By Pedro Redig –
One of Brazil’s most storied clubs is back where it belongs. Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas have done enough in the second division to win a promotion to Brazil’s Serie A.
They topped the table in the Serie B for most of the season and secured enough points to win promotion back to Brazil’s top division with three games to spare. This had been the second time that Botafogo was relegated—the club was also demoted in 2002, but bounced straight back to the elite as it did now.
Their symbol is a lone white star and their nickname is “Glorioso” (Glorious). Their name refers to rowing (regatas) but the club, which is based on the steps of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Sugar Loaf Mountain is known for producing top quality players, who are forever linked with the golden age of Brazilian football.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Botafogo provided more players to the national side than any other club – even more than the famous Santos, home of the legendary Pelé.
Brazil’s biggest success in the international stage happened in a 12-year period, which started with their first World Cup trophy in 1958, continued with their second title in 1962, and their third in 1970. During that period, the name Botafogo was associated with stars like Garrincha, Nílton Santos, Didi – all of whom were part of the championship team in Sweden in 1958.
The most famous Botafogo players were the entertainment-wizard Garrincha, who guided Brazil after a serious injury to Pelé, and the legends Mário Zagallo, Amarildo, Nílton Santos, and Didi, all of whom were instrumental in helping Brazil to lift a second World Cup title in 1962.
In Brazilian football the derbies between Santos and Botafogo became classic rivalries with Pelé and Garrincha fighting to see who was the best in the Rio-São Paulo tournament, which preceded the Brasileiro.
In 1964 Botafogo and Santos shared the Rio-São Paulo title. After finishing level on points, the decision was to be played out over three matches but after a 3-2 win for Botafogo in the first match, the other two were never played for lack of dates and both clubs were declared champions.
In 1970, Jairzinho became Garrincha’s successor with forward Roberto and midfielder Paulo Cézar also representing Botafogo in the Brazilian squad that won the World Cup for the third time in México.
Botafogo is one of the most famous Brazilian clubs both at home and abroad, and their black logo with the white star is often used in cultural references for the city of Rio de Janeiro. The club, although internationally recognizable, actually has a very small home fan base. The average attendance in 2015 was 10,421 but it attracts 35% capacity at away games – while clubs in the top three divisions average only 27%. Botafogo are therefore what is commonly referred to as a hipster club, a team that has a lot of sympathy from neutral fans, but lacks true fanatical support.
While they play with black and white stripes like Newcastle United, the clubs closest comparison in the Premier League would be Tottenham Hotspur. They share what both call “glory days”, have deep seeded traditions, great players, but not many trophies in the cabinet.
While Botafogo won the Campeonato Carioca (Rio state championship) 21 times, they have only taken home only two Brazilian titles: one in 1968, in the old format which was called the Taça do Brasil (Brazil Cup), and a second title in 1995.
There is another parallel with the Tottenham Hotspur as the 1962 Rio-São Paulo title was won just after the Spurs won their famous double in 1961. Tottenham’s 70s and 80s maestro Glenn Hoddle played a similar style to the Brazilian champion and former Botafogo midfield playmaker Gérson. They were both left-footed and capable of sending pinpoint passes 40 to 50 metres across the pitch. Gérson used to say “who runs is the ball” and he made sure his clever feet and head ruled the game in the same way that Hoddle did for his club.
For the generation born in the 1950s, Botafogo was the perfect fit it had flair, technique, and supreme confidence showcased by the dramatic duels between the peoples’ hero Garrincha and the king of football Pelé.
The team that just won a promotion is a far cry from the memorable Botafogo of the 60s and 70s. But they have the task of making the club of the ‘lonely star’ shine again just like in the good old days.
Pedro Redig is a freelance journalist and TV producer. He has a MBA in Football Industries (Univ. of Liverpool) and Stadium Management course (EVMI) plus Scouting and FA coaching Level 1 diplomas. Follow Pedro on Twitter @redigol