Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sport Club Rio Grande

July 19 is a special day in the history of Brazilian football.

In July 1900 a group of young British, Germans and Portuguese conceived of the idea of a club entirely devoted to football. After several false starts, the group eventually met at the Germania Club on 19 July, which had catered for the Teutonic community and their families since the 1860s. It was on the occasion of a young German's twenty-fifth birthday that Brazil's longest-running football club came into being.

Originally from Hamburg, Johannes Minneman had migrated to Rio Grande to work in the commercial opportunities presented there. But he had not been living and working in Brazil for long and still lacked fluency in the Portuguese language. It is not surprising then, with the large number of Germans in the group, that the founding documents for Sport Club Rio Grande were written in German, using gothic characters.

The aims were modest enough. With 22 founders, the club had enough players to make up two teams. With little imagination they were called A and B respectively. For the first few months they played amongst themselves, before meeting external opposition for the first time in May the following year. On that occasion the combined forces of Sport Club would be ranged against a team of English sailors from the battleship Nymph, beating them 2-1. Two years later the club finally settled on red, green and yellow as its team colours – the same as the state flag – which it has kept to this day.

Minneman would marry and have children in Rio Grande before returning to Germany in 1906. Over time the German and English influences at the club would wane, as Rio Grande's influence as a major port declined. In 1922 Sport Club won the Independence Cup, a competition held to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Brazil. Fourteen years later the club won the state championship – its last major success.

With the professionalisation of the sport, the period since the Second World War has been less than kind to the club. In recent years Sport Club has turned out in the state's Second Division, usually ending the season in the bottom half. In 2004 they finished last out of nine teams in their first-round group, winning one and drawing three. Their position forced them into a wooden spoon play off against the two clubs immediately above them, Uruguaiana and Rio Grandense. Honour was partly restored with a victory and a loss against both, placing them second in their group.

Given that low level of achievement, the only note of pride for the club in recent years has been its centenary, dragging them out of national obscurity and back into the public eye. In July 2000, a full page advert appeared in some of Brazil's biggest newspapers, including the Rio-based Jornal do Brasil. Its publicity was designed to highlight that it was the oldest football club in Brazil, challenging the claims of several other more famous clubs, including those of Ponte Preta, São Paulo Athletic Club, Flamengo, Vasco da Gama and the Bahian club Vitória. For good measure and to ensure it had the official seal of approval, it played its trump card by informing readers that the president would be coming to their celebrations. With that invitation confirmed and eventual agreement by the football media, Sport Club Rio Grande could at last claim the title of Vovô de futbol brasileiro – the grandfather of Brazilian football.

by Guy Burton

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