2014 saw the eyes of the footballing world firmly focussed on Brazil. The 20th World Cup finals brought together the best footballing nations from across the world and a t.v. audience of billions tuned in.
Interest from a Sunderland perspective was firmly on England’s exploits and those Black Cats who turned out for their nations. But for some older fans the World Cup in Brazil brought back interesting Brazilian memories of April 1961. It was back then that Roker Park was host to the exotic Samba boys of Bangu, on tour from their home town of Rio de Janeiro, and to date Bangu are the only Brazilian side Sunderland have ever faced.
Bangu Atletico Club (to give them their ‘Sunday name’) had come to Britain on the back of winning the New York International Club tournament held in the summer of 1960. Defeating Kilmarnock 2-0 in the final, after progressing through a group that contained Red Star Belgrade, Sporting Lisbon and Sampdoria, their stock was high and they were expected to be good box office.
As if to prove the point they embarked on a tour of Europe that would have even the likes of Michael’s Palin and Portillo exhausted. In March 1961 they played Sporting Lisbon in the Portuguese capital and then two days later they tackled Valencia in Spain. Next up was a 4-3 defeat to the mighty Barcelona before matches with FC Nurnberg in Germany and two clubs in Vienna, Austria.
England, however, was an appropriate destination for Bangu. Founded in 1904 they had a strong English background, having been founded by British textile workers and able to boast of an initial Board of Directors that comprised entirely Englishmen ! A deprived area just outside Rio de Janeiro, Bangu is today arguably best known for its tough prison but in the 1960s was better known as home to a fine football club.
And so to Monday April 10th 1961 and a Brazilian date on Wearside. History records that Sunderland won the game 3-0 with goals by Scots Willie McPheat and Nick Sharkey (2). Sadly the lure of foreign opposition brought only 12,998 out on a cold night, perhaps influenced by a Second Division campaign that had fizzled out and waved goodbye to any lingering promotion hopes. This was a pity given that the Brazilians weaved a series of pretty patterns with their delicate play and entertained the crowd with the innovative pre-match warm up that was in stark contrast to what British audiences were used to.
Bangu faced Everton in their second English tour game on Wednesday, April 12th. Interestingly there was considerable interest in Sunderland, with Everton controversially refusing to release winger Billy Bingham for international duty. The popular Bingham had served Sunderland in the 1950s and gained 33 caps whilst at Roker. In playing against Bangu Bingham would miss his first Northern Ireland international in an astonishing ten year run.
The Goodison Park game ended with honours even as Everton and Bangu drew 2-2. On Friday April 14th Bangu rolled into London and faced Crystal Palace where a couple of late goals gave the Brazilians victory. Seemingly oblivious to the draining effects of continual travel they moved on to Scotland to play Kilmarnock (where they created a storm by trying to slip on a substitute in the days before subs were officially allowed) and then Aberdeen, before embarking on an extensive tour of Scandinavia.
By a strange twist of fate the Brazilian-Sunderland link was rekindled in the summer of 1967 when Sunderland played in Canada as part of the US Soccer League and amazingly came up against Bangu once again. Playing as Vancouver Royal Canadians the Lads met a much stronger and more determined Bangu (who themselves were playing as the Houston Stars). The game took place in Vancouver and Sunderland found themselves on the end of a 4-1 beating.
Everyone enjoys World Cup finals when they come along, and for older Sunderland fans perhaps 2014 rekindled the memories of exotic Brazilian visitors on Wearside.