Beauties and beasts: (2) how Cabral’s shirt embraces our pain and expectation

    Cabral: all the pain and absurdity of our passion encapsulated in one item of clothingAll the pain, passion and absurdity wrapped in one item of clothing

For the second in our new series of supporters’ recollections of specific Sunderland AFC shirts, Keir Bradwell pauses in his preparations for a trip to Swansea tonight to look back on one that promised so much but proved as invisible as the intended wearer.

‘I went to sign Cabral at 2am in a restaurant and I was not leaving until I got his signature,’ said Roberto de Fanti, our hapless director of football at the time, of one many players foisted on Paolo Di Canio. ‘Then 48 hours later he had offers from two clubs in the Bundesliga. If we had waited longer we would probably not have Cabral.’ Sounds now like a spectacularly missed opportunity to miss an opportunity … …

If you’re looking for a football shirt to represent the past few years of Sunderland’s Premier League campaign, the 2013-14 away shirt bearing “Cabral 6” as name and number is probably the most accurate metaphor you’ll find.

In fact, if you’re looking for a footballer to represent those years, the one-season-wonder Cabral is not probably but certainly an entirely accurate metaphor.

But I think there is an added poetic element in a shirt so obscure, so blighted with abject disappointment and yet still customised in blind optimism for the new “holding midfielder of dreams”, that its comedy value fits perfectly with the almost-comical-but-still-painful failures of Sunderland in that time.

Firstly, I think it’s worth pointing out that Adilson Tavares Varela – Cabral to you or me – never once played in this shirt in a competitive fixture, an impressive feat for someone who’s won a domestic double, scored in the Champions League and almost, almost, made an appearance for the Swiss national team.

Even more impressive was the way he was immediately dropped by Di Canio, after playing a blinder in an 80-minute, rain-soaked match against Tottenham in the Barclays Asia Trophy, and making an impressive debut against Fulham in the league. Little did we know that a few shots blasted two yards over the bar would be the pinnacle of his dazzling Sunderland career.

Buy now at
The ill-fated Cabral top is one of many Sunderland items paraded at the website of Classic Football Shirts; check out the range at

I think, more than anything, that this away kit perfectly summarises the eternal Sunderland struggle with hope.

Whoever originally owned it must’ve thought, in innocence and naivete, that Cabral would be a player so important to our 2013-14 campaign that he was worthy of having his name proudly displayed for all to see on the back of a vibrant, unapologetic kit. The fact that they instead received a shirt with the name of a man who would never even wear it in a game is down to fate, and perhaps cigarettes.

And now, we are invited to buy a shirt with possibly the most comical failure in recent Sunderland history proudly displayed for all to see, like a triumphant acceptance of defeat, a kit that passes beyond the traditional laws of self-deprecation.

For Cabral went from being a wizard on the pitch to being a wizard for managing to stay off it. Every year, as Sunderland fans, we build our hopes unnecessarily and unachievably high only for them to be trashed in the mud by an apathetic Kader Mangane, or similar.

If you want a shirt that says more about the fortunes of the team you support than the combined metaphorical value of all kits that preceded it, this is the only one you will ever need. And at £24.99, I’m sorely tempted.


The Beauty and Beasts series needs your help. Fancy writing about a Sunderland top that brings back memories good or bad, beautiful or ugly, or amusing? Have a look at the possibilities at the Classic Football Shirts site. You may worn some of them. Or sworn at them. If you can put your impressions or recollections into words, anything from 200 to 600-700, contact us at Salut! Sunderland

4 thoughts on “Beauties and beasts: (2) how Cabral’s shirt embraces our pain and expectation”

  1. I just Googled it and Fredgaard did score. He cost us 1.8 million, quite a bit in 1999.

    Di Guiseppe played for 45 minutes.

  2. I wonder if anyone has a Carsten Fredgaard shirt.
    I saw him twice when I was able to go to lots of matches:
    Chelsea 4 Sunderland 0 when I lived in London
    Walsall 0 Sunderland 5 when I lived in Shropshire
    I now live in Mexico City but I only see the lads on television, although they do show every PL match live.

    • I was at both those games too. Didn’t he score at Walsall? I think we had a Brazilian trialist who had a decent game but never got signed playing too.

      There was a great sign on the side of the Bescott that said “No Ball Games” which made me laugh!

  3. Brilliant stuff as always.

    Every time the name Cabral is mentioned (OK almost never), I think of how his shot against Fulham made me feel. Full of hope and thoughts like “wow, this guy’s the real deal”. My present self mocks that past self

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