Exeter City return to Brazil one hundred years after special trip

By Kalika MehtaBBC Sport
Exeter City v Brazil 1914
Exeter City played against Brazil just two weeks before the start of World War One

It almost seems unthinkable that a century of samba football was borne out of a bunch of Devon boys, a misjudged skinny dip and a pair of knocked-out teeth.

How Exeter City, who finished just five points outside the League Two relegation places in 2014, helped form the first ever Brazilian side is little known, to those in both South America or south-west England.

But it all happened when, en route home from their 1914 pre-season tour of Argentina, the Grecians stopped off in Brazil, after Nottingham Forest and Southampton turned down requests to make the trip.

Despite a desire for them to also travel to Sao Paulo, Exeter chose only to play in Rio de Janeiro, forcing the invention of a team with a mixture of players from the two largest football states, and thus creating the 'Selecao' (the selection), which to this day remains the Brazilian national team's nickname.

With England being the birthplace of football, the images held in Brazil were that the English were the gods of the sport and it left the locals anticipating a match akin to the flowing, beautiful football they were used to watching.

Exeter City Football Club 1914
The 1914 Exeter City side included goalkeeper Dick Pym, who lifted the FA Cup with Bolton in 1923

But disaster struck before a ball had been kicked, when Exeter's players chose to go for a dip in the sea and found themselves in a spot of bother as they were charged with gross indecency.

The players did make it onto the pitch, however, and the 3,000 fans that were packed into the Estadio das Laranjeiras were surprised with the roughness of the visitors' play.

The natural flare of the hastily put together Brazilian XI shone through and although their star player, Arthur Friedenreich, lost two teeth in the battle, the South American side ran out 2-0 winners - Oswaldo Gomes and Osman both finding the back of the net - against the professionals they had believed to be unbeatable.

Now, a century later, Exeter are returning to South America to mark the centenary of the extraordinary history they share with the country and their national football side.

Estadio das Laranjeiras
The Estadio das Laranjeiras is still owned by Fluminense but the Brazilian league side now play at the Maracana

Newly appointed Grecians club captain, Scot Bennett, says that he has spent the last few weeks reading articles in local newspapers to grasp a better understanding of their trip to Brazil.

"I know bits and bobs," Bennett told BBC Sport. "I've read a lot in the newspapers recently, learning what the game was all about, with Exeter playing Brazil a hundred years ago and being the first team to do that.

"I know that there is a lot of history there and I think that both the club and the players are going to be a massive part of Brazil's history for a long time."

In the 100 years since that match the fortunes of the two sides have greatly differed. Brazil have featured in all 20 World Cups, winning football's top accolade a record five times, and reached the semi-finals of this year's competition held in their own country.

Exeter, meanwhile, have never played above the third tier in English football and will now begin their third consecutive campaign in League Two in August, having previously spent five years in the Conference between 2003 and 2008.

Brazil 1914
The 1914 Brazil side consisted of seven players from sides in Rio and four players from teams in Sao Paulo

But that Grecians manager Paul Tisdale and his men have been to flown over to Brazil and will play three matches over a week is proof of the high regard the club are still held in by all those at the top of the Brazilian game.

Fluminense, one of Brazil's most popular and successful domestic clubs, will cover a large part of the cost, alongside a number of other contributors from Brazil, and will play Exeter in their opening pre-season friendly at the famous Estadio das Laranjeiras on Sunday, 20 July.

The four-time Brazilian Serie A winners usually play their football at the Maracana, the venue of this year's World Cup final, and have boasted sides with notable players such as Brazil legend Rivellino, free-kick specialist Branco, Paris St-Germain defender Thiago Silva, current club captain Fred and midfielder Dario Conca.

For Exeter academy graduate Bennett, handed the captain's armband on a full-time basis just prior to the trip, the meaning of leading out his side against Fluminense is not lost on the 23-year-old.

"It is one thing to lead your team out on a matchday," he said. "When you are over there and are part of something so big, coming out in a big stadium and against such a big team, there's always going to be an added emphasis on that.

"It's definitely added to the excitement for me and around 160 fans are travelling over and making a big effort to come over. Hopefully we can put on a good show for them."

Following the commemorative match, Exeter's players and staff will watch their opposition take on Santos at the Maracana in a league match later that day, before going on to face Tupi on Wednesday, 23 July and Rio Cricket and Athletic Association on Friday, 25 July.

It will be a fitting way to remember that Exeter City were responsible for kick-starting one of the greatest footballing dynasties the game has ever known, and a century later Bennett knows he is reaping the rewards of his Exeter predecessors' labour.

"As a young boy you dream you can play in big stadiums, full stadiums, against good sides, but when you're playing in League Two it does not happen week in, week out," Bennett said.

"Going over to Brazil, where the World Cup has just taken place, is definitely going to be a dream come true for me and all of the lads."