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Garrincha

(1933—1983)


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(1933–83)

A Brazilian soccer player who played in Brazil's World Cup winning sides of 1958 and 1962. The name Garrincha means ‘little bird’, and is often given in Brazil to people with a disability; at times Garrincha was also given the nickname ‘Joy of the People’ or ‘Angel with Bent Legs’. Born with a defective spine, an inward-bending right leg, and an outward-bending left leg that was also shorter than the other leg, Garrincha was raised in a deprived family and domestic setting in which his father was an alcoholic, and did not enter the professional game until 1953. His continuous alcohol and associated weight problems did not prevent him achieving a glittering career, almost wholly—apart from a few months in Colombia—in Brazil, mostly with the club Botafogo. The national team never lost a match in which Garrincha and Pelé played together, and his playing style and impact captured the fantasy and imagination of the population, particularly the poor and the oppressed. John Humphrey writes:Brazilians saw in his play the affirmation of Brazilian values over European, and also popular values over those of the elite. For many people in Brazil there was no better sight than a six-foot, blond, superbly-coached and tactically-trained European defender on a rigid calorie-controlled diet being made to look like a fool by the devastating artistry of an undernourished, anarchic black winger with two twisted legs who would have never got past the medical exam in European soccer. (‘No Holding Brazil: Football, Nationalism and Politics’, in A. Tomlinson and G. Whannel, eds, Off the Ball: The Football World, Cup 1986).‘Good legs and good luck’ were Garrincha attributes, in the words of Eduardo Galeano, who notes too that the player ‘had fun cracking jokes with his legs’ (Football in Sun and Shadow, 1997). His farewell match in 1973, between a Brazil side and a World FIFA XI, attracted 131,000 spectators to the Maracanã stadium. Garrincha died of cirrhosis of the liver ten years later, in an alcoholic coma in Rio de Janeiro, having been in and out of hospital numerous times in the previous few months. Physical and mental deterioration obscured his later years, and as in the case of many such socially mobile sporting figures, his descent into such a condition, his fall from the celebrated to the neglected, was rapid. Garrincha is commemorated in a named sporting stadium in Brasilia.

Brazilians saw in his play the affirmation of Brazilian values over European, and also popular values over those of the elite. For many people in Brazil there was no better sight than a six-foot, blond, superbly-coached and tactically-trained European defender on a rigid calorie-controlled diet being made to look like a fool by the devastating artistry of an undernourished, anarchic black winger with two twisted legs who would have never got past the medical exam in European soccer. (‘No Holding Brazil: Football, Nationalism and Politics’, in A. Tomlinson and G. Whannel, eds, Off the Ball: The Football World, Cup 1986).

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.


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