The disabled footballing icon who won two World Cups

Guest post by Amit Sharma, Associate Director of Graeae.

I’m a massive football fan. I’ve been in love with the beautiful game since I was about seven years old. I’ve played for my primary school in competitions, with my mates in the park, and support the greatest team in the world – Liverpool Football Club (although I’m yet to play on the hallowed Anfield turf!). I was also quite fond of Argentina as a national team, not least because of Maradona, and the ever growing battle between him and Pele to be named the greatest ever footballer. However, there’s always been a player who gets missed off the list when it comes to discussing the best. A man who played alongside Pele and when both played in the same team neither ever lost a game. A two time World Cup winner who almost single-handedly won Brazil the title in 1962. Nominated in FIFA’s Team of the 20th Century, and whose name sits above the home dressing room in The Maracana, the most famous stadium in the world: Manuel Francisco dos Santos – better known as Garrincha.

When I became Associate Director of Graeae I wanted to look into creating a show that would be cross- culturally specific to Rio and the UK as they are hosting the Olympics and Paralympics after London in 2016. Graeae haven’t done a sporty type of show before and I was trying to rack my brain to see who might fit the bill. I then had my eureka moment and thought of Garrincha.


I’d come across Garrincha a long time ago when watching a documentary. The pictures were black and white, grainy, and the clips of him on the football field didn’t last long. There was mention of him having ‘funny legs’ but nothing more than that. What I didn’t realise was how complex a character Garrincha was.

Born in the outskirts of Rio, Garrincha had a right leg that turned inwards and a left leg that turned outwards and when given a football he became a genius. Off the field, his life was turbulent. Garrincha’s relationship with Elza Soares, a famous samba singer, proved captivating and he was an alcoholic which eventually took his life at the age of 49.

Garrincha playing football
Garrincha (left) during the World Cup 1962

I’ve never known of any disabled footballing icons. I’ve never known of any disabled icons who have won World Cups. I’ve never known of any disabled icons that are revered as he is in Brazil where he is affectionately known as ‘The Angel With Bent Legs’. I had the privilege of going to Rio last year and whenever I mentioned that I was planning to do a theatrical performance of his life people were excited and wowed. The goodwill was overwhelming. The highlight of the trip was having the opportunity to meet two of his daughters and to get their approval to do the show.

What I want to do is to open the door for the world to know a little more about this charismatic character. Knowing what I do now about Garrincha I would have loved to have said his name whilst dribbling passed my friends. A footballer with a similar mobility impairment to mine who won two world cups. How cool would it have been to imagine you were Garrincha alongside Pele and Maradona?

Hopefully with this show it’ll inspire the next generation to become their own Garrinchas.

Graeae is a disabled-led theatre company which breaks down barriers, challenges preconceptions and boldly places Deaf and disabled artists centre stage.