Luciano Araújo, a designer, decided to organize a small button soccer tournament with his family on the eve of the 2014 World Cup, but he couldn’t find all his old pieces. Searching the internet, he discovered that some artisans were selling the pieces he remembered, and he decided to make his own, creating the largest online store of its kind in Brazil, Botões Clássicosor Classic Buttons.
There are several different types of play, as well as codes of conduct and regional, national, and international rules, with championships played within and between different countries.
A Child’s Passion
Button soccer usually begins as a childish passion. For those who grew up before the internet era, it was one of the most beloved and common pastimes in Brazil. While a good number find other hobbies as they grow up, many others decide to carry their passion further, setting up clubs, federations, and more. Others travel the world to compete in amateur competitions, often spending their own money on these adventures.
And that passion is passed on from generation to generation. Araújo explains that his father had button teams in the ’70s and also kept the teams that his grandfather used in his youth, made of jacket buttons. Born in 1975, he says that “in the early 1980s, button soccer was my greatest passion, it was my first contact with soccer actually.”
Cavalheiro followed a similar path. “I can speak for myself and for almost the entire ‘botonist’ community. The passion for button soccer arises during our childhood. Basically, this passion is a playful transposition of field soccer to a wooden table with buttons of the most different materials.”
Igor Quintaes, Vasco da Gama’s athlete since the team founded its button soccer department in 2003, has even been a two-time world champion. Like others, he started playing when he was a child. “My father gave me the first table and teams. I also played a lot with my grandfather on the dining room table, which was bigger, and used breadcrumbs to make the balls. Then with my cousins at home and friends on the street.”
Sandro de Lima, who plays for Corinthians, notes that “in the 1980s almost every boy had a button soccer team. It was the norm.” Now, button soccer is not that famous, and the older generation is finding it harder to attract the youth to feel the same excitement and joy. Lima says that “when we play table soccer, we feel like a real soccer player. You do your moves on the field, and there is also that magic of mixing players in the same team. You can put Pelé and Messi together, and we feel a little bit of that childish joy.”
The Pandemic and the Future
“Attracting new fans to table soccer is difficult, especially because of video games,” explains Lima. He says that it is common for children to become interested, but during adolescence they find other interests. Then, when they are older, with their lives stabilized, they return to the game.
“This is perhaps our greatest difficulty,” says Quintaes. “There is no renewal because children today don’t play anymore. Accordingly, there are no new players. It’s hard to compete with video games and computer games of the latest generation.”