There are few stories less probable in world football than Santos Futebol Clube, hailing from a city with a population almost 30 times smaller than Sao Paulo, becoming arguably the most globally recognised team ever to come out of football mad Brazil.
While it’s true that the clubs main source of notoriety is the fact that for almost 20 years it was home to arguably the greatest footballer of all time and global icon, Pele. The truth is though that without those that came before the great man this club from the east coast of Brazil may never have got off the ground, and without those that followed it could have simply been an historical footnote in the crazy and ever changing world of Brazilian football.
So today we’re taking a look at the history of Santos and it's truly fascinating story.
Port of Santos
The game of football was introduced to the port city of Santos in 1902 via the local university, Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie. Off the back of this exposure the students created two major clubs, Clube Atlético Internacional and Sport Club Americano.
Santos side of 1913
By 1912, both of these clubs had ceased their operations in the city and in a bid to rectify the sudden lack of sporting representation a number of local students organised a meeting on the 14th April 1912. And on the very same day that the Titanic was sinking 1000’s of km away the students were hashing out plans for the foundation of a new club for the city. After much deliberation the participants voted on the name of the new club, the winning proposal, put forward by a young man Edmundo Jorge de Araujo, was a simple one, Santos Foot-Ball Club was born.
Before Pele was even kicking a grapefruit around the streets of Bauru there was Araken Patusca, the first great star in Santos’ history. Before he’d even cracked into the team Araken was already a known figure around the club, his prodigious talent, as well as the fact that his father was the clubs very first president, saw to that. He was the star man in the side that took Santos from a mid table club in the mid 1920’s to three times runners up at the close of the decade and finally to the state title itself in 1931, the first major the clubs history.
While not eventual winners the side of 1927 is still among the most celebrated in the sides history, spurred on by a ridiculous 53 goals from Patusca the side scored 100 goals in just a 16 game season and are imortalised in the clubs anthem.
1954 would see the appointment of Luís Alonso Pérez, better known as Lula, to the position of head coach. The former baker, milkman and tax driver would prove to be one of the most influential men in the club's history and hit the ground running, returning Santos to the top of the state championship in just his second season.
It would be in the aftermath of this title, and with a view to not let the 20 year barren run repeat itself once again, that the club began investing heavily in keeping its young players and recruiting youngsters from around the local area. It was during this recruitment drive that a 15 year old Pele would be brought to Lula’s attention. After a presumably a very short trial Lula signed him up in June of 1956. Just three months later the still 15 year old would play in, and score in, his very first game of professional football.
Pele at age 15
What followed was a period of dominance that would gain the side the moniker of “Os Santásticos” (The Santastics). With Pele as the undisputed star of the team Santos would claim an astonishing 25 major honours between 1959 and 1974, averaging over two and a half goals a game along the way and becoming the first and second Braziilian side to lift the Copa Libertadores in 1962 and 1963.
The side that won the first Libertadores
The post Pele era would be a bleak one for Santos, just a couple of state titles followed in the next 30 years but as the new millennium dawned things were looking up with an influx of prodigiously talented youth prospects. In the early years of the 2000’s Robinho, Alex and Diego all showed enough promise to get high profile, big money moves away and assist Santos financially, but the youth program so far had not delivered the success the fans craved so desperately. This would all change on the 7 March 2009, when a 17 year old Neymar would step out onto the pitch for the first time.
Neymar in his first season
A state championship and Copa do Brasil followed in Neymar's second season as he became arguably the most high profile Brazilian teenager since Pele. The new found exposure and income stream gave the club the funds to bolster the squad and in 2011, 48 years since Pele led Santos to their second ever Libertadores title, Neymar led them to their third.
With a history defined by waves of enormous success, buoyed on by some of the greatest players football has ever seen, Santos are a household name. Despite hailing from a city that does not even crack the top 50 largest in Brazil they have millions of fans and a revenue stream to match all but Flamengo and Corinthians.
And while they may have had a tough decade they came agonisingly close to a fourth libertadores just last year, losing out to a stoppage time goal against the much favoured Palmeiras. While success has proved elusive, the history of this great club will mean many fans are simply waiting for the next great to emerge and lift them back to the very top of the game, and you’d be foolish to bet against it.
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Words by Andy Gallagher