DCSIMG

The Scot who gave Brazil the most beautiful game of all

IN 1964, a 70-year-old guest was introduced to the crowd at São Paulo's Pacembu football stadium.

As Scotland languishes, once again, outwith the imminent World Cup finals, it comes as a rich if perverse paradox that the supreme footballing skills which have seen Brazil trounce us in at Seville in 1982, and Turin in 1990, not to mention that last tangle in Paris in 1998 when Ronaldo and company were aided and abetted by a Scottish own-goal, can be traced, arguably, to a Paisley textile engineer who arrived in So Paulo in 1912.

McLean, sent to work in Brazil by his employers, the famous Paisley textile firm of J & P Coates, died relatively obscure to Scotland in 1971, but his name still figures in the history of Brazilian football. In tonight's documentary his grandson, Malcolm McLean, returns to Brazil - where he himself grew up - to visit the scenes of his grandfather's glory days on the pitch and to trace his legacy.

Given it was his home town's famous textile industry which took McLean to Brazil, it's tempting to call it "Paisley pattern", but the Brazilians called it tabelinha - "the little chart" - reflecting the way McLean and his ex-pat teammates seemed to plot their course as they sped down the field with the ball, playing a very fast, short-passing game. It was a revelation to the South Americans, who had been playing a long-ball game since they were introduced to the sport in the 1890s by one Charles Miller.

McLean, born in 1894, had already made his mark in Scotland with Ayr United and St Johnstone, when he was dispatched to Coates's operation in Brazil (now called Coats Correntes ). He expected to stay for three months, but ended up living there for 40 years. His grandson, Malcolm, 57, who lives in Lenzie, believes that our recognition of his grandfather's contribution to football history is long overdue.

"People in Scotland just don't know his story," says McLean, an architect, who regularly visits Brazil, returning with documentation concerning his grandfather, copies of which he presents to the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park. "Yet if you look at any book on Brazilian football history, Archie McLean has a prominent place. It's really strange."

In the TV documentary, Malcolm visits the street in So Paulo where many of the Coates employees lived. Shortly after taking up residence there, Archie founded an ex-pats' football team, the Scottish Wanderers, who quickly made their presence felt on Brazil's Paulista League. And the locals suddenly sat up and took notice: the fast, "scientific" short-passing game appealed to them.

Within a year of arriving in Brazil, McLean, nicknamed O Veadinho, "the little deer" for his nimble footwork, was playing for So Paulo state, at the highest level of Brazilian football. In the documentary, Malcolm visits Fluminense football club stadium, where his grandfather, at the peak of his career, played his most important game against Rio. Faded photographs on the clubroom wall portray a wiry, purposeful fig -ure gazing out from under a resolute centre parting, and a post-game dinner menu bears his autograph. Malcolm also meets Brazilian football pundits who pay homage to his grandfather's role in shaping the style which produced supermen such as Garrincha, Pel, Juninho...

Back at Hampden Park, Richard McBrearty, curator of the Scottish Football Museum, agrees that the Paisley man deserves recognition in his own country: "He's one of a number of pioneers who left Scotland and took football with them. And because the country he went to is now arguably the best of all time [in] international football, it's particularly important to our understanding of the game. It's a shame [he's been forgotten], and I'm delighted that there's a documentary about him."

The short-passing game so characteristic of Scots players was, agrees McBrearty, the key thing McLean passed on to his host country. "There's an important distinction between England and Scotland in the development of the game. England initially played a dribbling game, as well as kicking it long; Scotland pioneered a short-passing game and, even once England started to copy that, they still played a long-passing game which became a sort of British standard by the 1920s or 1930s. So, even though English players had gone to South America and other parts of the world, their style of game was quite different from Scotland. When McLean arrived, the Brazilians had never seen anything like it in their lives."

But the Paisley textile engineer brought more than his "scientific" yet fluent Scottish playing style with him. The Brazilians always had an eye for technical brilliance and individual flair, and they found these qualities in the speedy Scot.

"He was very quick and nimble," agrees McBrearty. "And he was the first great winger that we come across in Brazilian football, so in that respect he's the father of Garrincha and the great Brazilian winger tradition which followed.

"Arguably, he wasn't as great as Garrincha would become, but he was the first to pioneer the position and show the Brazilians the best way of playing a technical style that suited their brand of football."

Roberto Assaf, a Brazilian football pundit and sports historian, says: "Archie created the idea of a wing - two players in harmony, he and Bill Hopkins [his regular winger]. And that was something new in Brazil." Football historian Aidan Hamilton comments: "Archie influenced the way Brazilians thought about the game and played the game." Not everyone is convinced, however, that McLean was the father of Brazilian football, whatever his contribution. Alex Bellos, author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, says: "In his day he might have been well-known, but I bet if you were to ask 100 Brazilians in the street who he was, [none of them] would know.

"Brazil only developed its style of football in the 1930s, and I guess one of the reasons for that would have been some quite good Brits coming in. So it's totally plausible that [McLean] showed them a new way of doing things and they adapted it to suit themselves. There is a case to say he might have influenced football there in the beginning, but I'm not sure you could call him the father of anything."

McLean's involvement at the highest level of Brazilian football ended in the mid-1920s, although he certainly didn't hang up his boots - a photograph taken in 1935 shows both him and his son, Robert (Malcolm's father), in a team for the So Paulo Athletic Club.

Robert became a banker in Brazil while Malcolm was sent home to boarding school - "where they taught rugby," he recalls wryly - and during his school holidays he would stay with his grandfather, who was by that time retired and back in Paisley. "He was an extremely modest guy who didn't brag about anything," Malcolm recalls. "The only time he'd start telling me about his footballing days was when he'd take me to Love Street, because we were both St Mirren supporters. I probably wasn't inquisitive enough then."

Someone else who was amazed to discover Archie McLean's contribution to global football and his lack of recognition at home was Sir Sean Connery, who first encountered his story when researching for a proposed documentary series with the film-maker, Murray Grigor. According to Grigor, the veteran actor was "shocked that he'd never heard of McLean".

Well after he retired, McLean kept fit and active until he was suddenly claimed by throat cancer in 1971. Malcolm remembers him with affection. "He always dressed impeccably. I have a picture somewhere of him on a beach, dressed in a suit and bow tie. He used to go shopping with a briefcase, because he'd never be seen carrying a polythene bag. He was a very pukka guy."

So, maybe we can add Brazilian football tactics to that famous list of Great Scottish Inventions. Might it not be better, however, if we could actually utilise some of the skills Archie McLean passed on so effectively to the Brazilians to our own benefit on the pitch?

At Hampden, McBrearty laughs: "Yes, I think so. At that period, as now, Scotland was a small country within world football, although we're starting to claw our way back up.

"But if we want to try and kick above our height again, we also need to look at these great pioneers like McLean, who took the Scottish game across the world.

"They set us a great example and, I hope, might spur us on to greater achievements."

• Archie McLean: The Forgotten father of Brazilian Football is at on STV and Grampian at 7:30pm tonight.

 
 
 

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