On the eve of this summer’s World Cup in South America, we remember former Southampton resident Charles Miller’s influence on the beautiful game.
This article first appeared in the Matchday Magazine from the last game of the 2013/14 season, against Manchester United, written by Dave Juson:
A total of six current Southampton players are participating in the World Cup Finals in Brazil. Brazil! The fabled land that gifted us ‘the beautiful game’!
Before customization the beautiful game was known as ‘Association Football’ and had been imported from Southampton. This, in brief, is how.
Brazil celebrated its centenary as a footballing nation in October 1994 – October being the month in 1894 that Charles Miller disembarked from the S.S. Magdalena at the port of Santos, having spent most of the previous decade at Banister Court School in Southampton. In that time he had established a reputation as an accomplished all-round sportsman. He had even played for Hampshire’s crack football club, St Mary’s.
Miller had come to England from his native São Paulo as a nine-year-old in 1884. His headmaster Christopher Ellaby was an enthusiastic footballer and Banister Court’s football team, an assortment of masters and pupils, was well regarded. ‘Ariel’, the sports doyen of the Southampton Times, observed in September 1892 that he had, ‘often had occasion to commend the game they play, and when I describe it as a pretty one, footers will understand what I mean.’
Miller was already conspicuous in dispatches. In September 1891, aged 16 and slight for his age, he was selected at inside-left for St Mary’s B in a trial match against St Mary’s A at the Country Cricket Ground. Shortly after the kick-off, having ‘secured the ball’, he took ‘it up past Carter … [and] sent in a shot which Fry failed to stop.’ George Carter was Saints’ skipper and regarded as the best full-back in Hampshire. The A’s eventually won 7-5.
Hampshire FA XI 1893 “Nipper” Miller is seated far right, leaning forward on the backrest of his chair
Miller played most of his football for the ‘Courtiers’ but, in an era when the South had no league football, he featured in around a dozen games over three seasons for the Saints, and became a regular in the Hampshire FA XI (inter-county matches were popular in the 1890s). He also represented the Courtiers as club secretary at Hants FA council meetings.
His last game for the Saints was an ‘exhibition match’ against Stoke, of League Division One, at the County Ground on 25 April 1894, on the left wing. He had played against Stoke at the same venue the previous April, in another ‘friendly’, which Saints lost 8-0. On this occasion they lost 3-2. Miller scored.
St Mary's FC winners of the Hampshire County Cricket Club Charity Cup, April 1894 – Charles Miller sits extreme left
Re-domiciled in Brazil he formed the country’s first football club from the membership of the São Paulo Athletic Club, to this day known as SPAC, which had been formed in 1888 by British ex-pat cricket lovers. As other clubs began to emerge in and around São Paulo Miller was a moving spirit behind the creation of Brazil’s first football competition, La Liga Paulista de foot-ball – captaining SPAC to the first three championships from 1902.
São Paulo Athletic Club, 1904 – Captain Charles Miller sits centre, front row
A considerable influence on the Brazilian game, Miller was also one of its outstanding exponents. So they say in São Paulo. Could he have held his own with the Saints in the Southern League? He would have been aged 22 when they won their first championship and 25 when they reached their first FA Cup Final in 1900. As it happened, he set sail from Southampton on 5 October 1894, the day before the recently re-christened Southampton St Mary’s played their first ever league fixture, against Chatham at the Antelope Cricket Ground.
Ariel commented: ‘Charles Miller, the clever little Banister winger, left England … on Friday. A more popular and genuine player than Miller could not be imagined, and the unanimous vote of thanks for his past services to the county and cordial expressions of goodwill for his welfare in his new home, passed by the [Hants FA] council at their last meeting, were only what he deserved.’
You can read more about Southampton's connections with Brazil in this special extract from the Saints vs Exeter City programme from 2009.