The year of 1962 was not only the year I was born, it was also the year that the Rolling Stones and the Beatles recorded their first singles, that Fidel Castro was excommunicated by Pope John XXIII, that Adolf Eichmann, the engineer of the holocaust, was executed in Israel, that João Gilberto and Tom Jobim made their American début at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and that Marilyn Monroe died of a drugs overdose.
For Brazil, what marked that year was its second ever World Cup victory. If winning a World Cup electrified “developed” countries, such as Italy, Germany and England, it is hard to imagine the explosion of excitement and sheer joy that Rio de Janeiro experienced. From the shacks in the favelas to the luxury apartments in the Zona Sul, everyone’s ears were firmly glued to their radios, anxiously following the tournament’s final between Brazil and Czechoslovakia. Every move in Chile’s National Stadium produced waves of nervous excitement in every corner of Rio and every goal that Brazil scored triggered a collective delirium.
After the final whistle sealed Brazil’s three to one victory, celebrations took to the streets, continuing into the small hours of the morning. As always the batucadas, or samba drummings, were the soul of the spontaneous out-of-season carnivals. This unmistakable beat was based on three instruments: the surdo, a large bass drum that marked the rhythm; the caixa, a type of snare drum; and the tamborim, a tiny, shallow, drum that made a loud cracking sound and that was used to lead the music.
The musicians came down from the favelas to show the “asphalt” that the streets also belonged to them and declaring that they were the kings of samba. In their entourage were caramel coloured girls, or mulatas, who shook their magnificent bodies to the rhythm, exposing almost everything long before the appearance of the Brazilian-style bikini. As the celebrations took off, the crowds pushed aside political and social differences and only thought about the goals scored by their football heroes – Garrincha, Didi, Vava and so many others. In their celebratory delirium their hearts only cared about singing their joy out in carnival songs that they all loved and who knows, meeting someone special amidst the partying.
Eight years later, in 1970, after the disappointing and unimpressive campaign of 1966, Brazil was on its way to Mexico to attempt its third World Cup title. Thanks to television, the entire nation could now actually see their team play live, and, with the help of this new medium, the military regime invested heavily in fermenting a fever of patriotism around football that engulfed the country.
Some villages received their first television set in order to allow their people to watch the tournament. The villagers gathered around these single sets, often in unpaved squares in the middle of the jungle, to become part of the “90 million in action”, as went the team’s official song. Throughout the country, almost every car had a yellow and green ribbon tied to its antenna and every establishment bore at least a flag or a poster of a favourite player, or of the whole team, affixed to a wall. Our street was no exception and joined in the commotion. Residents hung flags from their windows and the more exalted took their time to spread hundreds of small paper banners on wires that they set up crossing from one side of the road to the other.
While at every possible opportunity the media spread pro-regime messages and there were stickers everywhere proclaiming slogans like “Brazil: Love it or leave it” and “God is Brazilian”, few people realized that the team’s coach, João Saldanha, was a committed communist who held meetings of the illegal party in his house. After Saldanha refused to select one of President Medici’s favourite players, Dario – Dadá Maravilha – for his team, and making inconvenient political statements while inspecting the stadia in Mexico, the governing generals ordered that Zagallo, a former star player who had participated in the victorious campaigns of 1958 and 1962, replace the coach.