English “poços-caldense” revolutionizes cricket in Brazil

Paulo Vitor Campos article – Sport Wells

The youngest Poços-Caldense citizen, recognized with a title received this week at the City Council, is responsible for one of the most successful projects in the history of Poços de Caldas.

Matt Featherstone arrived in the city in 2000 to stay for just six months. He did not leave anymore, as he was enchanted by Poços and a young woman who became his wife shortly afterwards.

Check out a little bit of the history of this Londoner who has become one of the most important people in the poços-caldense sport and in Brazilian cricket.

Mantiqueira – When did your connection with the sport start?

Matt Featherstone – I was born breathing the sport. My father was a rugby player and I lived in a house where the sport was in the DNA. In London I went to a school that is internationally renowned for supporting sportsmen and there I played squash, cricket, football, and rugby. My father wanted me to dedicate myself exclusively to rugby, but it was the sport I least liked. Closer friends wanted me to become a football player, but I also didn’t like the idea. At this time I was divided between cricket and squash, playing and representing the English national team in the U-15, U-19 categories until I became a professional player. Even with some success in these sports, I worried about my education and going to college was the main goal. If the sport didn’t work out, I would have to have alternatives in my life. I managed to graduate from three colleges, with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, a master’s degree in Psychology in Sport and finally a bachelor’s degree in Sports Administration. I was not an ace in the game, a player more or less as they say in Brazil, but I got attached to the study to chase the rest when necessary.

Mantiqueira – And how was the exchange of London for Poços de Caldas?

Matt Featherstone – In 2000 I retired and decided to come to Brazil. But the decision was because of love. I met my wife Aline Begalli Calil Featherstone, who was studying in London, and she ended up convincing me to come to Poços de Caldas. She complained a lot about the cold London, she was not used to that climate completely different from here. I told her that I would do a six-month experiment and then return home, but she said that when I got to know this city and Brazil I would never go anywhere else. Said and done and here I am today. We got married and it was the best choice of my life. I love living in Brazil, I love living in Poços de Caldas.

Mantiqueira – And how did cricket come? Did you already have the thought when you came here?

Matt Featherstone – Not at all. As I said before, I wanted to spend a six-month season and then go away or look for new directions. The change happened little by little. As my wife did not want to go back to London, I stayed and enjoyed it more and more and started to observe Poços de Caldas better. I ended up discovering that the city had many places in need of help and I thought I could do something. In Brazil, unfortunately, there is a lack of incentive to various sectors and sport is one of them. This lack of support comes from the government, businessmen, sportsmen, in short, from various sectors. I think that if each sportsman gives two hours of their lives to projects, it doesn’t take that much money to be able to do something good for the most needy people. I saw that I could do something and went to work. I started to meet interested people, one of them was Alexandre Felipe and he promptly started helping me to implement cricket projects in the city. Casa do Menor was the first project in the city and it became a very special place for us. I really enjoyed the work done there. Serious work, well done, but that needed a lot of help. I myself think that I helped their work very little. I wish I had given a little more. Anyway, we started the work there with some boys and girls and, honestly, after that start I never imagined that cricket would become what it became in Poços de Caldas. The results we achieved here showed us that cricket is a sport that can be played very well in Brazil and anywhere in the world.

Mantiqueira – What do you think facilitated the implementation of cricket in Poços and in Brazil?

Matt Featherstone – I was surprised when I arrived in Brazil and saw that a sport called bete was practiced here. The resemblance to cricket is incredible and this made cricket deployment much easier. People here had never played cricket, but it is easy to find the one who, as a child, was the champion of bet on his street, was elected the best bet player in his neighborhood.

Mantiqueira – After this start, how do you see cricket today in Poços and in Brazil?

Matt Featherstone – I see it with great pride. We have great teams in Poços de Caldas that play in professional terms, we have good players in Brazil, in São Paulo, in short, the sport just grows and I am sure that very soon we will be one of the world powers of this sport. Cricket will be as well known in Brazil as volleyball, futsal, among others, I have no doubt that we will conquer Brazil. Poços de Caldas is fundamental in this sense, since it is one of the cities that has more practitioners in Brazil.

Mantiqueira – How do you deal with the financial and support differences that the sport receives in your England and in Brazil?

Matt Featherstone – The investment abroad is old, they believe in sport for much longer and in Brazil and South America things are still in their infancy. Here the boy needs to work to help the family and with this the sport is played in the background. In Europe, especially in my city London, the thinking is different and that is why investment in all sports is heavy. The issue is cultural and I see that perhaps in the future we may have the same policy. Outside, they know that sport takes people away from drugs, in a bad way, while here there is no such thought and incentive. Lack of investment.

Mantiqueira – How is your connection with the Brazilian team?

Matt Featherstone – In 2000, when I arrived in Brazil, I met a club in São Paulo where there were Englishmen who played cricket. It was the São Paulo Atletic Club. I went to this club, met all the practitioners and started playing with them. It was a very small group, but I saw that we could increase the number of people playing the sport in Brazil. During this period, the staff of the International Cricket Council [ICC] contacted me and asked for help. They learned that I was in Brazil and saw me with an important piece to bring the sport definitely here. I accepted the challenge without receiving anything, but to help Brazil be part of the world cup. In 2006 we managed to place Brazil in the Cricket World Cup. We went after it, got an investment from ICC. The work started to grow, the resources too and with this the sport grew a lot in Brazil. Today we have good help from the ICC and with this growth many people have embraced cricket and Brazil has grown stronger. After I became coach of the Brazilian team, I tried to change the work philosophy a little. The team was 100% made up of foreigners and I was introducing Brazilian players to the group. It was a difficult task, since it started from scratch, but today we have many Brazilians on the team. Of course, we do not remove all foreigners, but the team is more mixed today with everyone having their space to represent Brazil well in adult competitions. In the under-13, under-17 and under-17 categories, we have teams formed only by Brazilians. The women’s team, which has been achieving our main results, also has only players born in Brazil.

Mantiqueira – And how do you see the recognition of your work in Poços?

Matt Featherstone – I’m happy, but when things start to work it’s easy for people to want to be a part of it. It was no different in Poços, and we obtained important support, such as from former mayor Eloísio, now from mayor Sérgio Azevedo, who has been giving very important support. The city’s companies are supporting and today in Poços de Caldas we cannot complain about the lack of support.

Mantiqueira – How will work be in 2018?

Matt Featherstone – The focus is always on growing. We have a limit of 3000 children per project, but to get this number we need more teachers, so we have to wait to reach this number. We have four students attending college and they will be the future teachers that we need to grow projects in the city. We want to deploy in all cities. Today we have 26 projects and we want this number to increase to 40. For now, growth will be less.

Mantiqueira – And what is it like to be a well-caldense citizen?

Matt Featherstone – I was very happy with the words of Mayor Sérgio who went to the Chamber and highlighted our projects. He said he was impressed by the number of people playing cricket in the city. The title of wells-caldense citizen made me very happy, it was a surprise and I am very grateful to councilman Lucas Arruda for the nomination, but this title belongs to everyone who believed in cricket projects in the city. It comes in my name, but it is from everyone who works with me, from you who has been promoting our work since the beginning, from students, teachers, in short, about our sport. One person does not change anything, but the union of all makes a lot of difference. I would like to end by thanking all the partners, such as the ICC Mundial, Rotary, Municipal Electricity Department, Caixa Econômica Federal, Hotel Minas Gerais and Associação Atlética Caldense, City Hall, Sports Secretariat. Without these partners, cricket would not have grown so much and I have no words to thank everyone.