My first experience with Brazilian Futebol
Brazilian Futebol. It is life here in Brazil. When living in São Paulo, it is important to make absolutely clear where your allegiances lie concerning the three futebol teams that call the city home - São Paulo FC, Sport Club Corinthians Paulista (Corinthians), and Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras (Palmeiras). Each team has their own identity, fiercely held on to and perpetuated by the fans. Rooting interests run deep. Team fandom is passed down through the years and rarely can fans be persuaded to new colors - whether by new households, families and marriages.
I of course know none of this before calling the largest city south of the equator my home. It is clear though, after a few days (yes days) I need to pick a team. The diplomat in me devises a plan: I will go to a home game for each one of the teams and pledge my devotion afterward. Our household is a divided house – Norton roots for Corinthians while Olivia is for São Paulo FC – so this is the best approach.
My first opportunity for Brazilian futebol comes in early February. São Paulo FC (SPFC) is playing a much smaller team from the country (Capivariano) in the historic Estádio do Pacaembu (Pacaembu Stadium).
“Your first Brazilian futebol experience absolutely should be in Pacaembu. And with the best futebol team in São Paulo of course! But seriously, the stadium is such an important part of Brazilian futebol history. A real classic of a stadium. They played the world cup there in the 50’s.” Rodrigo tells me. Rodrigo is Olivia’s brother, a fierce SPFC fan and my new informant on everything futebol related. He is the one who snagged tickets and asked me to go with him to the game. And now, a free history lesson. Score! I mean Gooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!!!!
“Here, I brought you a jersey to wear. Make sure Norton sees you in this,” Rodrigo laughs. He hands me a replica SPFC jersey. It is a little big, but my goal is to blend in, not look stylish.
“Thanks man. I’m really excited! I've always wanted to watch an authentic Brazilian futebol match. When should we leave?” I ask.
We are sitting in the living room, windows open, sun shining through the leaves of the trees. It is a perfect evening for futebol.
“Oh for sure, for sure. No problems. We will leave soon.”
Rodrigo’s favorite phrase is “For sure, for sure.” I have no clue where he picked it up from, but it his response to almost everything I say to him.
“It is not far from here, maybe 10-15 minute walk. We have time for another choppe (beer) and then we will go. We can’t drink in the stadium so we need to drink as much as we can now.”
“Ok,” I laugh. “I’m down for some pre-gaming. Do they not allow alcohol because of fights breaking out?”
“For sure, for sure. There was one big riot a few years ago and after that,”
He draws a line through the air with his hand.
“No mores. It’s all good though.”
I spend the duration of our next beer listening to Rodrigo explain all the intricacies of why SPFC is a far superior team to both Palmeiras and Corinthians. He is sure, after the game today, I will be a SPFC fan. Pretty safe to say I’m going to the match with the right person.
We arrive to the stadium roughly 45 minutes before kickoff. Because Brazil is Brazil and no one is in a hurry to get anywhere (but also because there is no alcohol allowed inside) no one is hustling to get into the stadium. The plaza out front fills with food and drink vendors, pushing their carts through the crowd of people, trying to peddle their wares. Fans spread out everywhere, taking in the early evening sunshine and refreshing themselves with a cold beer. Rodrigo grabs us two from the nearest vendor and we sit on the edge of a cement bench to enjoy the crowd. There is a pregame buzz in the air (and in my head – beer and sunshine tend to do that) I can feel dancing across my skin.
“There won’t be many fans today because Capivariano is small and not very good, but we will still have a good time.” Rodrigo explains.
“Oh? I thought every game would be packed. They aren’t always sold out?”
“For sure, for sure. We still will. Most are, but not today. Only the big games get lots of fans.”
It is at this point I enlighten him on everything that is the Seattle Sounders FC. He listens, almost in shock really, as I tell him how every home game is completely sold out. They average 38k+ but can open the stadium up and have had upwards of 65k+ for big games.
“For serious? I didn’t know it was that big in Seattle.”
“Oh for sure.” I laugh to myself. “You need to come visit Seattle some time and I will take you to a game.”
“For sure, for sure”
The fences are for your protection
The first thing I notice when we get into the stadium is how few people are there. The stadium is quite large, with a seating capacity approaching 40,000. Today there are less than 10,000 (7,300 officially it is announced at halftime). It is an empty concrete bowl. The second thing I notice are the large white metal fences dividing up sections around the stadium. Our ticket was not for particular seats, but for a particular area. Once inside your section you can sit where ever you like but you can not go into a different section. We clamor down close to the field and take our seat on the concrete benches.
“What are the fences for? Why do they separate everything out like that?”
“To keep people from fighting. Usually for full matches, fans from each team can only sit in certain areas. That way they aren’t all sitting together and can have a fence between them.”
“Do people climb over the fences though? Or throw anything through or over them?”
“Oh for sure, for sure. But they help. Trust me.”
It is close to kickoff and I am still expecting more fans to file in. I can’t believe how few people there are. Kickoff arrives and my hopes for a raucous Brazilian futebol experience will have to wait for another day. The SPFC fan club cheering section is boisterous – chanting and banging drums – but they are on the other end of the stadium. Rodrigo thought he bought tickets for that section to give me a full experience and apologizes many times throughout the game for his mistake.
A hot dog vendor comes by and I buy Rodrigo and I a hot dog, chips and a bottle of water for R$15 – the equivelent of about $5 US. I could get used to this.
“It’s ok dude. Next time we can sit in the cheering section. This way I can see it in all it’s glory. And we can sit here and enjoy the game.”
We cheers our hot dogs.
“For sure, for sure.”
My first Brazilian futebol match is turning out to be a good one. Even if Capivariano looks completely outmatched. In the first half they give up two easy goals (although one is clearly offsides) and two or three near misses. It stands at 2-0 SPFC going into halftime. There are no big halftime shows like American sporting events. I’m not talking super bowl level stuff, but usually there is at least something going on. Here though? Nothing but an empty pitch. I rather enjoy it.
The second half is much more exciting. Capivariano crawls back to within a goal at 3-2, putting everyone in the seats on edge. I have never seen a fan base go from completely laid back to furiously frustrated faster than the crowd that night after the second Capivariano goal. You would think they hated their team - yelling obscenities, whistling at players, cursing coaches. It got ugly in a hurry. Yet, in true Brazilian fashion, emotions swing fast and easy the other way after a 4th goal by the hometown team. This puts the game out of reach. The jovial, easy going nature Brazilians are known for returns and remains to the final whistle. A 4-2 SPFC victory sends everyone home happy.
The cheering and fun spill out into the streets as we all make our way out of the stadium. By now cars line the street outside. Hatchbacks prop open. Open van doors using music, neon lights and barbecued meat to flood the atmosphere and tempt fans. I see small grills set up in the trunks and coolers stuffed inside. Everything smells and looks so good.
“You don’t want to eat any of that,” Rodrigo warns me. “I wouldn’t trust that food one bit.” He laughs.
“Well then let’s go back to the house and make our own food.” I reply. “And of course, have a couple drinks to celebrate the win.”
“For sure, for sure! So are you a die hard SPFC fan now??”
“Oooh I don’t know yet. I’m going to have to get to a Corinthians and Palmeiras game first before I give you an answer,” I laugh as we make our way towards home.
“Ok, ok. For sure, for sure.” Rodrigo laughs back. “I bet you will pick São Paulo though. Just you wait. I bet you will. They are the best man. The best.”
We shall see Rodrigo. We shall see.