Their mascot is named “Little Defeat”. Their fans “protest” when they win. But after a notorious losing streak that earned them the nickname “the world’s worst football team”, Brazilian minnows Ibis are ready for victory.
Based in the city of Paulista in northeastern Brazil, Ibis Sport Club rose to infamy in the 1980s for going three years, 11 months and 26 days without winning a match.
But the regional club, who play in the Pernambuco state championship, have responded to decades of derision with good-natured humor, turning their mocking nickname into a badge of pride — and what is turning out to be a powerful brand.
With their penchant for self-deprecating tweets and Instagram posts that go viral, Ibis have drawn worldwide attention, including from Swedish online gambling firm Betsson, which signed the most lucrative sponsorship deal in the club’s 84-year history last June.
Now, flush with cash, the eternal losers are starting to do the unthinkable: win.
“Let’s leave our history as ‘the world’s worst team’ to the 1980s, when Ibis really were the worst in the world. We’re not anymore — though we use it for marketing, so people know us,” said club president and passionate fan Ozir Ramos Junior.
Losers or not, Ibis have shown a knack for building their brand in the social media age.
When Lionel Messi left Barcelona last August, Ibis offered to sign the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner — on condition he not score “too many goals” or win a championship.
In the event, the Argentine superstar went to Paris Saint-Germain — whom Ibis now compare themselves to, given that neither team have had any luck winning the Champions League.
– Lovable losers –
“We’re known all over the planet as the worst in the world. But let’s not mix that up with our professional side. We’ve got highly competent people,” Ramos told AFP.
The sponsorship deal with Betsson has allowed Ibis to upgrade their sporting infrastructure and pay actual salaries to their footballers, who formerly played out of “love for the jersey”, Ramos said.
Last season, the club won promotion from the Pernambuco second division to the state’s top-flight league for the first time in 21 years.
The championship is the gateway to Serie D, the bottom rung of Brazil’s national league system — though Ibis, returning to form, have struggled for results, and risk being relegated again.
It is only a temporary setback, says coach Paulo Jesse.
“Today, we only work with winners. We’re going to ditch our reputation as the worst in the world,” said the coach, a school security guard in his day job.
Ibis have certainly come a long way since their worst ignominy, when they went from July 20, 1980 to June 17, 1984 without winning a match — racking up 48 losses and six draws, with 25 goals for and 225 against.
The losing streak was so bad sports magazine Placar wrote a profile of the club, declaring them “the worst team in Brazil” — a nickname that soon became more famous than the club’s official one, the Black Birds.
Ibis claim they even hold a Guinness record for the world’s worst losing streak — though there is no register of that.
– Universal appeal –
Israel Leal, author of a book on the team, says Ibis have universal appeal.
“Ibis is resistence. It’s like any one of us who’s going through a bad time and then starts fighting to win,” he said.
“For many years the club did nothing but lose, and now they’re winning.”
Owner Ramos says Ibis have a way of conquering people’s hearts.
Among fans who support Pernambuco’s most popular sides, Nautico and Sport Recife, “Ibis are everyone’s second-favorite team”, he said.
Even the club’s best-loved legends tend to be everyman stars, such as Mauro Shampoo, a barber with a massive mane of hair who played as a midfielder for Ibis in the late 1980s.
He claims to have scored one goal, in an 8-1 loss to Ferroviario do Recife.
But there is no record of it.