Football Rebels

Afonsinho: Brazil midfielder who fought for labour rights

A Brazilian footballer’s battle for greater freedom to change clubs sparked reforms benefitting generations of players.

Afonso Celso Garcia Reis – better known as Afonsinho – began his football career in 1962 and three years later was a midfielder with the Brazilian club, Botafogo.

The club took exception to his unconventional appearance and political views under the authoritarian military dictatorship of the time. So Afonsinho fought a long legal battle with Botafogo and in 1971 won the right to negotiate his own services in order to change clubs without the need for outside interference or approval. In doing so, he blazed a trail for Brazilian footballers of future generations to exercise their own labour rights and maintain firmer control over their own careers.

Afonsinho was never selected to play for Brazil’s national team because of his outspoken views – but he did qualify as a doctor and still finds time to coach young football players near his home on Paqueta Island in Rio.