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The History of Vasco Da Gama

Based in the Brazilian City of Rio de Janeiro, football club Vasco da Gama were originally founded in 1898.

They are also commonly referred to as Club de Regatas Vasco da Gama, which means Vasco da Gama Club of Rowing, recognition of the team’s initial origins.

Having played their home matches in both the São Januário and Maracanã stadiums, the club is one of the most widely supported in Brazil and has fans worldwide.

Vasco da Gama are associated with many long-standing rivalries, most notably against Flamengo, Fluminense and Botafogo.

They currently compete in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, top tier of the Brazilian football league system and in the Campeonato Carioca, the top state league of Rio de Janeiro.

Let’s explore Vasco da Gama’s history.

Quick Facts


Full name Club de Regatas Vasco da Gama
Founded August 21st 1898
Nicknames Cruzmaltino (from Maltese Cross)

O Gigante da Colina (The Hill’s Giant)

Camisas Negras (Black Shirts)

O Legítimo Clube do Povo (The Authentic People’s Club)

Vascaínos or Cruzmaltinos (supporters)

Stadium Estadio Sao Januario


Capacity 21,880


Honours Torneio Octogonal Rivadavia Correa Meyer (1)

Copa Libertadores (1)

South American Championship of Champions (1)

Copa Mercosul (1)

Campeonato Brasileiro Série A (4)

Copa do Brasil (1)

Campeonato Brasileiro Série B (1)

Torneio Rio – São Paulo (3)

Torneio João Havelange (1)

Taça dos Campeões Estaduais Rio – São Paulo (1)

Campeonato Carioca Série A (24)

Copa Rio (2)

Taça Guanabara (13)

Taça Rio (11)


Named after the Portuguese explorer of India and Africa, Vasco da Gama, the organisation were founded towards the end of the 19th century and originally formed as a rowing club.

Vasco first devised its football department in 1915 and then began life in the lower leagues of the Brazilian game. The club’s debut match was a 10-1 loss to Paladino FC on May 3rd 1916.

The side finally became Carioca Serie B champions seven years later in 1922 and as a result won promotion to Serie A. The following season Vasco secured its first top-division title with the 1923 Campeonato Carioca.

Shortly after their triumph, Vasco unveiled the team’s emblem. It featured a diagonal slash to represent the route that the aforementioned Portuguese explorer of the same name took and the Maltese cross to symbolise Christian faith.

The Early Years

The earliest campaigns at Vasco da Gama were both challenging and controversial. During the 1920s, football in Brazil was a game for the elite societies and their racially diverse squad was deemed unpopular.

In 1924, the club were even pressured to ban their black, mulatto or poor players and yet they refused to comply with any such request.

Vasco became known as “Clube de todas as raças” or a ‘club of all races.’ They also became the first side to win a league with black players. By 1925, Vasco returned to the top league with its black and mulatto players at the core.

Throughout the 1920s, Vasco da Gama developed into a symbol of anti-racism and multiculturalism. They coined the motto “Respeito, igualdade, inclusão” or ‘Respect, equality, inclusion.’

Golden Generation

Dubbed ‘O Expresso da Vitória’ or in English ‘Victory Express,’ between 1944 and 1953 Vasco da Gama’s golden generation won numerous competitions. They claimed the Rio de Janeiro championship in 1945, 1947, 1949, 1950 and 1952 – along with the South American Club Championship (the world’s first ever continental club tournament) in 1948.

In 1953, Vasco da Gama secured its first intercontinental trophy called the Torneio Intercontinental Octogonal Rivadavia Correa Meyer. They also went on to win a total of five Carioca in eight years from 1945 to 1952.

Classic players such as Moacyr Barbosa, Ademir de Menezes, Ipojucan, Friaça, Danilo Alvim and Bellini all had starring roles in one of Vasco’s greatest eras.

The Super-Super Champions

In 1956, Vasco not only became Rio de Janeiro Champions but also finished as runners-up in the ‘Little World Cup,’ – losing the title to Di Stefano’s Real Madrid in the final.

The club would go on to beat Los Blancos in a friendly soon after the end of that tournament and became the first non-European club to defeat a European Champion.

A year later, this Vasco team proceeded to tour Europe and won ten consecutive matches, including another victory against European Giants Real Madrid, beating them 4-3 to lift the Paris Tournament title. It marked the only international competition Real failed to win between 1955 and 1960.

In 1958, Vasco impressively won the Rio-São Paulo Tournament which at the time was perhaps the most important championship in Brazil. It included such prestigious teams as Pele’s Santos and Garrincha‘s Botafogo.

Following the remarkable triumph, three Vasco players served as important components of Brazil’s World Cup title winning team – namely Vavá who scored five goals in the tournament – along with defenders Orlando and International Captain Bellini.

After the World Cup, Vasco secured their greatest Carioca Championship of all time, defeating Flamengo, Botafogo and Santos to become “Super-super champions.”

First League Title

In 1965, Vasco da Gama reached the final of the Campeonato Brasileiro, but lost to Pele’s Santos 6-1 on aggregate.

Yet in 1974, they finally won their first Serie A title and became the first team from Rio to win that particular honour. Cruzeiro and Vasco had finished the season level on points, which meant that an additional match had to be played, Vasco beating Cruzeiro 2-1 to clinch the title.

Second Golden Era

Following their 1997 Campeonato Brasileiro, Vasco embarked on ‘Projeto Tóquio,’ investing $10 million in a bid to secure the 1998 Copa Libertadores.

The club succeeded and won the tournament by beating Barcelona of Ecuador 4-1 on aggregate in the final. As a result, they qualified to face the 1998 UEFA Champions League Winners Real Madrid for the Intercontinental Cup but lost 2-1.

Because of their Copa Libertadores victory two years previous, Vasco earned a spot in the inaugural 2000 FIFA Club World Championship hosted in Brazil.

They defeated Manchester United, Mexican side Necaxa and South Melbourne of Australia in the group stages to reach the final. Their showpiece clash with Corinthians ended 0-0 after extra time yet Vasco ultimately lost 4-3 during the penalty shootout.

Across the 2001 Copa Libertadores, Vasco actually became the first club to win all six of its group games including two significant victories against Colombian champions América de Cali.

In the round of 16, they knocked out Deportes Concepción, yet lost 4-0 on aggregate to eventual competition winners Boca Juniors. It was considered a disappointing result after the expectations set by their near flawless group stage displays.

However, this period in particular provided a watching football world with the chance to witness an ageing but rejuvenated Romario still performing at an elite level.


Legendary Brazilian forward Romario first played for Vasco da Gama in his youth during the late 1980’s yet wouldn’t return to the club until 2000.

Via stints in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven and La Liga, the striker’s second coming materialised at the age of 34 – and he made a typically explosive impact.

During the 2000/01 campaign, Romario scored a ridiculous 66 goals in 71 games across all competitions for Vasco.

Over the next three seasons he would find the net consistently, finishing his second spell with 132 strikes in just 135 appearances. He helped Vasco secure the 2000 Serie A championship and Copa Mercosur.

He departed in 2003 for fellow Brazilian side Fluminense and briefly featured for Qatar club Al-Sadd before returning to Vasco da Gama again in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Other Famous Players

Vasco da Gama’s youth academy has produced a host of international footballers. Along with the aforementioned Romário are such players as Juninho Pernambucano, the midfielder having led Lyon to seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles, Brazilian striker Edmundo, along with former Liverpool and Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho.

The Club’s Decline

At the end of the 2001 season, Vasco da Gama spiraled into sharp decline, finishing 15th in 2002 and barely avoiding relegation in both 2003 and 2004.

After numerous mediocre campaigns, the club finally suffered relegation in 2008, ending their Serie A season in 18th place and being relegated to the second division for the first time since their inception.

They returned to the top flight in 2010 but over the course of the next decade remained highly inconsistent and fluctuated between the two league tiers.

A Brighter Future?

In February 2022, Vasco da Gama announced their new business relationship with Miami-based private investment firm 777 Partners, who bought a 70% controlling stake in the club worth approximately $330 million.

By November 2022, Vasco had secured their return to Série A after a two-year absence, now looking to remain in the top flight throughout 2023 and beyond.

Vasco da Gama have laid claim to 65 honours over the course of their 125-year history and continue to be an integral part of life for not only an adoring Rio de Janeiro community but a worldwide fan base too.

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