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The Curse of Arubinha: How a myth tormented Vasco da Gama


Arubinha’s curse is a legendary tale in Brazilian football and one which frustrated Vasco da Gama for years.

On the wet trodden turf as the rain pummelled down in a monstrous deluge Arubinha knelt on the ground and dug with his bare palms. His arms trembled and the rain ran down his face in rivulets. His clothes were drenched. They clung to his skin as if it were another layer. The Vasco da Gama ground looked more like a swamp than a football pitch.

Arubinha paid no attention to the conditions. He was seething with rage. He clutched a dead toad in his palms and when had finished digging the hole, he placed the toad inside and called up to the heavens.

“If there is a god in heaven Vasco da Game won’t win a championship for the next twelve years!”

His voice echoed ominously around the empty stands and he left the field with his eyes still bulging with rage.

Arubinha had every right to be furious with Vasco da Gama. The Brazilian giants had just decimated his minnow club, Andarai, 12-0.

It was an onslaught and a merciless performance amidst the torrential rain. Arubinha had tried everything, he ran around the pitch in circles, chasing shadows as the Vasco side tore his teammates to shreds.

The nature of the defeat was unprecedented. It was one of the biggest in Brazilian history. However what seemed more unjust is how Vasco da Gama achieved it.

A cruel deceit

The conditions were particularly harsh on the day of the match. The rainfall was especially heavy. But Andarai had anticipated it and arrived at the stadium ahead of time.

Arubinha and his teammates only realised Vasco were absent as they trotted out on the field.

The impatient referee, Haroldo Dias Motta, was a prompt man. He was eager to start the game and kick off the proceedings. He gave the minnows an enticing proposal.

He told Arubinha and his teammates that if Vasco did not turn up on time, the victory would automatically be awarded to Andarai.

Now during the late 1930s, Vasco were one of the biggest teams in Brazil. They were practically invincible. Andarai could only fathom such a victory in their wildest dreams. It was a titillating prospect and tantalisingly alluring. However, Arubinha and his teammates resisted the temptation. They wanted to gain victory  on the pitch, not through mere fortune or some fluke but rather through their own resilience. Thus they declined Motta’s offer and waited patiently for the arrival of the Vasco players.

The clock kept ticking.

When news arrived of a potential accident causing the delay, rumours began to spread how Vasco would be forced to field youth players. The speculation reaffirmed the players’ decision. There was a wave of anxiety in the stands and on the field. The players and the fans waited anxiously for official confirmation.

To much of everyone’s surprise, the Vasco players turned up shortly after looking unscathed and unharmed. There had been no accident, it was merely a façade to prolong the proceedings.

All Arubinha and his teammates hoped for now was a little bit of mercy. A touch of sportsmanship and a show of gratitude for Andarai’s leniency.

Of course, Vasco da Gama had no intentions to please Arubinha. By half-time the score was 5-0 and at the end of it the devastating 12-0 was a dagger to the heart of the Brazilian minnows.

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For the next twelve years, the game would become indelible not for the score-line however, but for Arubinha’s antics in the aftermath of the match after he snuck back into the stadium.

Vasco da Gama’s team was filled to the brim with the finest Brazilian internationals during the proceeding era. But at the end of each year they would always miss out on the Brazilian title. Twice on the final day.

The curse continued one year after another. In 1941 after a plethora of strong reinforcements it endured once more despite the added ammunition.

In the 1940s between 1942-44, Vasco had one of the best teams in their entire history according to many pundits and experts. They were a veritable powerhouse. On the field they could hardly be matched, yet there would be the odd blow, the rare out of character mistake and it would be enough to cost them the long coveted title.

People at Vasco who had laughed at Arubinha’s bitter remarks were now left scratching their heads. Perhaps the Andarai player had not been the fool they had thought. Perhaps Arubinha did indeed exert some sort of exoteric power over Vasco.

As people pondered on these questions, usually, sweat would immerse their face and run down in rivulets just like the rain had run down on Arubinha’s face on that fated day.

When Vasco’s barren run had turned into ten years, the club were desperate. They dug up the ground and searched frantically for the cursed toad. They begged on their knees for Arubinha to tell them where he buried the creature but the Andarai player refused.

He facetiously claimed he had never ‘buried one in the first place.’

Now it was Vasco who prayed. From the coaches to the players, they begged God to free them from the shackles of the Arubinha’s curse.

Alas, eleven years after Arubinha’s damning words, Vasco da Gama became champions of Brazil in 1945. The club president was over the moon. The celebration was unlike any other. Players kissed the cursed turf and pointed to the heavens in relief.

The president would joke that God had ‘given them a small discount’ in respect for their relentless pleas.

And so it was, Vasco da Gama had been taught an important lesson about sportsmanship. Be it otherworldly or mere coincidence, it serves as a great proverb for the integrity of football.

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