By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – On a balmy Rio afternoon in 1993, Adrian Kitchen, ex-player for the now-defunct Rio Soccer football team decided that there was room for a new amateur, gringo-based soccer team in the city.
A chance meeting with fellow Brits Mike Wilson and Pete Jones helped swell the numbers of a few other Rio Soccer deserters and the backbone of a new team, nay football philosophy, was born.
He has said that the Rebels’ birth was a way to help create a social network for Brits living in Rio. “It’s not easy to live in another country, even one like Brazil where the locals are so friendly. The best way to settle in was via the international language of sport, and of course soccer is the biggest sport in England and Brazil.”
On another level, it was Adrian’s revolutionary policy that “to play for the Rebels didn’t necessarily mean you had to know how to play soccer” that was no doubt responsible for its continuing existence today. The pride with which the President displays the years of team shirts on his Wall Of Fame at home in Cruzeiro (where there is a regular tournament hosted by the Rebels since he moved away from Rio) also goes a long way to explain the longevity of the side.
There is a democracy entrenched in the running of the club. Each year a new strip is voted on from a selection of five, always with ‘Rebel Green’ as the principal color. Few imagined that nearly seventeen years on the club would still be going strong having played against some genuine Brazilian legends and on some gnarly pitches across Rio state and beyond.
Founding member Matty White recalls the humble beginnings of the Rebels, playing on a scrappy, rock-strewn pitch next to Lagoa against whatever side they could pull together. The crunch game was naturally the regular rematch against Rio Soccer in Jacarepaguá, though the scorelines rarely flattered the newcomers.
A game against local music legend Chico Buarque’s side gave a taste of what was to come as the opposition became increasingly high profile, though scrabbling to get a game arranged was still the regular situation as the weekends approached.
Current captain Allan Sweeney, aka Peach, sums up his feelings for the club: “Lots of characters have come and gone over the years. The ones that are remembered are those who stay true to the Rebels’ philosophy of enjoying the games, win, lose or draw, and stay behind at the bar afterwards to analyze the game!”
As well as playing the likes of Chico Buarque and even Brazilian legend Zico, whose local side destroyed the Rebels in what was possibly the most-enjoyed 18 x 1 thrashing ever and still considered a defining moment in Sweeney’s nine-year stretch at the club, some notable players have donned the green shirt.
Luke Dowdney has played several times, and in 2004 earned an MBE for setting up the Luta Pela Paz (Fight for Peace) program, which teaches boxing to Rio favela children, as well as midfielder Otávio Leite, Sports Editor for the O Dia newspaper.
The overall statistics may prove otherwise, but Rio Rebels is certainly a strong model for a part-time football club set up by foreigners with little else but a love for the game behind them. Sponsorship deals have come and gone, and the team has comprised English, Scottish, Canadian, Dutch and now an increasing number of Brazilians.