“Have you ever played Brazil?”

English League Two football club Exeter City has recently announced that it will return to Brazil in July 2014, 100 years after the club’s first trip there. The team will be travelling to Rio de Janeiro to play an historic fixture against Fluminense at the Estádio das Laranjeiras. MEI’s editorial director Rachael Church-Sanders, a season ticket holder at Exeter City, explains why Brazil will always remain close to the heart of the ‘Grecians’.

It is safe to say, I love Exeter City FC. I have done so for nearly 22 years since my student days found me reporting on the team for University Radio Exeter from my flat window that fortuitously overlooked the ‘Real’ St James’ Park (as we like to call City’s ground).

In my many years of supporting the club, several moments stand out in Exeter City’s history as particularly memorable. These include a 0,0 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in January 2005, earning the club a replay that saved us from bankruptcy after a period of very dodgy dealings; coming back against Devon rivals Torquay United in May 2008 when we were trailing 3-1 on aggregate with 20 minutes to go to win 5-3 and secure a League Two play-off final at Wembley Stadium; winning back to back promotions from the Conference to League One (May 2008 and May 2009); and even the time the pop star Michael Jackson visited St James’ Park in 2002 with spoonbender Uri Geller and magician David Blaine is a favourite vignette.

Another occasion that makes the ‘unforgettable’ list is hosting the Brazilian national team, known simply as ‘the seleção’ (‘the selection’), at St James’ Park back in 2004 in a friendly match.

Yes, you read that correctly, Exeter City hosted Brazil* in 2004 at St James’ Park. Trust me, I was there! (*Well ok, a team of Brazilian ‘Masters’ rather than the national team per se, although it did include the likes of Careca, Jorginho, Branco and Dunga). The match was organised to commemorate both Exeter City’s centenary that year and to celebrate the fact that Exeter City was the first ever English team to play the Brazilian national side. The Grecians toured South America in 1914 and, after apparently facing arrest for bathing in the sea in their swimsuits prior to their game (which was just not the done thing back then; imagine what might have happened if they had left their swimsuits off), drew a very respectable 3,3 with Brazil. Fast-forward 90 years and the scoreline favoured Brazil, who sneaked it with a 1,0 win (from a penalty), on a day when the sun shined, Brazilian bongo drums were thoroughly beaten and scantily-clad women shook their stuff as they brought ‘Carnaval’ fever to the heart of Devon.

The chant: “It’s just like watching Brazil” certainly rang true that day, with actual bona fide FIFA World Cup winners tackling and nutmegging the likes of our very own legend Steve Flack in a surreal display of showboating and good humour. With most Exeter City fans happy to sit back and soak up the miasma of greatness that hung about the place that day (and also feeling very grateful not to get thumped 5,0), the match was more Jurassic at times than classic. However, as Dunga said after the game: “The real winner was football,” (although the bongo drums probably edged it on points). My enjoyable day was made truly rapturous by sharing a train carriage back to London with some of the Brazilian players after the game. Yes, Dunga and the boys travelled economy, (perhaps because Exeter City was covering their expenses), and seemed to enjoy the pleasures of the local cider quite nicely.

The match was described as an “incongruous showdown” by UK newspaper The Independent which continued at the time: “One is a struggling non-league football club whose consistent lack of success on the pitch is as acute as its financial troubles. The other is a World Cup-winning squad with a stash of silverware, a string of heroes, and a global following of millions.” I’m sure you can work out which club was which although Exeter City is now ironically one of the richest clubs in the country by virtue of now being run by a debt-free Supporters’ Trust!

Despite being relegated back into League Two at the end of the 2011-12 season, fellow Grecians will forever be able to stand tall and sing our hearts out by taunting the opposition with a chant unique to our very own football club: “Have you ever played Brazil?”

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