By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week, we continue our series profiling Rio de Janeiro’s biggest football (soccer) clubs with a short history of Brazil’s 2010 national champions, Fluminense. Rio’s first football team, the Tricolor were founded on July 21st, 1902 by Oscar Cox, a Brazilian born to English parents.
From their inauguration, the club have represented the upper classes and have carried the reputation as the team of the aristocracy. Indeed, there are Fluminense fans that still use class-based taunts when debating team prowess against rivals.
Cox set up Fluminense, which translated means ‘from the city or state of Rio’ in the calm and leafy suburb of Laranjeiras, where the team’s headquarters remain today. Having finished his studies in Switzerland and developing a taste for the new sport to be sweeping across Western Europe, Cox decided to try and integrate football in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Within four years of being founded, Fluminense won its first title, winning the Campeonato Carioca in 1906.
But football’s European origins meant it stayed for a long time as the sport of the white “urban elite”, and Fluminense were guilty of allowing racial discrimination to factor in their selection process. Football matches were glamorous social events played by teams made up from the city’s wealthiest families. Fluminense became a byword for elegance.
Slowly but surely, mixed race players began to filter through within the big clubs. However, on the field they were taunted for the color of their skin. In 1914, Carlos Alberto became the first mixed race player for Fluminense.
To avoid the hostile catcalls of the baying crowd, he whitened his face with rice powder. When the make-up started to fade, the opposing fans began to chant “Rice powder! Rice powder!’ which has stuck as one of the club’s nicknames.
The practice of throwing rice powder when Fluminense players take to the pitch is a famous tradition that has continued ever since. Such a racially charged ritual may seem hard to imagine in other countries, but Brazil’s history and culture is it’s own.
However Fluminense may like to portray themselves in social circles, there is no escaping the fact their success on the pitch has been far less illustrious than that of their arch rivals, Flamengo. The club has just two Campeonato Brasileiro titles to its name, coming in 1984 and 2010, when they managed to pip Corinthians and Cruzeiro to the finishing post on the final day of the season.
They have enjoyed little triumph in the Copa Libertadores, although in 2008 the club managed to reach the final, having defeated Sao Paulo and Argentina’s Boca Juniors en route, only to lose to Ecuadorian side LDU Quito on penalties, ironically the same team that would defeat them twelve months later in the final of the Copa Sudamericana.
Perhaps Flu’s most famous player ever is Valdir Pereira, affectionately known as ‘Didi’, who played for the club for seven years through the late 1940s and 1950s. One of the greatest attacking players of his era, he played for Brazil in three World Cups, bringing home two winners’ medals in 1958 and 1962.
Nowadays, the Flu fans have a new idol in the form of Argentine playmaker Dario Conca. Without question the league’s outstanding player for 2010, much will rely on his exquisite passing and bullet of a left foot if Fluminense are to be crowned national champions for a second year running.