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Soccer as a Jesuit plot


Harrow Soccer XI 1867

One of the more unlikely pieces of  speculation to emerge from the recent World Cup concerned the origins of soccer in Brazil.  A historian of the game claimed that it had been introduced by Jesuits.

According to his account, the Jesuits in St Louis School in Itu, near São Paulo, wanted to introduce sport into the college during the 1870’s. They thought that the students would derive many benefits from this: ‘all the muscles will work harmoniously, and the moral lessons imbibed from sportsmanship will be assimilated by the students through enjoyable and recreational games.’

So between 1879 and 1881 Jesuits from Brazil visited Europe.  They visited the school at Vannes where soccer was played. They also consulted Fr Stanislas du Lac, a Jesuit headmaster and a strong proponent of introducing English football into French schools. He believed that football ‘promoted the right balance between virility and morality, and was an effective way of forming healthy young people land good citizens.’  

From France, the Brazilian Jesuits went to England and particularly to Harrow school. They also visited Germany where soccer and gymnastics were common in Jesuit schools.  When they returned they introduced soccer to all Jesuit schools in Brazil.  And from there it spread through the whole nation.

Or so the story goes. Jesuits and Australians might find in it many cultural resonances and questions.  It seems odd that the Jesuits would have gone to Harrow to see soccer played in schools.  The game of football played there was distinctive, and has been seen as an influence on the development of Australian rules.  It was played with a large, heavy ball shaped like a pork pie and allowed players to catch the ball and to shirtfront one another. But there is also an early photo of a Harrow soccer team (above) looking suitably lordly and languid. Soccer may or not have meant soccer, and the photo may or may not have had something to do with the school.  

Fr du Lac was an exceptionally competent Jesuit educationalist who became a controversial figure in the Dreyful affair.  His father was of noble birth, and Stanislas’ first appointment was as Headmaster of the Jesuit school in Le Mans. It was during the Franco Prussian war; the school was requisitioned for use as a military hospital;  Fr du Lac administered it.

He was subsequently Headmaster at the Ecole Sainte-Geneviève, a preparatory school for the scientific and military academies. Many of the students graduated to Saint-Cyr, and Stanislas formed friendship with many high ranking military officers. When the Jesuits were expelled from France in 1880, he was the founder and headmaster of a French boarding school in Canterbury.

After the wrongful conviction as a spy of Alfred Dreyfus and its later cover up by the French military, France was bitterly divided between his mainly republican supporters and the monarchists who thought him guilty. Dreyfus was an Alsatian of Jewish descent, and in the aftermath of defeat in the Franco-Prussian war both factors contributed to his conviction and to the later concealment of evidence that cleared him.  

Catholics were regarded as monarchists, and in the controversy Jesuits were accused of plotting to overthrow the Republic. Fr du Lac, with his aristocratic descent and association with the French officer class, was portrayed as the archetypical conniving and scheming Jesuit.  The plot and the caricature were fictitious, but brought Fr du Lac unwanted notoriety.

Later in his Jesuit life he gave retreats and spiritual direction in rural France, and established credit unions to support poor women workers in the textile trade. 

Altogether an ideal person, we might think, to manage a national team at the World Cup. In hindsight, though, Brazil might have benefited even more if he had advised the visiting Jesuits to spend more time in Germany.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of
Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, soccer, football, Jesuits, World Cup



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Existing comments

Thank you Father Hamilton for a most enlightening read. After visiting the Tower of London I did gain some insight into Jesuit history also. I am especially grateful for the photo and must say the player top row on left strikes me as somewhat of an athletic goalie.

Pam | 10 July 2014  

The Dreyfus Affair was dreadful, and even though it was a cartload of droppings it was not Dreyful.

CLOSE READING | 10 July 2014  

That soccer is a Jesuit plot will only be given added proof if Argentina wins the Final. Bergoglio will have to come up with some credible explanation to put us off the scent.

SILVER PIECES | 10 July 2014  

The body language of the Harrow team is strongly reminiscent of the Brazil team. They appear to know they are going to win, even before they have gone out on the field. In fact, who would question it? They have already won, before they enter the arena.

ENTITLED | 10 July 2014  

There are many furphies about what influenced Australian football such as it came from Irish football [invented 25 years after Australian football was codified] and the suggestion that Harrow football influenced it is just another. Although it may offend those with a cultural cringe Australian Football evolved here. It was a natural progression when you take the offside rules out of rugby. 6 of the 7 people who drew up the original rules had Rugby antecedents. The developments thereafter were all Australian!

David Goss | 11 July 2014  

I thought Australian Rules began as a game played by aboriginal people predating any european influence. "virility and morality" are such wonderful words. Is that why we now have girls playing soccer?

Janet | 11 July 2014  

What a shame they did not visit Rugby School!

Eugene | 11 July 2014  

Fascinating bit of history. However, one thing I am pretty certain about is that the Jesuits wouldn't have taught the South Americans how to feign injury and interference as an aid to winning - would they?

john frawley | 11 July 2014  

If anyone's been good at feigning injury or interference as a way to gain advantage , it was George Pell during the royal commission claiming that the RCChurch was the underdog and that the allegations of sex abuse were a way to bring down the church.

AURELIUS | 11 July 2014  

Harrow and Old Harrovians, including Charles Alcock, had a lot to do with codifying the rules of Association Football and setting up the national competition in England. At the time the Jesuits visited it would have been the premier public school in England. Churchill and Nehru were to come through shortly. Soccer is still a popular winter sports option there.

Edward Fido | 11 July 2014  

Germany1 Argentina 0. A wry moment for the two living bishops of Rome. As the Spanish proverb says, It is Monday in the world.

SILVER PIECES | 14 July 2014  

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