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Heard the one about two Scotsmen, Brazil and a football?

São Paulo AC, 1904. Charles Miller is pictured front and centre in the early days of organised football in Brazil

It’s fitting that our first game of this World Cup should be in São Paulo and feature England. For it was here, almost 120 years ago, that the British introduced football to Brazil.

Indeed, the world might never have heard of Pelé, Zico, Ronaldo or Neymar had it not been for a couple of football-loving Scotsmen.

Here in São Paulo, such was the contribution of Charles William Miller — whose father, John, came here in the 1870s to work on the construction of the city’s railways — that there is still a square named after him.

Fittingly, Praça Charles Miller is today the home of São Paulo’s hugely impressive Football Museum, built under the stands of Pacaembu Stadium, which has been home to famous clubs such as Corinthians, Palmeiras and Santos over the years. Photographs of the mustachioed Miller and early São Paulo teams are prominently displayed alongside exploits of Brazil’s latter-day football legends.

Until 2011, Miller was credited alone with bringing the game to Brazil but research has since proved that another Scot, a dye worker named Thomas Donohue, who came to Brazil in May 1894, actually organised the first football match played in Brazil — a six-a-side game next to his textile factory in Rio de Janeiro’s Bangu neighbourhood in September 1894. This was some eight months before Miller staged the country’s first full 11-a-side match, between the workers of the São Paulo Railway and the Gas Company — all of whom were British.

However, Miller’s role in Brazilian football history was critical. In 1904, he established the country’s first organised league — with the country’s first sports club, São Paulo Athletic Club, winning the first three titles — and helped to form the Brazilian Football Confederation in 1914.

Miller was no slouch as a player himself. Born in São Paulo, he was sent to school in England in 1884 as a ten-year-old, and was a good enough winger and striker to play for St Mary’s FC (now Southampton, of the Barclays Premier League), the Hampshire county team, and The Corinthian FC, a famous amateur team. A trick loved by Brazilian players and fans alike — a deft flick of the heel called the chaleira (teapot or kettle) — was a party piece of Miller’s and named in his honour.

When Miller returned to Brazil in 1894, his luggage included two footballs and a book of the 13 rules of Association Football. He taught the rules to local players and organised tours by Southampton and The Corinthian. It was after a tour by the latter in 1910 that Miller suggested the name “Corinthians” to a new club that would become one of the most famous and successful in Brazil and whose long list of World Cup legends includes Sócrates and Rivelino.

While Miller’s contribution to Brazilian football has never been questioned, it was not until last year that Thomas Donohue was recognised with a 15-foot bronze statue in the car park of a Bangu shopping centre — the site of his former textile factory and that first kickabout.

Interestingly, the Scots introduced the game to two completely different social classes. While Miller’s social circles were upper-class and light-skinned, Donahue’s team-mates were predominantly black working-class labourers. Indeed, Francisco Carregal, the first black man to play for a Brazilian club, played for Bangu Atlético Clube in 1904, although it was not until 1933 that Leônidas da Silva, “The Black Diamond”, became the first black player to play for Brazil.

Five World Cups later, Brazilian football is admired the world over, synonymous with O joga Bonito, “The Beautiful Game”, and generations of players that rank among the greatest ever to have played the game.

Football’s not exactly “coming home” tomorrow when England play their crucial group D game against Uruguay in the Arena Corinthians, but maybe The Three Lions may just take some inspiration from the unique history that they share with São Paulo.

Chris Gibbons is a former Sports Editor of the Mid-Ocean News and Deputy Sports Editor of The Royal Gazette