Soccer soon became an export of the English empire as common as boots, flour, Manchester cloth and the doctrine of free trade. In 1889 the first international competition was organized by the English of Montevideo and Buenos Aires. In 1895 the British employees of the Gas Company and São Paulo Railway staged the first Brazilian soccer game.
It was unstoppable. Once a way for the lazy offspring of the upper-class to get some fresh oxygen in their lungs, soccer blossomed in the slums of South America and a style was born. Players in Argentina, drawing upon the Tango, chose to dance with the ball rather than kick it. In the tropicalized soccer of Brazil, the poor played it because all that was needed was a ball of rags and desire. Fertilized by the capoeira – the warrior dance of black slaves – and the dance of the festivals, the most beautiful form of the game was born.
In a social pyramid with blacks on the bottom, whites on the top, and a great chasm between, soccer became one of the very few democratic venues where people of color had a shot at social mobility. All of Brazil’s best players, from Romario and Zisinho, to Didi and Pelé, have come up from poverty, and some of them returned to it. They grew up with no other toy than a ball. In such poverty they learned to move around the rules, preparing them for a life of crime or soccer. They became experts in hip feints, step-overs, break-throughs, bluffs, blinds, pretending, surprising.
Now that the many major European teams are no longer clubs but are corporations, South American soccer is an export industry and the joy of hypnotic play is often at odds with all that the industry of Soccer-as-Spectacle views as inefficient. Technocrats are employed as managers to maximize the profitability of play, programming every play down to the smallest detail. And now they want to employ closed-circuit television to review and control the one element of humanity on the field that they cannot control: the referee.
“There’s too much money at stake,” clamors Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of the multi-national corporation known as Manchester United, “to let human error be a factor.”