The story of Perivaldo, a former Brazilian international, who ended up sleeping rough on the streets of Lisbon.
Lisbon on a sunny Saturday morning. As you stroll down the high sided magnificence of the Rua Arco Grande de Cima, with the light streaming into the Largo de Santa Clara in front of you, you are transported into a shimmering world of ephemera and bric-a-brac as far as the eye can see.
Saturday mornings produce a heaving throng to this large square at the foot of the majestic Pantheon in Lisbon’s old town. There is a slanting view down over the crooked rooves of Alfama to the River Tejo, its moored tankers waiting patiently midstream for attention at the narrow docks at Santa Apolonia. The light shimmers on the water, offering a distant view across the lagoon of white houses in the fishing village of Alcochete and the cranes and pylons of industrial Seixal and Almada. The shattered tenements of Alfama slant away down the hill perched on impossibly steep cobbled streets. The thwack of the yellow trams as they thunder along their narrow course fills the tiny streets of Sao Vicente de Fora.
The square is a hive of activity, with stores and tables being set up. Everything from a square of carpet with besmirched plastic toys from the 40s to sea charts of the finest detail and Japanese dresses of every colour. It is amongst this cornucopia of handmade or stolen craft that locals and holidaymakers flock in their hundreds every week to sift through the junk in search of that one blinding find. It is truly a magical place in a superb setting.
The sounds and smells are of Portugal’s colonial past. There are Portuguese army jackets from the colonial wars in Guinea, ancient stamp collections from Mozambique and the heady cocktail of accents and wizened faces that tell you the whole of history has passed through this steaming place at one time or another. Voices and accents mingle as the lazy morning unfolds in swirls of dark coffee and the first wafts of baking pork and goat.
The Feira de Ladra, as it is known locally, plays host to many hundreds of stores and temporary kiosks. We have stopped in front of a raggle taggle piece of bent table draped with ordinary-looking jeans and sports tops that Tommy Hilfiger devotees would blanche at.
The tall good looking man peddling the gear wears a brown beany hat, a maroon shirt and a long brown trenchcoat. Although it is December, the weather is warm and he looks impossibly over-dressed. His hair is long and emerges in tufts from beneath the hat, pulled down over his ears. The silver stubble on his chin and the watery eyes tell you a story of their own.
He shouts out to a fellow stall holder and his Brazilian accent is immediately discernible. His mouth is crooked and framed by thin lips that mouth quiet eulogies. A gaggle of stumpy Brazilians and disinterested stall holders stand a few metres away, exchanging pleasantries with him, as he absent mindedly arranges jeans and t-shirts.
What one cannot see at this point is the man’s past.
Let us drift back to 1982. More precisely to Spain in 1982, a country awaiting arrivals to take part in the World Cup Finals. España 82 with its curiously beguiling Naranjito emblem, its heady mix of giant open stadiums soaking in the sun and cardboard skinned locals smoking charoots.
A pageant of unsophisticated colour and noise played out across Spain that summer, leaving us with a number of popular images frozen into our memories. Battiston flat on the turf after being knocked cold by dastardly Harald Schumacher; Bryan Robson hooking in for England after 27 seconds of the opening match with France; the Kuwaiti sheik attempting to remove his national side from the pitch in Valladollid; Algerian fans pushing peseta and dollar notes through the grilling as Austria and West Germany colluded their way to mutual qualification. It was a World Cup heavy on iconic imagery, from a young Maradona’s red card for walloping his studs into Passarella’s family jewels, to Marco Tardelli’s televisual adrenaline rush in the Madrid final against a lethragic German side.
Ask anyone to conjure one element from World Cup 82, however, and there is a good chance that it will involve the greatest Brazil side never to win the World Cup, a side brimming with flair and bravado, that did not know (or care to know) when to stop attacking. This was the eternal Brazil built by Tele Santana. The dancing samba Brazil of Zico and Socrates, Falcão and Eder, of Junior and Leandro. A side so heavily imbued with skill and artistry, it was utterly impossible to take your eyes off them.
Certainly inhabitants of the old Soviet Union, Scotland, New Zealand and Argentina will have reason to well remember this side. Brazil toyed with each one before foundering hopelessly in a flailing mess of attacking football against a counter-thrusting Italy side with Paolo Rossi in untouchable goal poaching form. Brazil, needing to draw, twice earned parity with a surprisingly feisty Italian team, but proved incapable of containing their attacking instincts, finally falling to a third sucker punch whilst trying to add to their own total of two.
Brazil filed off home, leaving us all with images to keep ourselves warm over the next forty years. Still Eder’s chip over Alan Rough, Zico’s acrobatic volley against New Zealand or the incredible goals by Socrates against the Soviets and then Italy are burned convincingly deep in our memory banks. It was a fabulously unbalanced side, with an underused goalkeeper, deeply unconvincing stoppers and a lumbering centre forward, who ran like the proverbial old lady falling off the bus. In between these two concrete ends of the team lay two rows of the most lavishly gifted footballers, dancing in and out of the tackles, weaving patterns that ordinary mortals could only try to imagine.
Alongside the illustrious names of Zico, Junior and Socrates, that of Perivaldo Lúcio Dantas does not stand out so much. That is because, sidelined by a meniscus injury just before the tournament began, Perivaldo never made it to Spain. Having played two of the warm up games, he had had high hopes of being part of the samba festival heading to Europe that summer. Rooming with the great captain Socrates, they dreamed together of what glory awaited them on Spain’s sun-drenched costas. But the bags remained unpacked and Perivaldo watched the events unfold from across the Atlantic Ocean.
Born in Itubano on 12th July 1953, the Baiano Perivaldo played for Itubano, Bahia and Botafogo. After the World Cup, he would play at Palmeiras, under Santana and later still for Bangu. Perivaldo led a life of fast cars and flashy women. Never concerned where the next treat might appear from, he and his team mates lived for the present. “It was at the time of a big sponsorship from Le Coq Sportif,” he explains. “With that, each of us earned more than our normal salary at our clubs, certainly more than I was getting at Botafogo.”
He was enticed to Portugal towards the end of his career with the promise of one last big pay-off, after a failed trip to South Korea revealed only the lying ways of those who were already trafficking in footballers in those days. Perivaldo’s Rolex watch would be the last valuable item to go. He drifted into the wrong company and lost everything he owned. The boy from one of Brazil’s golden generations was reduced to sleeping rough on the streets of Lisbon, far from his Brazilian homeland.
Perivaldo sings as he arranges things. It becomes apparent that even this small pile of poor quality clothing is not his to sell. It is not his stall. He sings as he arranges a box of well-known sports footwear that can only have fallen from the back of a truck, with a price so low. The words of Ivete Sangalo play from his mouth as he moves about his tiny space. Sometimes his feet move in a little shuffle-like dance when the minute spaces will allow it. It will be one of his last days supporting his friends at the flea market.
Minutes before our arrival he had nearly missed his spec on the hill because of a late arrival in situ, held back by a report crew from TV Globo, wanting to interview the lost footballer from Brazil. The Brazilian Footballers Union is soon involved and a movement to repatriate the singing ex-player is quickly underway.
Within two weeks, he is revealed amongst flashing light bulbs and whirring microphones on the other side of the Atlantic, from borderline homeless to centre of attention once again. His first stop after a night flight from Lisbon is Fortaleza, but Rio awaits him, as does a job at the football union and a small house to dwell in.
“Football can make princes out of paupers but can also do the opposite,” recalls Alfredo Sampaio of the Brazilian Footballers Union.
Indeed the figures for just how many lose their way is astonishingly high. Here, at the age of 60, is Perivaldo’s story and its happy ending at last.
By Simon Curtis
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona