O Jogo Bonito

I wrote this article for the October-December 2019 issue of ‘Indian Quarterly’ magazine. When they assigned the story to me, they gave me a general brief on capturing the Goan footballing culture. In planning it, though, I felt it important to set it in a historical context. Outside of the state, people know very little about the history of Goa, and the very different trajectory it has taken from the rest of India. Hardly anyone is aware that the Portuguese ruled here for 450 years, longer than the history of the Mughals and the British combined. I am astonished to still find people who think that Goa achieved freedom along with the rest of the country in 1947. So, in writing the story, I also peppered it with what was happening in Goa politically while the football story unfolded, and used the two parallel streams to talk about Goan society and culture, and football’s place in it.

It was the 1950s, and the world seemed to be starting anew. The depradations and deprivations of the war were fresh in the memory, but past. In many parts of the world – Asia and Africa in particular – the colonisers had left or been driven out, and fledgling nations were trying out their wings. In that context, Portugal was a peculiar hold-out. The government of Antonio Salazar, who had become Prime Minister in 1936 and clearly had no intention of giving way unless made to by force, was obstinately holding on to its colonies under the Estado Novo, the Portuguese Second Republic.

Like many other nations, India was in the first flush of its Independence. A motivating force behind the Non-Aligned Movement, it wished to be seen internationally as an apostle of peace, a beacon of neutrality. The dust of Partition had largely settled, and the aggressive muscling that had brought some of the more recalcitrant princely states to accession were passed off as the teething problems of a diverse but unified country. In this scenario, the Estado do India remained, like the indomitable village to the Roman Empire in the Asterix comics, a thorn in the flesh of the new nation.

In another theatre of war – the one called football – a former Portuguese colony had gained recognition as the home of o jogo bonito, the beautiful game. Brazil were yet to be crowned kings, but would be, late in the decade, with the arrival on the scene of the Crown Prince, Pele. Though by then it had a half-century of footballing behind it, Portugal itself was not yet a force in international football. Its club teams, however, were flourishing, and the game had seeped into the pores of its colonies.
In that crucial decade, with pressure building for it to relinquish its hold over lands far removed from the mother country, the Salazar regime had to throw everything they could at the idea of lusotropicalism, and a football, it found, was a handy thing to throw. The game became a useful element to bind the peoples of the Estado Novo together. Teams from the colonies started being sent out to play in other colonies, on tours that generated a great deal of excitement on both sides.

In 1955, the Clube Ferroviário de Lourenço-Marques landed in Goa, the first wave of a flood of football diplomacy that washed far inland. They would be followed by the Port Trust of Karachi, where many Goan expats worked and played, and ultimately, in 1959, by Benfica, which had already established its reputation as one of the great club sides of the world at the time.

“The Salazar government probably wanted to establish a connect with the locals, trying to score their own points, but it did give Goa a whiff of the greats of football,” says Marcus Mergulhao, sports editor with the Times of India in Goa, and something of an encyclopedia of football in the state. This exposure threw into high gear a passion among locals that had already been trundling along at some speed.

Read the full story here: https://indianquarterly.com/o-jogo-bonito/

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