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 the short story behind the founding of Botafogo. Known as Estrela Solitaria (‘The Lone Star’), they were once Brazil’s most famous and successful club, with plenty of stars donning the renowned black and white stripes.
Botafogo were founded in just about the most unconventional way you could imagine. Fourteen year old Flavio Ramos, a school student, was day dreaming of starting his own football club to represent his street. He passed a quickly written note to a classmate which found its way into his teacher’s hands.
Such was the football craze sweeping across Rio at the time, young Flavio was encouraged to pursue his dream and turn it into a reality. Thus, on August 12, 1904, the Electro Club was born, becoming Botafogo Football Club three months later, on September 18. This just two years after Fluminense, Rio’s first football team, was founded in 1902.
The club is famed for being the football team of choice of the intellectuals and artists, a reputation gained in the 1950s and 1960s when Botafogo played the most beautiful, creative football in Brazil. At the time, there was no such thing as a national championship; the most coveted prize on offer was the Campeonato Carioca, a tournament that nowadays is less expansive then the national equivalent.
Botafogo’s most successful period came between 1957 and 1962, when they won their state title on three occasions with a side that formed the backbone of the Brazil team that would go on to win successive World Cups in 1958 and 1962: Nilton ‘The Encyclopedia’ Santos, Zagalo, Amarildo, Quarentinha, and Garrincha.
It is impossible to talk about Botafogo without mentioning Garrincha. Outside Sao Paulo, many will tell you he rivals Pele and Diego Maradona for the honor of the world’s greatest ever player.
Known as ‘The Angel with the Bent Legs’ for the way his left leg curved outward and his right inward, Manuel Francisco dos Santos, to give him his full name, looked as if he was one step over away from toppling rather than the planet’s best right winger in history.
In 1962, Brazil were defending their World Crown with an average side; the players were aging and the pressure from home was intense. Garrincha carried the team and came as close as anyone ever has, and is ever likely to, winning a World Cup single handed.
His talent was summed up best by Brazilian poet Paulo Mendes Campos: “Like a poet touched by an angel, like a composer following a melody that fell from the sky, like a dancer hooked to a rhythm, Garrincha plays football by pure inspiration and magic; unsuffering, unreserved and unplanned.”
Tragically, beset by financial problems and alcoholism, Garrincha died of cirrhosis of the liver on January 20, 1983, aged just 49. Since those halcyon days when it seemed Botafogo could do no wrong, events have not gone so smoothly. The Brazilian league was nationalized in the early 1970s and competition became a lot more fierce.
Since nationalization, Botafogo have just won league title to their name, coming in 1995 when they beat Santos to the title by a point. Over recent years, Botafogo have enjoyed modest success, but in 2010 they lifted the Campeonato Carioca and finished a respectable sixth in the national table.
With the experience of coach Joel Santana and a plethora of talented young stars, the bright days of the 50s and 60s may return to Botafogo sooner than thought.