Samba in the South-East: A Brazilian in the League of Ireland

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In January 1986, Waterford United signed Sebastiao Elias de Freitas Filho, a 26-year-old Brazilian from French Ligue 2 side Chaumont. He played under the moniker of ‘Tião Brasil’ and was signed by Blues manager Alfie Hale on a month’s trial upon the recommendation of then Millwall manager George Graham.

Hale was already a club legend in his second spell as manager. He was a part of the Waterford side that won six League of Ireland titles in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and had been capped 14 times by the Republic of Ireland national team. It was hoped that the first Brazilian to ply his trade in the League of Ireland would help recapture those glory days and even showcase some of that Samba flair that saw one of the greatest teams from his native country win the FIFA World Cup in 1970. Who was to know that just a month and three senior games later it was to be all over.

De Freitas Filho was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1959. The Munster Express detailed that he was of ‘South American Indian and Portuguese descent’ and had been playing football from nine years of age. After a successful amateur career, Brasil turned professional in 1980 and played for Atletico Rio Negro in the First Division of the Amazone League for three seasons. During his time with the Galo da Praça da Saudade (Rooster of the Praça da Saudade), he won the Campeonato in 1982.  He captained the Manaus-based club before moving to Chaumont in the North-East of France for the 1983/84 season.

In a letter to Waterford prior to his arrival, he listed his qualities as ‘courage, skill, leadership, good overall vision of the game and confidence.’ Brasil’s unveiling at a press conference led the correspondent of the Munster Express to write, ‘No blushing violet this lad, who looks like something out of “The Magnificent Seven”.’ During his time at Waterford, the club were in talks with Bord na gCon (the Greyhound Board) over rent rates for Kilcohan Park. The financial troubles which engulfed United were lessened with the help of Hoffman’s Lager, TNT-IPEC and Cherry’s Brewery whose sponsorship aided bringing the Brazilian to the club for a month’s trial.

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Waterford United faced league leaders Galway United who were on an impressive nineteen game unbeaten run. Yet Jimmy Meagan of the Irish Press believed their task was ‘tantamount to stopping a spring tide in full spate.’ Hale commented on Brasil that ‘I watched him play in training and he was very impressive.’ The new recruit was modest in stating that he could play in all positions across the pitch bar in goal.

Duke of Samba

The largest crowd at Kilcohan that season were witness to the Tribesmen maintaining their unbeaten run and their championship aspirations with a final score of 2-2. Philip Reid’s match report contained the following:

“…how very close Waterford came to earning a shock win. It was a real team performance…they were nearly thanking for a cherished win the player with the longest name in Irish soccer…The coloured attacker made his debut for the Blues as a substitute to the sound of James Lasts’s “Duke of Samba” and he did a jig of pure delight shortly afterwards as he shot Waterford into a 2-1 lead against the bemused Westerners…Bennett, a half-time substitute, laid off a nice ball to Brazil from Reid’s corner and the 26-year-old fired home a great shot from 16-yards.”

His new manager’s reflection as noted in the Cork Examiner were that Tião Brasil ‘has tremendous skill and scored a very good goal when we introduced him in the second half. Conditions didn’t suit him and he still has to adjust to League of Ireland football but he is a fine player.’

The Brazilian’s qualities were further demonstrated in a reserve game against Shelbourne, scoring two goals in a 6-1 victory over the Tolka Park club. A teammate, Jimmy Donnelly described how Brasil had brought sweets to throw to the fans upon scoring (a custom in Brazil) but with such a sparse crowd the sweets were divided out among the players on the pitch. The Blues next league game was away to St. Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park. The Inchicore club were favourites for a victory to boost their push for a UEFA Cup berth. Brasil made his first start for the club and commenced the move which led to Waterford’s first goal. Yet he ‘found conditions very much to his distaste…he did little of note’ and was replaced by Vinny McCarthy after 56 minutes. The game finished (another) 2-2 draw leading the Munster Express to decree ‘Realistically, Waterford Utd.’s chances of league honours faded at the halfway stage of the competition, especially as nobody seems to be able to stop the relentless progress of the two leading contenders, Shamrock Rovers and Galway United. So, the big prize at stake now is the FAI Cup.’

Skipping the team talk

Waterford again faced Galway United in Kilcohan, this time in the fourth round of the cup. In a surprise result, Waterford defeated the title chasers 2-1. An attendance yielding gate receipts of £6,060 saw Mick Bennett and Jimmy Donnelly give the home fans ‘a taste of the “rare ould times”’. However, it was recorded in the Evening Herald that ‘Tiao Brazil…ruled himself out of the match when he skipped the team talk after learning that he was to start on the bench.’ These actions created a hurdle to any extension of his month’s trial with the club.

The Kilcohan side;s next opponents were league leaders Shamrock Rovers, two points ahead of Galway but having played one game more. Alfie Hale had the flu going into the game and sought to clarify the future of Tião Brasil before the Sunday fixture. To resolve the situation, Waterford United recruited a student from the Waterford Regional Technical College to act as an interpreter with the Herald wryly asserting that Brasil ‘has some smooth talking to do if he wants to complete his trial period’.

A week later the Herald outlined: ‘Waterford, meanwhile, have lost only once in a dozen games. They scuppered the Cup hopes of Galway and undermined the Hoops’ Championship charge in the past fortnight…Tiao Brazil [sic] has been released.’ Waterford would finish the league campaign in 5th place (Shamrock Rovers were crowned champions finishing two points ahead of Galway) but qualified for the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup after being defeated by Rovers 2-0 at Dalymount Park in the FAI Cup final.

Quoted by Shane Murphy for a piece in the Waterford FC programme, The Blue View, Brasil stated he was ‘an idol of the Irish. It was impossible to even get out on the street without children screaming my name, “Tião, Tião, Tião”. In the Irish pubs, the people sang Gaelic songs in my honour.’ Not short on hyperbole, Brasil was certainly an eccentric character that partially explains the nomadic journeyman nature of his soccer career. In the same article, he notes how his Catholic beliefs were entwined with the people of southern Ireland. Even if he didn’t find a career in Ireland’s oldest city, he did find love, having a girlfriend named Marion.

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Now he can be spotted by the Copacabana

After his brief spell by the River Suir, Brasil returned to France and lined out for Red Star 93 of Paris. This was followed by Olympiakos Nicosia of Cyprus before subsequently returning to his native land. Now known as DJ Tião Brasil, he can be spotted on the Copacabana displaying his soccer skills and selling CDs of his reggae mixes, certainly far more comfortable in his surroundings than on a rainy night in Inchicore. In 2014, he ran for election for Councilman as a Democratic Labour Party candidate, receiving 111 votes (noted as 0.00 % of the total vote). The Partido Democrático Trabalhista or PDT were founded in 1979 and number 1,250,777 in their membership. A centre-left party, the PDT were the first party of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Brasil declared his occupation as broadcaster/radio & television commentator as well as disc jockey.

Perhaps his spirit was more in keeping with reggae rhythm than the samba beat we all associate with Brazilian soccer. Instead of becoming a legend in the annals of the Irish game, he has done as much for the cause of socialism in his homeland as he had done for Waterford in the League of Ireland.

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