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'He had left the ball behind' - The day Garrincha gave 'Ole' to football

15:30 BST 20/09/2018
GFX Garrincha
How a series of spectacular dribbles brought a bullfighting chant to the Beautiful Game

If you're the kind of person whose love for the game reaches beyond that of your own club and the current cluster of stars adorning the front covers of your favourite video games, then it’s likely you would have heard of Garrincha.

If you’re a romantic. If you’ve a love for nostalgia. If you hear the echoes of the eternal greats of the Beautiful Game, well, then you certainly know who he was. 

But for those who don’t, he was one of the greatest footballers of all time. A World Cup winner in 1958 and the standout performer as the Selecao made it back-to-back trophies in Chile in 1962. With injury having cruelly stripped the world of Pele for almost all of that tournament, it was Garrincha who led his country to glory.

He may not appear at the top of any goalscoring charts you dig out, but goals were not really his thing. No, Garrincha, the ‘Angel with bent legs’, treasured one thing above all else: the dribble. And nobody did it better (sorry, Stanley Matthews).

Garrincha is one of the game’s greatest mythical figures and the protagonist of some of the game’s great stories. And few are better than how the phrase ‘Ole!’ entered the football lexicon.

It all happened back in 1958, before Garrincha’s name became known all over the world. His club, Botafogo, were playing against a great River Plate side that included the likes of Amadeo Carizzo, Nestor Rossi and Angel Labruna.

The Brazilians had a few legends of their own, of course, including the great Didi and Nilton Santos. But as soon as the ball begin to roll that day, it became clear that this was to be Garrincha's game.

Poor Federico Vairo. The River Plate left-back would never forget that date: February 20th, 1958.

It was as if everyone in Mexico that day were watching a bullfight. And so the local supporters began: "Ole!" they screamed gleefully, adopting a chant from the Bullring. Every time Garrincha dribbled Vairo – “Ole!” Time and again Garrincha beat his marker in his customary style. His body swinging from one side to another, his menacing hips and dazzling toes ensuring that every attempted tackle would prove futile.

And then it came. The moment that would that would go down in legend. The story goes that Garrincha stood up Vairo again but, this time, as the Brazilian darted past his marker, he left the ball behind. Metres away from the dancing Garrincha, and the dazed, confused and desperate Vairo, the ball sat still.

The Mexicans roared with laughter in the stands. They could take no more – and neither could Vairo. His coach, Jose Maria Minella, spared the poor left-back by substituting him. As he returned to the bench, covered in dirt from head to toe, Vairo said, "There's nothing you can do. It's impossible.”

That game ended 1-1, but nobody cared about the result. This was the day when football brought joy, spread happiness, and gave the watching spectators the gift of laughter. 

Since that day, every time a side is in control and begin toying with the opposition, ‘Ole’ echoes around the stadium – from Brazil to Bahrain, the chant has transcended language and culture across the globe.

And every time they do, some of us remember Garrincha, and feel like he never left us.