Hardcore Flamengo soccer fans might know this but I’d guess most regular people do not. Flamengo isn’t actually a soccer team, but rather a “multi-sport body” known as the Clube de Regatas do Flamengo (The Flamengo Rowing Club), or simply Flamengo. It started out as a rowing only group but later branched out into soccer. Some of the original rowing members are pictured above, in 1896.
Towards the end of the 19th century, rowing dominated Rio de Janeiro. Soccer had just started to appear at some clubs, but it was still looked at with a bit of apprehension, as it wasn’t being welcomed enthusiastically by Carioca society. The Botafogo rowing club already existed and their rowers would often pass in front of Flamengo beach, catching the attention of the young women there. This was a ‘call to arms’ for a group of young men from Flamengo, not wanting the Botafogo boys to steal ‘their’ women, to start their own club.
The new group now had their first challenge: how to get a boat. They decided to all chip in some money (400 mil réis) and invest in an old lifeboat with 5 paddles, which was sitting in front of a beach house in Flamengo for quite some time. The second step was to restore it completely, since it was far from new. They took it by trolley to the then beach of Maria Angu, known as Ramos beach today, so a local trapper would fix it up for 250 mil réis.
The initial design of the club shirts was made up of blue and gold horizontal stripes, however, in 1896, it was changed to the famous red and black everyone knows today. The reason for the change is that the original material, which came from England, was hard to source and would fade and come apart due to the Brazilian sun and salinity of the sea. In the pictures below, from 1924, one can see what the striped shirt evolved into.
Even though the club’s sport was rowing, on October 25th of 1903, before the Flamengo soccer club was founded, the Flamengo rowers got together with their Botafogo colleagues for a friendly soccer match (Botafogo won, 5-1).
As for a quick timeline, here it is:
1889 – Brazil is proclaimed a Republic
1895 – Grupo de Regatas do Flamengo was formed
1898 – They won their first title
1902 – They became an official club – Clube de Regatas do Flamengo
1911 – The soccer team was founded
1914 – Flamengo soccer team won their first title
By the way, rowing never disappeared from Rio’s waters (proof)
Starting in 1902, soccer started to become as popular as rowing. Being as such, members of the Flamengo club started joining Fluminense club to keep up with the soccer happenings, while those from the Laranjeiras club would come to Flamengo to watch the rowing. Alberto Borgerth was a prime example, since in the mornings he’d row for Fla and in the evenings play for Fluminense.
In 1911, there was an internal misunderstanding at Fluminense. Some of the players talked about changing clubs, while others even thought of giving up soccer. That’s when Alberto Borgerth, one of the Fluminense players, made a proposal to create a soccer team in Flamengo, where there was already rowing. The idea was approved in November and the Departamento de Esportes Terrestres rubo-negro was created.
The new team drew the puplic’s attention and took their first steps to becoming enormously popular, training on the Praia do Russel (where Hotel Glória is). On May 3rd of 1912, the first Flamengo game took place: a huge victory of 15 x 2 over Mangueira. Below is a picture of the team in 1912, after another match. Their jerseys are different-looking because the rowing club didn’t allow them to wear the same uniform (something that changed by 1917, as can be seen in the second picture below).
Sources: Wikipedia, ESPN FC, Revista da Semana, Flamengo.com.br (I translated directly)