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Sunday, July 17, 2011


It states in FIFA's Laws of the Game that a football pitch should have two sets of goalposts, and that they should reach a height of 8 feet, connected by a 24-foot long crossbar. Now, nothing lasts forever, and that goes for sets of goalposts as much as for anything else.

Even the goalposts at the Estádio Maracanã (or, to give it its correct name, the Estádio Mario Filho) have to be changed from time to time, but their changing doesn't always end up gaining a place in football legend. It did after they were reputedly changed in 1963, following a FIFA edict dating from 1959 which stated that sets of a goalposts used had to be changed from a square shape, like those used at the Maracanã, for example, to a round shape which was less of a danger to players who might collide with them. (Did FIFA use somebody to conduct experiments using square and round goalposts, one might ask?)

The Maracanã was the scene of the deciding match in the 1950 World Cup, when Brazil only needed to draw against Uruguay to lift the trophy. It was Uruguay, however, who came away with the spoils after a 2:1 win which stunned - and many say, changed - a nation; that nation, of course, being Brazil. The defeat also changed the life of Moacyr Barbosa, Brazil's goalkeeper that day, who afterwards was hounded by the Brazilian media (and a good percentage of the country's population at large) until the day he died, in 2000.

After his playing career ended in 1962, Barbosa ended up, ironically enough, working at the Maracanã in a supervisory capacity (not as a tour guide, as has been claimed elsewhere). Barbosa recounted the rather bizarre story of a set of goalposts to the writer and journalist Roberto Muylaert, who was writing a book on the former goalkeeper. (The book, "Barbosa - Um gol faz cinquenta anos" - in English, "Barbosa - A goal lasts for fifty years" - was eventually published a few months after Barbosa's death.)

Muylaert found it difficult to approach Barbosa about the story, which starts with Barbosa finding work at the Maracanã in 1963. Shortly after he began work at the stadium, it was said that Abelardo Franco, the  president of ADEG (Associacão Desportiva do Estado da Guanabara), the organisation responsible for the upkeep of stadiums in the Guanabara region, gave one of the sets of goalposts to Barbosa, who took them home and, allegedly, burned them whilst hosting a barbecue for his friends. (The organisation currently responsible for looking after stadia in and around Rio de Janeiro is the Superintendencia dos Estádios do Rio de Janeiro (SUDERJ)).

Barbosa was, unjustly, still being vilified by the Brazilian media and by sections of the general public, who blamed him for conceding the second - and winning - Uruguayan goal, scored by Alcides Ghiggia. Barbosa's burning of the set of goalposts was described in Muylaert's book as being akin to a "liturgy of purification". (Co-incidentally, Muylaert was in Montevideo interviewing Ghiggia for the book at the time of Barbosa's death.) Muylaert also wrote that there were no witnesses who could corroborate the story of, or photographs taken of, a scene which would have resembled those  featured in "documentaries about the Ku Klux Klan, full of gleaming reflections on people's faces."

A very rough translation of one of the passages in Muylaert's book reveals a potential reason for burning the set of goalposts."If there are no more goalposts, then there would be no goal, no game, no championship, no defeat, no terrifying silence at the end of the game, not the heavy and dramatic feet-dragging of the people leaving, interspersed with a few muffled sobs of grief, not only from the public but also from several players in the Brazilian changing-room..The aroma of grilled meat overcame the strong smell of burnt paint from the beams [goalposts]."  

Giving the set of goalposts to the ex-Brazilian international was certainly a very clever piece of psychology by Franco; their burning certainly helped Barbosa shed at least some of his demons. It did not, alas, help him get his good name back among the Brazilian media. 

The story of Barbosa and the set of goalposts only came to light when Muylaert launched what became the former international goalkeeper's biography in late 2000, and it caused a bit of a stir among the Brazilian media.

Muylaert recalls that "Milton Neves, a radio sports journalist, phoned me when I launched the book and said that he was sure that in his [home town] in the hinterland of Minas Gerais State, called Muzambinho, there were the goalposts of Maracanã final match, still in use. My answer was that there are two goal posts on a football field..."

"Another journalist from Rio....called Ruy Castro wrote in a newspaper in Rio that the story of the goalposts  "came from Mr. Muylaert's imaginative mind". I called Castro to clarify the subject, but his answer was 'I wrote about your book without reading it.'"

If that was so, then Castro's article could hardly be described as a piece of investigative journalism worthy of the name. As mentioned earlier, Muylaert found it "awkward" to approach Barbosa about the story at first, but Barbosa told it to him twice; the second time, the story was recorded, and matched the first version pretty much word-for-word. The second conversation was witnessed by another journalist, Claudio de Souza.

But did the burning of the set of goalposts given to Barbosa actually happen? Mylaert himself cannot verify that it did; along with people such as Ruy Castro, Barbosa's former international team-mate (and fellow World Cup runner-up Zizinho considered that the story was merely fantasy.

However, the doubters cannot disprove that the incident happened, either. In Muylaert's own words: "I don't know whether it actually happened; what I can prove is that Barbosa told me, with great emphasis, the same story twice on different sessions." And Muylaert should know what sort of man Moacyr Barbosa was; he spent a lot of time together with Barbosa while researching his book on the former Vasco da Gama and Brazil star before his death in April 2000, aged 79. That in itself should, one would think, be more than convincing enough. In any event, Barbosa's alleged burning of the set of goalposts has long since earned its place in Brazilian football folklore.

But what indeed of the second set of goalposts? Well, a man called Uriah Antonio Oliveira, who was a native of the small town of Muzambinho in the extreme south of Minas Gerais state, was apparently on good terms with the then Brazilian president, Juscelino Kubitschek, and the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro.

Oliveira was the brother-in-law of Muzambinho's mayor, Joaquim Teixeira Neto, and they both approached ADEG with a view to obtaining the set of goalposts as a kind of relic for the town. To their amazement, ADEG agreed (as long as someone would go and pick them up from the Maracanã), and two local lorry-drivers, Justimiano da Silva Coelho and Geraldo Tardelli, were dispatched to Rio to collect the goalposts from the Maracanã.

The lorry-drivers' run normally took them to São Paulo, and they initially thought that their employer's mental state had taken a turn for the worse by sending them to Rio and not charging for the service. When they found out the purpose of their being sent to Rio de Janeiro, they both felt honoured but also a little sad, because of the historical meaning of the goalposts.

The beams were brought back to Muzambinho, where they were used at a local football pitch (the Estádio Antônio Milhão), before being transferred to the brand-new Estádio do Anto do Anjo sometime in the 1970s.

They were in use there for a number of years, until a local farmer, Nivaldo Sandy, asked for a set of goals so that locals in the district of São Domingos de Baixo could use during matches there. And there they were brought, and used until they were apparently broken by a eucalyptus tree which fell on them (though when this happened is unclear). They were replaced shortly afterwards.

The goalposts are now held in the Sala Milton Neves in Muzambinho's Casa da Cultura. The sports hall in the town's "Culture House" is, indeed, now named after the self-same man who contacted Roberto Muylaert after the release of the latter's book on Moacyr Barbosa. Neves presents the Terceiro Tempo (Third Half) football programmes on both radio and TV for the Bandeiras network in Minas Gerais. And the story ends there, apart from need to point out that the paint on the goalposts is still that in which they were originally coated. Oh, and the posts do not, apparently, suffer from woodworm..


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks are due to Roberto Muylaert for his anecdotes regarding the above story. His book on Moacyr Barbosa, "Barbosa - Um gol faz cinquenta anos", published in 2000 and available only in Portuguese, is essential reading for anybody interested in the former goalkeeper. (A two-part series on the life and times of Moacyr Barbosa is being researched and compiled, and will be published on this blog in the coming weeks.)

Sincere thanks are also due to Rosilda de Fátima Tristão Santini from the  Casa da Cultura in Muzambinho for providing information with regard to the second set of goalposts.

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