Underneath, the players’ names are printed in capital letters. For most, one name is enough. Ronaldo … Didi … Falcão … Tostão … Garrincha … and the most famous of all, Pelé.
On the museum’s opening day last week, many visitors simply looked up at the glass screens in respectful silence.
“This is a place for us to worship,” said Mário Vieira, a 53-year-old banker standing outside the museum, which is housed in the Pacaembu Stadium. “Brazilians have soccer in their blood.”
The new museum is Brazil’s first truly national soccer museum, a reminder in this soccer-mad nation of how Brazilians – winners of five World Cups – became the most successful footballers the world has known.
Yet the Football Museum, as it is simply called, is not content with just being a place for Brazilians to worship its stars and recall their glorious moments. It also seeks to explain how an obscure import from England, once practiced here only by the elite, became the obsession of the masses in this multifarious country of 195 million people.
The museum tells the story of sport and country, where the national pastime has come to represent and inspire the multiracial, samba-loving soul of the people. In Brazil, stuffy European soccer was transformed into “the beautiful game” of magical passing and dribbling that has won the country world renown.
The museum was the brainchild of José Serra, São Paulo’s governor, who first dreamed up the idea five years ago while serving as mayor of the city. Despite the nation’s dedication to soccer worship, such a museum had never been built in Brazil. A small museum in Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracanã stadium was closed recently from lack of use.
Serra was able to get nearly a hectare, or about two acres, and collect contributions from the city and corporate sponsors. An inauguration ceremony last week drew politicians, including Sergio Cabral, Rio’s governor, and Pelé himself.
“I imagined a museum fundamentally made up of ideas, memories, and not so much of relics,” Serra told them. “I thought of something that would express the memory of our soccer, the great performances as well as our sufferings.”
Serra defused the usual rivalry between São Paulo and Rio by graciously acknowledging the presence of Cabral. The Rio governor, in turn, said that Rio had “lost its opportunity” over many years to build a national museum and was not ashamed to “learn from São Paulo.”
In some ways Serra was bringing soccer home to its official birthplace in Brazil: São Paulo. Charles Miller, the son of a Scottish father and English-blooded mother, was born here and educated in England, only to return in 1894 with two soccer balls and a rule book.
Determined to make the sport he fell in love with in Europe a success at home, he helped found the São Paulo Athletic Club, where he played until 1910. An exhibit in the museum also notes, however, that employees of British companies were known to have played soccer on Paysandu Street in Rio as early as 1875.
On the museum’s opening day, hundreds of visitors absorbed the mix of history and fun. Pelé, in a suit, greeted entering visitors on a larger-than-life monitor. “Welcome to the Football Museum,” he said in a recording.
The museum features some 1,500 photos, including one of Leonidas da Silva, the top scorer of the 1938 World Cup, kissing the hand of Mother Teresa. There are six hours of movies, mostly showing clips of famous goals. In a glass case of the World Cup Room hangs the yellow jersey that Pelé wore when he scored the first goal in the final of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico City.
There are testimonials from journalists and the calls of famous radio announcers. As a placard explains, it was the era of radio in the 1930s and 1940s that helped increase interest in the sport and in popular music, creating the “idols that represented the nation.”
Famous writers, sociologists and musicians are celebrated throughout the museum. Images of Brazil’s five World Cups are blended with memories of world events and popular figures of those eras – the wars, the moon landings, the hippies, the samba dancers, the Beatles, Nelson Mandela.
Another room pays homage to Brazil’s fans. They dance shirtless, beating drums to samba rhythms on huge video screens, with cacophonous surround sound that makes you feel as if you are among the crowd.
A sport for the masses is a theme throughout. In one room, a short film recounts how soccer in Brazil morphed from a country club sport that was socially segregated during Miller’s time, into one that took on the evolving character of the racially mixed working class propelling Brazil’s industrialization.
History aside, the museum offers a bit of fun as well. Visitors can kick a soccer ball while a radar gun measures its speed, and later retrieve a photo capturing the moment from the museum’s Web site. And they can don 3-D glasses to watch the star player Ronaldinho juggle a ball all over his body to a thumping rock soundtrack.
Another room, labeled Numbers and Curiosities, describes soccer strategies and the origin of the “bicycle kick.” It assaults visitors with eye-popping factoids, like the 1,282 goals Pelé scored in his 21-year career, and the 183,341 paid spectators who watched Brazil defeat Paraguay in 1969 at Maracanä.
But Brazil’s most painful soccer disappointment, its 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final, is also on display. A clip of the match runs with a soundtrack of a dying heartbeat. In a photo in the World Cup room, the Uruguayan goalie Roque Máspoli consoles a despondent Augusto da Costa, Brazil’s captain.
The defeat was devastating. The Maracanã stadium had been built with the certainty of a World Cup victory. “But from that moment on, Brazilian football would experience its greatest triumphs,” the museum proclaims.
Copyright 2014 Riverine News.
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