Junior the first Brazilian to play football in Wales

IN the past two weeks or so you may have noticed an increasing number of television shows handily comprised of footage from previous World Cups and it’s in that tradition I’ve dug into the archives for my World Cup Special. JuniorBrazil1

Fittingly enough the story I’ve reprinted below, about ambitious Brazilian, Junior who left his home in Sau Paulo searching for a football future in Rhayader, Mid Wales, was originally written as an anniversary type piece in October 2012 marking the 20th season of football’s Welsh Premier League.

I was a student in Liverpool back in October 1998 when possibly for the first, and only, time a signing by a Welsh Premiership club made headlines in the London newspapers and British national television news programmes.

As I’d always loved this story I was itching for a chance to revisit it and 14 years after Junior became the first Brazilian to sign for a Welsh football club the Welsh Prem’s anniversary season provided the ideal opportunity for a follow up in the Brecon & Radnor Express – especially as Rhayader, now back in Welsh football’s second tier, are the only club from either county to have reached the top flight.

With FIFA’s money making juggernaut arriving in Brazil it’s the perfect time to remember this almost forgotten footballing link between Wales and the World Cup hosts.

The Boy from Brazil

The Welsh Premier League is this season celebrating its 20th anniversary prompting Twm Owen to look back at when Rhayader Town made football headlines across the world thanks to an unlikely transfer 

 

IN the long history of football shocks it must still rank as one of the greatest – the day Rhayader Town unveiled its new signing from Brazil.

Late October 1998, the dark days of a particularly wet and windy autumn, found the Radnorshire club sitting rock bottom of the Welsh Premier League when it announced the signing of an ambitious 20-year-old amateur footballer from Sao Paulo.

Jose Ricardo Rodrigues Ferreira quickly became known by his nickname Junior and his transfer from a Brazilian third division side was, appropriately for the late 1990s dot com boom era, heralded as the first to be sealed over the internet.

The Brecon & Radnor Express' 1998 coverage of Junior's arrival

The Brecon & Radnor Express’ 1998 coverage of Junior’s arrival

The story of the hopeful who had trawled the internet seeking contacts for European clubs captured the imagination of the national press.

Fleet Street lapped up the story of the ‘Samba kid’ who’d swapped Brazil’s biggest city to seek footballing fame and fortune in Europe, via a struggling side from a small Welsh town with a population of just 2,500.

Junior’s story attracted news crews from across the UK, and his homeland, to Rhayader and by the time he came to make his debut at the Weirglodd, nearly 400 people had packed into the ground, almost double the average attendance.

“It was a big thing, a Brazilian coming to Mid Wales to play football,” recalled Emrys Morgan, the club’s vice chairman at the time: “It was good publicity for the club and something out of the ordinary, especially for Rhayader of all places.”

Junior lodged with Emrys and wife Prydwen at their home in Cross Lane, Rhayader and is still fondly remembered by the couple.

Emrys, now 77, admits even he found the story hard to believe, when then club secretary Phil Woosnam first told him of the transatlantic transfer.

“I think we were playing down at Barry and Woozy came across and said to me he’d signed a Brazilian. I thought he was taking the mick, and the following week he arrived. It’s only when I actually saw him I believed it, I thought it was a stitch up. It was a typical Woozy stunt.”

Though the signing succeeded in boosting Rhayader’s profile and that of Welsh football’s top flight, then known as the League of Wales, Junior struggled for form – and failed to hold down a first team place, yet alone fulfil his dream of catching the eye of big clubs in England or Spain.

“The lad was dead keen and a lovely little footballer,” said Emrys: “But I think the biggest problem he had was the weather was terrible. That was the biggest disappointment, I’m sure if he could had some fine weather he would have done a lot better.”

It’s a view shared by Rhayader town supporter Tony Berrington, who used to invite Junior to his Precision Gear Services garage on the Brynberth Industrial Estate.

“He was always playing football in the car park rather than doing any work,” laughed Tony who said he felt ‘sorry for the kid’, who’d travelled thousands of miles in pursuit of a dream that was failing to materialise.

Tony, who recalled camera crews from Sky, Channel 4 and S4C, all cramming into his tiny office as well as giving an interview to Radio 1, had remained in contact with Junior for a while, but blamed losing touch on his own poor computer skills.

“I was a bit of a dinosaur with the computer but he did email and I think he went to Austria. If somebody had grabbed hold of him, I’m sure he could have done well. He had some lovely neat touches and lovely close control, as all Brazilians do.”

 

Junior and the League of Wales

 

RHAYADER are the only team from Brecon and Radnorshire to have played in Welsh football’s top flight.

The Thin Red Line won promotion in 1997 – and defied all the odds to remain the Welsh Premiership for five years, eventually succumbing to relegation in 2002.

The signing of Junior in October 1998 gave the club, and the league, a welcome publicity boost.

Shortly after his arrival in Rhayader, Junior told The Brecon & Radnor Express: “It rains a lot and is very muddy here in Wales but the people have been very friendly to me. I’ve had a roast beef dinner, which was nice, but I don’t like Brussel sprouts.”

Delays in gaining international clearance and a waterlogged pitch meant Junior had to wait until Saturday, November 7 to make his debut – as a substitute in a five nil drubbing at the hands of Cardiff side Inter Cable Tel, managed by former Scotland World Cup goal keeper George Wood.

Despite the optimism surrounding his signing Junior never reached his full potential at Rhayader, though he did score a hat trick for the reserves in a 7-1 Presteigne Otway Cup tie triumph against local rivals Llandrindod Wells.

Asked for his memories of Rhayader’s Brazilian signing, former club stalwart Phil Woosnam joked: “I think he was unfortunately the only Brazilian who couldn’t play football.”

Copyright: The Brecon & Radnor Express, 2012

 

 

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