Brazilian football club celebrates Che Guevara link

Che Guevara and Madureira players in Havana, 1963 Che Guevara went to see the Brazilian side play in Havana

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You would be forgiven for thinking that the football players with Che Guevara portraits emblazoned on their jerseys were members of the Cuban national team.

Instead, they play for a small Brazilian football team, Madureira Esporte Clube, from a Rio de Janeiro suburb.

Earlier this year, Madureira decided to use Alberto Korda's famous photograph of the revolutionary leader for one of its new uniforms.

So far the jersey has only been used by the team's Football 7, but that very team has just won the Brazilian seven-a-side League wearing the new kit.

Madureira Che Guevara shirt launch Income from the shirts' sale will help the club pay for its centenary celebrations

And the impact with football fans and Che Guevara supporters around the globe has been so positive that the club has been considering getting their main squad, which plays in the Brazilian third division, to wear the uniforms, too.

Apart from the image, the jersey is also adorned with one of Che Guevara's most memorable mottos: Hasta la Victoria Siempre (Until Victory Always).

The shirt marks the 50th anniversary of a rare visit to Cuba by the club, during which its players met the famous Argentine-born commander.

World champions

It was in 1963 - just four years after Che Guevara fought alongside Fidel Castro in his successful guerrilla campaign against Cuban ruler Fulgencio Batista - when the team travelled to the Communist island.

Madureira shirt with Che Guevara image The shirt has become popular with football fans and left-wing activists alike

The Brazilian team won the five matches it played in Cuba. A keen sports fan, Che Guevara - who was then Minister for Industry - saw Madureira's last match in Havana on 18 May 1963.

Madureira shirt with Che Guevara image The club also designed a special goalkeeper shirt based on the Cuban flag

After Madureira's 3-2 victory, he greeted the players and had his picture taken with them.

It was at a time when football supporters were hungry to see Brazilian teams play, following the success of Brazil's national squad led by Garrincha and Pele at the World Cup in Sweden in 1958 and in Chile in 1962.

Madureira's then-president Jose da Gama came up with the idea of touring the world with his team.

Global tours were an important source of income for Brazil's bigger clubs in an era before sponsorship and television revenues. So Mr Gama thought it would be a good move to take the team on a Western Hemisphere tour, with stops in Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and finally, Cuba.

"He had an entrepreneurial spirit. He could foresee market trends where nobody else did," historian Ronaldo Luiz Martins told Brazilian newspaper Extra.

Iconic image

Che's image has always been popular with football fans, many of whom sport his picture on T-shirts and flags. Argentine football legend Diego Armando Maradona even has a tattoo of Che's face on his right arm.

But this is the first time that a professional club has chosen his image for their official uniforms, according to professor Carles Vinas, from the University of Barcelona.

Mr Vinas, who is also a sports columnist, says Che Guevara's ties with football go back to his childhood.

Madureira shirt with Che Guevara image Printed on the shirt is one of Che's famous quotes: "Until Victory Always"

He started playing at school in his native Argentina. But because he suffered from asthma, he chose to be a goalkeeper so he could keep his inhaler close to him.

According to the historian, it was already at this time that Che started showing his rebellious side.

He played the game against his family's will, who thought it would be bad for his health.

He also played a few games during his motorcycle tour of South America. In a letter to his father he described playing with leprosy patients in Peru.

"This may seem like pointless bravado," he wrote in a letter home to his father, "but the psychological benefit to these people - usually treated like animals - of being treated as normal human beings is incalculable."

Thanks to Madureira's "revolutionary" new kit, Che's links to football have now been revived 40 years after his death.

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