When I think about the history of the British Empire I, like most people I’m sure, tend to think of our exploits in the usual places – Asia, Africa, the Middle-East, Australasia and North America.
But South America? Well, I’d never really thought about us Brits having anything to do with the continent. I mean it was a continent of Spanish and Portuguese colonies right?
Well, yes, apart from British Guiana it was. Not that deterred us of course.
British involvement in the continent stretches as far back to the likes of Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh and, as one can imagine, they took a typically straightforward approach to international relations (i.e. robbing the Spanish of their loot).
Later on, the Brits got a bit more ambitious and even had a go at invading (including cities such as Buenos Aires and Montevideo), but when this didn’t really work out they took a more subtle approach to their work. For example, the British played an active role in stirring up and assisting the continent’s Independence movements during the nineteenth century. And in Brazil, which followed a slightly different path to independence, Britain was given privileged access via its links to the Portuguese empire and the role it had played in helping the Portuguese royal family scarper to Rio following Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1808.
And bang, quicker than you can make a cup of tea, British banks were funding Brazilian infrastructure whilst British engineers were building railways (of course), ports and bridges.
“But what does that have to do with cricket?” I can hear you ask. Well, as John R Mills explains…
The English, even in small numbers, brought with them the habits from their homeland. Cricket was their pastime, their weekend fun, and they were not worried by the indifference of others in relation to their sport, that we must say, even nowadays, is still difficult to understand.
Charles William Miller 1894 – 1994 – Centenary Memoriam SPAC.
So, whilst the British in Brazil and around the continent did their bit for the empire during the week, they brought their games with them so that they could carry on with their jollies at the weekends.
Whilst these games started off informally clubs soon formed and games became an integral part of the local British communities. In São Paulo the first club was established by engineers of the São Paulo Railway and was called the São Paulo Athletic Club (now Clube Atlético São Paulo or SPAC).
Today, SPAC is more famously known as the club to which Charles Miller, born in Brazil to British parents, introduced football to Brazil upon his return from boarding school in Southampton in 1894. However, cricket had already started to be played regularly well before this, since 1888 at SPAC and even earlier in Rio.
It seems though that the locals took less interest in cricket than they did when football arrived:
No-one but the British could see the thrill of three stumps and two bails shattered by a spinning ball. The British had been playing cricket in South American since 1806, but their efforts to inspire a love of the game in the local population had proved an embarrassing failure. The locals showed a willingness to stare at cricketers and laugh – the game nicely confirmed the British as lunatics – but refused to join in.
God is a Brazilian (Josh Lacey)
The legacy of this, of course, is that whilst Brazil may have gone on to win five football World Cups it’ll never be number one in the world at cricket.
In your face Brazil.
Gradually though, as the empire faded after the Second World War, so did the influence of the British in São Paulo. Brazil, after all, wasn’t even part of the empire – there were more important things to worry about back home than a few small communities in Brazil.
At the same time the role and presence of the Brits in São Paulo also became less prominent. Where once they had mingled with and made up the numbers of the hoity-toity in São Paulo they soon became just another immigrant group – and an insignificant one at that – as the city grew from a small town of 30,000 at Charles Miller’s birth to a booming metropolis of over 2,000,000 by the time of his death in 1953.
But, whilst football went on to become a national obsession, cricket didn’t disappear entirely in São Paulo – or Brazil for that matter. Nope, your intrepid reporter is happy to report that cricket is still very much alive and kicking, and this owes a lot to the expats who’ve persevered in organising and playing games amongst their dwindling numbers over the past century.
According to the website of Cricket Brasil, the the Brazil Cricket Association (BCA) was formed in 1922 and helped to organise interstate and international games. In 1989 a club was formed in Brasília and in 1999 the British bank HSBC built a cricket ground at its sports facility in Coritiba. Finally, in 2001 the national Associação Brasileira de Cricket (ABC) was founded and Brazil became an Affiliate Member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2003.
All these developments have helped to enable the organisation of a national league, a women’s team and a promotion of the game at a junior level so that there is now a higher participation in cricket by Brazilians themselves.
Here in São Paulo the game is also still going strong and games are arranged once or twice a month. I’m happy to report that I’ve played two games myself over the past month (that’s as many as I had played in the previous two years in the UK).
Today, the numbers are largely made up by Asian as opposed to British expats – a sign of the times for both cricket and the city of São Paulo methinks. Even some Brazilians play as well.
However, one tradition remains and that is that in São Paulo cricket is still played at the ground of SPAC, the club where it all began – and long may it continue.
For more information on how to get involved in cricket in São Paulo / Brazil check out the following sites:
Cricket Brasil – http://www.brasilcricket.org/en/
São Paulo Cricket Club (Facebook Page) – https://www.facebook.com/groups/121501104548704/
Josh Lacey (2005) God is a Brazilian
John R. Mills (1994) Charles William Miller 1894 – 1994 – Centenary Memoriam SPAC.