
because the press of that time referred to the final as the
'Battle of Zurich' -- which it was.
Till 1958, it seems fair to assume that the tactics
surrounding football at that time, inspired as it may have
been by British and other Colonial troops who took the game
elsewhere, followed strategies that were rooted in tales and
victories of war.
European and British teams had supremely fit players capable
of running long and hard and who were good on the ball, but
very much part of a drilled unit on a battlefield. Like the
first rugby players from England who appropriated the
beautiful game of football, sat on the ball to make it look
like a misshapen egg and made the game more of a battle, the
English and indeed British style of playing football was not
that different. They relied on long, accurate passes, and the
ability to trap the ball dead under one's foot or take it on
the go; and then kick or punt the ball ahead and like rugby
players, chase it down.
Not that dissimilar in technique or style from enthusiastic
Labradors chasing rubber balls on the downs or wherever in
England. Their battle cry was 'one for all, all for one'.
They were good in the air, good at volleying, and good at
hustling people off the ball with their shoulders to set up
someone to boot the ball into goal. They did this for King
Starting from the back, the formation was ridiculously
predictable in its interpretation of the game. You had a good
goalkeeper with a thunderous kick able to reach past the
half-line -- he was the big cannon. The two backs in front of
him were the artillery; good at charging out to tackle,
getting the ball and booting it to one of the three halves in
front of them. The three halves themselves were the tanks,
and the five forwards in front of them, the infantry or foot
soldiers. In boarding school, my coach referred to this as
the '2-3-5 System'.
The five forwards in this old style harried and pushed
forward; the three half-backs gave them solid support, and
inspired fear; and the two backs and the goalkeeper, if they
got the ball, carried on an endless aerial bombardment. The
rule was simple: you get the ball you kick it up field. As
far as possible you fed this to the two wingers who would fly
to the corner flag and boot the wall into the goal where it
could be sent past the posts with a 'header'. Right till 1966
when they finally modernized their military formations, the
English, somewhat stupidly, stayed at re-inventing the
disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade over and over again.
In 1958, Brazil turned this formation on its head.
They brought to the world the 4-2-4 system, kicking
off the game with four forwards on the front line
leaving both the wings, on the face of it,
untended; they played with two halves; and behind
them, four backs in a line that made trapping their
opponents off-side (receiving the ball behind the
last back) all the more effective.
Rival coaches and players sneered until the first fifteen
minutes or so when they knew they had been had by sheer
genius. They found a team with a smooth fulcrum. They were
fluent going forward with the ball, with the two halves
magically transformed into forwards, and their places in the
midfield taken up by three advancing backs, leaving behind a
solitary back who would sweep up any stray balls booted long.
Instead of mindlessly booting the ball ahead like the
European nations of old, they were audacious enough to turn
their back on goal and start passing the ball all the way to
their own goalkeeper, taking a needed breather and starting
all over again. It left rivals somewhat punch-drunk. When the
other team attacked their goal, miraculously, the Brazilians
had their four backs in front of their goal area, and two
halves just waiting for the ball to see- saw the fulcrum the
other way. Almost instinctively, they seemed to know where
the other player was going to be, before they even passed the
It may have had to do with the ergonomics of their uniform.
The shorts were shorter and tighter as were the long sleeved
thick cotton jerseys to ward off the cold. Unlike 1954, where
the players lined up in their grandmother' shorts, these
70guys may have displayed the first tighter fitting 'designer
ware'. Their boots were of far thinner leather, cut below the
ankle like a normal shoe, as close as possible in design to
the bare foot and kept tight with long lacing that went below
the boot a couple of time before being knotted at the top.
Gone forever was the need for army boot lookalikes with thick
The Brazilians of '58 created the 'wing back': which
translated into one of two or three players from the half or
back line primed to push the ball to a player in front of
him, facing him; then sprinting ahead before the ball had
even reached his colleague's foot to be just past him as the
same ball was passed ahead, for him to take the ball -- but
behind the defence, thereby breaking a creaky off-side trap
of just two backs marking the rear line.
It was the world's first glimpse of what today is called
'possession football', and erroneously credited to Dutch
coaches in the early 70s -- the simple tactic being to hold
the ball as long as one could and not give it to the other
team. Interestingly, it is also how most kids learn to play
it before adults tell them they have to score goals...
The Brazilians did to the ball with their feet, what many,
many years later Bishen Singh Bedi would do to a cricket ball
with his fingers. They didn't 'boot' the ball and chase after
it like terriers, they made the ball speak. One of their
tricks was 'the falling leaf' as it was dubbed, where the
ball was stabbed, and the follow through held back, so that
the ball ballooned over one or two or even three opponents
and landed at the feet of a marauding forward -- who then
delicately flicked the ball past a flailing, helplessly
They left their opponents gaping helplessly because they
built and conditioned their stamina by training with quick,
sharp sprints, repeated again and again with brief pauses of
up to a minute in between. They were not unlike cheetahs.
They needed neither the endurance nor the loneliness of the
long-distance runner. Instead, they embraced the idea of
being 'guerrillas' because that was the kind of world in
which they were born...
It has been written ad nauseam but largely forgotten, that
Brazil's greatest players came and still come from the slums
and poorer areas that dot its major cities 9 -- as did, in
fact, the bulk of that 1958 team, including Pele. These days
it just makes for an 'inspirational story' on TV.
At a very important level, a background steeped in penury
shaped the magic they brought to football because being poor
leaves a kid untouched by the mystique that comes with
marketing merchandise around the game. He's never going to
get a Nike T-shirt with Neymar Jr's name on it and a brand
new ball that he'll never be allowed to kick.
Football played by kids in a narrow gully with something or
the other passing for a ball or goalposts brought its own
virtues. The paucity of space to play within, constrained
movement yet refined the innate exuberance and energy that
comes with it. The individual kid with talent and
imagination, regardless of his shape or size, was forced to
find ways of being the smartest in the pack. If they didn't
stand out they merged with the surrounding detritus. The law
of the jungle you could say.
Those who could play were helped by the fact that they could
feel the ball, whatever kind of ball, with their bare feet.
It was like touching it with their fingers; so they knew the
behaviour of the ball, how it travelled on the ground, how it
bounced and how it rolled. They did this without an
intervening layer of leather and sole, on small grounds of
open space bereft of dwellings, at the edge of a garbage dump
perhaps. When those same feet many, many years later were
coated in leather, those watching were left wondering how a
ball could stick to them.
It is only now after the television channels got into the act
with 'football-related' features that the world is beginning
to know the symbiotic space shared in the slums of Brazil
between football and capoeira, a traditional, slave martial
art that originated in Angola (derived from the Bantu
'kapwera', 'to fight') and which traced its continued
practice in black people in Brazil towards the 16th Century
when slavery was still very much a reality.
Capoeira was practised by slaves but sublimated as
a dance in order to prevent its practitioners or
capoeiristas as they were known, from punishment or
even execution. Slaves were someone else's property
in Colonial Brazil and, as such, had no rights to
either fight or defend themselves; the martial art
therefore was banned by law at various points of
time in Brazil's colonial and modern history.
Interestingly, the 'moves' of capoeira are
practised with music and drumming much more
African/Afro-Cuban in origin called berimbau, which
may have had more to do with the Brazilian style of
playing football at the 1958 World Cup, than the
more popularly believed 'samba'.
The rigour and movements of capoeira introduced those from
the slums to the principles of the body being balanced, and
made them supple. It was their in- house 'gym' before and
after football and another chance for those males in their
teens to impress the opposite sex with their 'moves'. Placing
a ball at their feet put different ideas in the heads.
With the ball they were perfectly balanced, their weight
easily displaced from one foot to the other; they could feint
one way, go the other, and put the opponent off- balance.
More importantly, while Europeans somewhat one-dimensionally
were still focussed on the legs as the motor of the game, the
Brazilians brought a much fuller use of the body into play.
The colonial landlords naively thought they could curb the
dangers of capoeira with chains linking the slaves' legs, and
chains linking their arms to metal wrist bands. They could
still walk with a decent distance between their legs though,
and still stretch their arms even if short of their full
span. Those who practised the art incorporated the chains,
like kids with a ball, into a new part of the game. Their
movement may have become more cyclical, hands on the floor,
feet high up in the air; like children doing a smooth
cartwheel with their hands and legs a little bent. The way
they spun their bodies was not that dissimilar from the
dynamics of a moving ball.
One does not how many landlords were put to the test of the
new 'moves', but what is known, is that capoeira continued,
without chains, with greater freedom, without the intent of
killing, and gently incorporating itself into the wider
notion of play for slum peoples in Brazil. They were still
slaves though by virtue of their skin colour and poverty. As
the humorous travel-writer George Mikes 10 was to note wryly
in the early 60s: There's no 'racism' in Brazil, the moment
you make a lot of money, you just turn into a 'White' man...
So like they did with capoeira over a few centuries, in 1958,
the Brazilians sublimated football, taking it away from the
metaphors of war and violence that guided it in its previous
manifestations. They showed the world that artistry and
skill, suppleness and balance could triumph over strength and
size. Given the times, and British and European Colonies in
Africa feeling the shock waves of rebellion rippling through
them, the Brazilian team of 1958 made many see the
possibility of a hundred Davids rising to every Goliath.
The early 60s may not have been as conducive to the playing
of the game for the rest of the world as it may have been for
me. The British and French empires in Africa were in full
revolt, Apartheid South Africa was the beacon of freedom for
the West; Fidel and Che were known figures, linking the
aspirations of wanting more with their original root of
rebellion; the Cold War was at its height and the world was
even more divided into 'us' and 'them'; Elvis Presley and
Cliff Richard were still the rage and James Dean crashed his
Porsche and went to heaven; and the US had not yet cottoned
on -- as they were to do in 1994 when they staged the World
Cup -- that very much like Coca Cola in Africa in the 60s,
they could have marketed and used the Latin American thirst
Instead, they chose to cut their teeth encouraging right-wing
juntas with arms and ammunition to keep socialism, the
'terrorist' of that time, at bay.
In those days when they really thought they had a right to
rule the world, the US take on Brazil was a testament that
was not as crass as it is today, post- Snowden, but their
view of the 'other' was not based on the need for reciprocity
but on working out the best deals they could get for
The World Cup of 1962 was demanded by the Latin American
countries against the threat of a boycott if it was played in
Europe. In 1960, though, a savage earthquake tore Chile
apart, destroying several cities where matches were to be
played. Amidst calls from Europe to shift the venue, the
Chilean government battled to repair and relocate matches
successfully. One stadium for the matches was provided by an
American company with interests in mining.
In 1962 moreover, it was even obvious to those
twelve-year-olds who documented the World Cup in
Chile, that all was not indeed well with the world.
While it is agreed that Brazil caught everyone's
eye in the World Cup of 1958, that year the French
too were also discovering their own different
style; the Soviet Union were showing they were not
just soldiers drafted in from the army; and the
Welsh team discovered the raw energy of players of
good working-class stock.
So, while Brazil gained the right to be world champions in
1962, it was other parts of the world that had come to the
ground to show themselves. The host nation, Chile, led by the
talismanic Leonel Sánchez, was flamboyant in play and that
may have sparked the renaissance in the game that Latin
America so badly needed to get out of Brazil's dark shadow.
In Chile too, the battles were not over. The match between
Chile and Italy was possibly the most violent game ever
played, and the Italian team needed an armed escort while
they were in the country.
It was a country no longer on the map however, that was the
surprise of that year: Czechoslovakia, part of the 'Iron
Curtain', intent on its own place in the sun away from the
glare of the Soviets, brought a freshness to the game that
surprised one and all; the Soviet Union itself, however, like
Brazil, brought their 1958 team and paid the price. It was
Yugoslavia though, itself today many countries, that was to
show the world that year, that the whole world, if they
really wanted to, could learn to play like Brazil.
The Brazilians themselves only provided palpable evidence of
a stasis that would come back in four years to reduce the
entire nation, and indeed one sixteen- year-old to tears. In
1962, Pele had got 'white' status and morphed into a highly
successful figure destined to go even further up the social
ladder. He was a pale shadow of himself and the team was
largely made up of ageing players from the '58 team who
didn't have to qualify for the event, and therefore took
things a little too lightly.
It is more than likely that Brazil have won the Cup in 1962
on the basis of their reputation.
They unveiled at the tournament, however, a young prodigious
talent known in Brazil by his nickname, 'Garrincha' or
'Little bird'. Garrincha, born in poverty, also suffered from
polio when he was a child so one of his legs was shorter than
the other. Pele got injured and did not play a part in
winning the Cup. It was Garrincha who almost single-handedly
led the charge, sharing the top scorer spot that year -- a
feat that may have been his alone had he not been sent off in
the quarter-final against Chile. He was stoned by Chilean
fans and booed by his own supporters.
Garrincha was known to be moody and have a temper. Lower life
lore surrounding football in Brazil is full of stories
documenting the lives of players who couldn't handle success,
fame, failure, or just retirement for that matter. For every
one Pele or Neymar Jr., there must be another twenty to
thirty if not more, who don't make it. The 'Little Bird'
faded as fast as he came, and passed away in total misery, a
dirt-poor alcoholic forgotten by all but a few chroniclers of
It may have been that I gave up on my football
scrapbook in 1963 because Brazil's fall of grace
coincided with the tumult and toil of my own
adolescent years. If being thirteen was a shit life
as they say, the next three years before the World
Cup could come around again in 1966, was more of
the same coated in a smattering of sugar.
At the end of 1963, I was packed off to a boarding school in
Nairobi, where I slept in a dormitory with seven other boys,
was woken by a nasty clanking bell at 6.15 in the morning,
went to classes and played football every single day. The
football in boarding school was the closest you could get to
being in heaven if you were fourteen years old and dreamt
nothing but football.
Every day till I finished school in 1967, at 4.30 on the dot,
we willingly went to the grounds and played football till the
sun went down and it was time for showers. After that, you
went to chapel if you were Catholic, bible studies if you
were Protestant, or got sent to an empty classroom by
yourself if you were unlucky enough to be Jewish.
That's the way the football rolled those days.
In fact, if you were dark-skinned it was a lot worse, because
prior to Kenya's independence, like in South Africa or the
rich white farmers' regime of Southern Rhodesia before it
became the independent country of Zimbabwe many years later,
the boarding school I was sent to was once a posh 'Whites
Aged all of fourteen, I was to find out that being
'white-skinned' was not a status Kenya's English
and European settlers were willing to relinquish
easily. On my very first night in the school
chapel, I got a taste of 'white supremacy'. While
the rosary was being recited, from behind me I
heard, then saw, one of the seniors -- thick set,
twice my size at least, face covered with
pus-filled pimples -- nasally cursing me in a
sing-song Indian accent: "Hey, chilly cracker,
chooti boy, curry eating bastard, you can't go to a
fucking chootie school??".
Around this lumpen colonial coffee-planter's son, white boys
his age and younger all chortled like it was the funniest
thing in the world. "Chootie, chootie, chootie" they all
whispered an octave above the response to the prayer hailing
the Mother of Christ.
Eyes focused on a quasi-baroque altar in a wood-panelled
chapel and forced to ask tough questions of life, if a
fourteen year old is unable to recognize, resolve and
vanquish the contradictions inherent in religious belief and
indeed its practice, he doesn't deserve to play football...
It is more difficult if you begin adolescence with a complex
but not uninteresting relationship with your father. In the
face of racist taunts, two other younger boys from Goa in the
school began telling everyone they were from Goa, pointing to
the fact that they were also Catholic, and hinting without
actually saying it, that thanks to their unique colonial
connections they had Portuguese blood in their veins and were
therefore 'white'. Given that my father placed Jawaharlal
Nehru a notch above God that was not an option.
When I made a 'trunk call' to him, going through a telephone
operator at the exchange and 'reversing the charges' to
complain about being bullied in the chapel my very first
night, he was anything but sympathetic.
Get what's good out of the school and fight back he said very
simply. You're Christian like them he added, so if someone
hits you on one cheek you are duty bound to show him the
other cheek; if he hits the other cheek, hit him back...And
use your head, don't pick a guy bigger than you, that's
asking for trouble; don't pick a smaller guy because that's
bullying; Pick someone your size and have one good fight so
that nobody picks on you again...
He was right. The racism didn't disappear though; they just
kept it to themselves and went through the motions of being
polite, they steered their white girls away from you, didn't
introduce you to their parents, and never invited you home.
It is truism though that a football team, regardless of its
composition and focussing on its skills, has to perforce work
collectively. In 1964, I was one of five 'persons of colour'
my age in the school of some 400 or so whites; three of us
played for the school's Junior Colts team that year. By 1967,
the year I passed out, those same three boys played in the
school's First XI and they were joined by three others the
same colour. The balance of power had changed.
At fifteen, it was easier for white-skinned students of a
former 'All White' school football team to transcend whatever
incipient forms of racism still percolated in Kenya till the
early 70s, than it was for those white students who couldn't
play for the team because they were not good enough.
It may also have helped that we were blessed with young
coaches in their mid- twenties straight from England and
Ireland; who looked like boiled lobsters till they accepted
the Kenyan sun and who were as eccentric as they were
liberal. They supported Labour, doubled up as literature or
history teachers, assistant House Masters and introduced us
to The Animals, the Rolling Stones and music that brought
with it the first sniff of revolt...
It is not strange that my feelings of teenage angst reached
its lowest in 1966, coinciding with the Brazilian team at the
World Cup in England being put to the sword, squeaking
through their first match without sparkle, and then losing
1-3 o both Hungary and their former colonial masters of
For a sixteen-year-old this ought to have been the World Cups
to end all World Cups, when the Brazilians would bring their
sunshine to England and, as if ordained, achieve a hat-trick
of victories and keep the golden trophy for life, a sign for
all that they were the custodians of revolution in the
football world. Instead, we were both to mirror the same,
hollow tones of woe and misery and defeat.
This was the year that the Voice of Kenya TV showed the
matches in black and white from the quarter-finals onwards,
either that very same day, or the day after. The image was
blurred, and it shook and quivered if the antennae on the
roof moved too much in the breeze, but I saw the World Cup as
it was being played...
But being sixteen also coincided with discovering
that girls were far more interesting than football;
and that fathers, regardless of what they may have
done the same age, can also be authoritarian. Just
before the World Cup in 1966, and till the end of
1967, my father's only reply to my question asking
why I couldn't do something was: "Because I said so..."
I am convinced that in 1966, out of sheer perversity, he
chose to support England to win the World Cup. The dining
table was loaded with his analyses of how England would not
lose to Uruguay and would get past Argentina and Portugal and
win the World Cup. He capped this campaign against his son by
giving him the morning papers with the gleeful snigger, "Your
The papers carried the famous picture of Pele walking off,
weeping, and wiping his tears with his jersey, for two days
running. 'The King' had been shamed. "That's your Pele," my
father said, sniggering even more gleefully.
I never figured this streak of proto-fascism he was struck
with, because he had a far more interesting side to him. At
the end of 1965, a year before my Senior Cambridge 'O' Levels
exams, he confiscated my school history textbook that had the
really grand title 'A History of the British Empire and
Commonwealth', and forced Nehru's 'Glimpses of World History'
on me, carefully marking the book for the parallels I needed
to read. Nehru would have been proud of me. I learnt the
virtues of civil disobedience and took on my father.
It didn't make life easier for a teenager.
In early 1967, I stood up to my dad. I was 17, The Stones
were next to God and I went for a dance dating an amazing
girl -- and how life-changing can that be?? We danced to The
Shiftas, a Goan band led by a fabulous drummer called Jason
Hendricks and danced to 'Massachusetts' a huge hit at The
Goan Gymkhana, Nairobi, while I wondered how come I waited so
long to find out that a girl could smell so amazing.
It was a memorable evening, even though I sat at a table with
guys all older than me. I was in my last year of school doing
my 'O' Levels, the other guys were either at the University
in Nairobi, or doing their 'A' Levels at Strathmore College.
I was on this table courtesy my girlfriend who knew the girls
with the guys. I was cool. Okay, maybe I was also worried
that the guys on the table would find my 60s fashion funny --
a funky paisley shirt with a big collar, Irish linen
bell-bottoms, and some wise guy who figures out that I'm
wearing my dad's maroon Byford socks and his swanky Bata
suede loafers. Also, I was more preoccupied with figuring a
smart line to get the girl with me to come out with me again.
In the middle of this, while I am leading to my
line, a guy breezes past our table, with two
gorgeous women on either side. When you're 17, this
guy is as dangerous as Al Capone. Everyone knows
who he is, except me, and he stands there looking
super-cool talking to the other guys.
"That's Cyprian Fernandes," the girl with me said, "he writes
for the papers". It wasn't my imagination; she was looking at
him like he was God's gift to humankind.
"I know who he is," I growled at her. Didn't she know I was a
literate who read his column every week? I still thought,
aged seventeen, that he made my life unfair. Yes, he was a
great sports writer for a younger guy; he went on to really
great things, and wrote about it recently, but many, many
moons later -- that's poetic justice -- I get to tell him
he's a right-royal shit for ruining my line which I never got
to use on that night on a girl whom he distracted...
After the Brazilian team allowed itself to be shamed in 1966,
I shifted allegiance to North Korea, the guinea-pigs of that
World Cup whom the Western commentators press derided for
being short and stocky. They looked more like table-tennis
players, is how they put it. I read the news-reports of their
match against Italy several times and savoured the fact that
the Italians, perennial pretenders to the tag of 'good
football' were greeted back home with the derision and hoots
they fully deserved.
The North Koreans fell fortunately to Portugal who presented
little by way of a contradiction. I was not focused on the
fact that the Portuguese had done to Goa what the British had
done to the rest of the world, but on a black-skinned player
called Eusebio, the first time a European nation would play a
person of colour as they say. Although, interestingly,
lighter skinned players from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and
even Egypt were regularly playing in France's nascent
professional league from the mid-50s but were just never
considered good enough to play for the national team until a
good ten years and more in the late 70s.
In 1966, Pele had allowed himself to be so pampered he found
his muscles soft and yielding. The continent of Africa was
still considered neither 'professionalized' or developed
enough to come to the party, so it was fitting that Eusebio
took over his mantle. He was immediately dubbed 'Black
Panther' and lit up the soggy English evenings with his
powerful running, his stamina, and like Pele, his ability to
go through players like a hot knife through butter.
Single-handedly, he inspired the rousing display after
Portugal had gone down 0-3 to the North Koreans, a match
Portugal was to win 5-3.
When Portugal lost to England on a muddy pitch more suited to
rugby, I boycotted the final between whichever teams made it
that year and went into mourning as dark as my shitty teenage
years. As far as I was concerned the World Cup of 1966 did
not take place.
A few years later though, before Brazil itself would reignite
the dying embers of its game, I found out Eusebio was
originally from Mozambique. I had visited Mozambique courtesy
of a two-week holiday by ship with my parents when I was
eleven and still living in Mombasa.
It was in Mozambique however, even as Brazil was licking its
wounds and I was decrying the vanishing rights of teenage
life, that the first embers were glowing of a new resistance.
Mozambique saw the rise of the late Samora Machel, the
guiding light of the 'Frelimo' forces that would do battle
with the fascist Portuguese government of António de Oliveira
Salazar, aided and abetted by the South African armed forces.
The year 1967, came as it did the year before, life a total
shit for a seventeen- year-old madly in love. Cyprian's juju
didn't work even though the girl succumbed to my line. But
she also didn't cotton on to the fact that I was returning to
"Mother India" as she referred to it. She wanted to go to
So it would be a backhanded compliment if you were to say I
was one of the lucky ones -- with my parents, moving lock,
stock and barrel and boarding the last sea voyage of the MV
Asia, a gleaming white with blue trim Lloyd-Triestino liner.
Part of history.
These ships once regularly plied from Southampton to Sydney,
around the cape, touching ports in Nigeria, Apartheid South
Africa, Fascist Portugal, and the independent Tanzanian and
Kenyan ports of Dar-es-Salaam and Mombasa. Once these were
'all-White' ships. If they had tried that in Kenya in 1967
when Colonialism was in its death throes, they would have
burnt the ship.
I remember being with my dad and his friend when we
visited the docks and I saw the biggest passenger
ship since the SS Rotterdam that regularly docked
at Mombasa with well-heeled tourists. Dad was there
to make sure his beloved Mercedes which was there
waiting to be loaded en route to the Alexandria
docks, Bombay would not come to any harm. Dad was
also in a wheelchair, the result of a recent
surgery on his neck.
Then football -- what began these musings, and what ends them
-- surfaced at the Mombasa docks and made a perfect circle.
One of the Landing and Shipping Company (Lasco) staff
handling the loading was in the early 60s, a player with the
Lasco football team, much known for his rough play. Dad had
probably kicked him out of the field, more times than either
could remember. In less than half an hour, all the ex-Lasco
footballers were surrounding the wheelchair. The car was not
a problem. Neither all the crates with our belonging. They
were loaded in such a way that Dad's goods were first to be
off-loaded in Bombay. For good measure, two of the union
leaders had a polite word with the captain of the ship. On
those seven days of sea travel, we were treated like royalty.
All I remember was standing at the back of the ship, below
its flag whipping in the breeze, watching the propellers
churn the blue-green waters, and not knowing why, remembering
the Lasco team and their red-and-blue colours, fighting back
the tears, and hating the Indian Ocean for taking me away
from the most beautiful girl in the world.
Hartman de Souza was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Living as a
child in Lamu, Eldoret, Nanyuki, Embu and Mombasa, he
finished school in Nairobi, before moving with his parents to
India in 1967, where he lived in Goa and completed his post-
With a varied background in journalism, education and
theatre, he has lived and worked in Goa, Pune, Mumbai, New
Delhi and Bangalore. Published widely in the Indian media
since the late seventies, he has taught journalism and
literature in several institutions while also working with
theatre groups throughout the country. Till 2016 he was the
artistic director of the Space Theatre Ensemble, Goa. He is
also the recent author of the well-received book Eat Dust --
Mining and Greed in Goa.
He lives in Pune with his partner Ujwala Samarth. They have
two children, Zuri and Zaeen, both Kiswahili names.
Send your feedback to ***@goanet.org and
For more on the book 'Stars Next Door' (on the sportspersons
and musicians of East Africa) visit the Facebook
group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/330935877414030/
or email Cyprian Fernandes at ***@live.com.au