Kevin Garside: Two lads from Newcastle have conquered Brazil, teaching thousands of kids to play football – and to speak English with a Geordie accent

The mayor asked them to the launch of a transport system by the president of Brazil

The World Cup is a month away. Roy Hodgson announces his England squad. For two young lads from Newcastle the tournament is already five weeks old. Regular readers of this column will know them as Craig Robson and Michael Gardner. They may already be England’s best performers this summer. It is difficult to see how any of Roy’s boys might eclipse their contribution even if they were to win the coveted pot.

To the locals in Curitiba, which is scheduled to host four matches as well as the Spanish squad for the duration, Craig and Michael are the faces of Englishness. As a football nation England do not register in this part of Brazil. None of the kids in the schools and on the streets of Curitiba imagine themselves English when the kick-about starts. There is no great desire to be Rooney or Gerrard. Yet when Michael and Craig pitch up with cones and whistles speaking pidgin Portuguese, eyes grow as big as footballs.

And it does not stop there. Curitiba’s mayor, Gustavo Fruet, cannot get enough of the association. Last Friday they were catapulted to the top of the political food chain with a personal invite from him to attend the launch by the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, of a new transport network in the city.

The charitable initiative with which they are involved, Lionsraw, coordinates projects to develop social and educational programmes for young people in countries hosting major football championships. It has become a national story in Brazil. The media is fascinated by the tale of two young Englishman travelling 6,000 miles to inspire the dispossessed, to encourage them through education and engagement to bust the ceiling imposed by social privations and, if that were not incredible enough, to teach kids from a country that has won the World Cup five times how to play football.

Celebrity is something for which they had neither bargained nor prepared. “We are just two lads from Newcastle trying to help and to develop as people,” Craig, 23, says. “The fact that it is getting so big makes us nervous,” adds Michael, 21. “Whatever we say the children copy. We could have a thousand children speaking Geordie when we leave. It is a running joke here, we teach them English, they teach us football.”

Except that is not quite true. Both are FA level 2 coaches. “Passing is a bit of an issue in some of the projects and favelas,” says Craig. “They don’t try to pass the ball they just run. It’s almost like: ‘We are Brazilian, we can do this’ but they can’t pass five yards. It’s all about attacking here and taking people on. They struggle with some of the drills because they don’t want to pass.”

Though football is at the heart of what Craig and Michael deliver, the message stretches way beyond jogo bonito. It is about lifting people out of their circumstances, aiming high, progressing through learning, engaging positively with their community and thus the world. The kids they are touching have none of the welfare benefits that protect the disadvantaged in Newcastle and the rest of Britain. Even the better state schools they visit are stretched and bereft of resources.

There is, however, a sense of community that has been eroded on our shores, a sense of belonging rooted in the church, which remains the binding agent in Brazilian society offering spiritual comfort in the absence of material support. The men raised almost £10,000 to pay for their trip, which they hope might last until December, long after the World Cup has moved on. Not a bean came from Newcastle United, which is an open goal missed by a regime in desperate need of positive commentary. A tweeted picture of a young Brazilian kissing the Newcastle badge was another gift missed by the club.

They are loved in Brazil, however. “The welcome from children blew us away,” Craig says. “They had prepared lots of things, music and performances, welcome speeches. It took us aback a bit. We had been speaking on Skype but this showed us how much they had been waiting for us to arrive. It was a big deal for them and made it a big deal for us.

“When it’s over we don’t want to say: ‘Thanks, it’s been a brilliant six months, we’ve loved it,’ and disappear back home. We want people to say their English has improved and to keep learning it, or to say: ‘I really enjoyed their football sessions, I wonder if I can help others like Craig and Michael did.’”

The sentiment is echoed by Michael. “We are fearful the hype will die down after the World Cup. They might not be as excited to get involved.

“But we want to leave a legacy through our partners in the city and Lionsraw, who maintain relationships not as a business but as friends. We are investing money in local buildings, educational centres and football facilities. Work starts next week on a centre in nearby Cajuru, which will be here when we are gone. In that sense we are here for the long term.”

Howay the lads!

News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
newsTV star had been reported missing
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone