As most people know, Soccer (Futebol) is religion down here in Brazil, only slightly less violent. As someone who moved to Brazil 3.5 years ago without a real team allegiance, I thought I would briefly recap my wandering eye for the right team up to the present. While you might think this will not interest you, you know that everything I write is entertaining and educational, so read on. What else do you have to do? Read Hillary Clinton’s campaign platform? Mike Huckabee’s weekly menu?
As mentioned above, I came without a team. However, I had read this amazing book about Mané Garrincha, who is arguably the second best footballer in the history of Brazil behind Pelé, and who played at Botafogo, a team from Rio de Janeiro.
Garrincha was basically a simple, kind man, who suffered from being an almost illiterate alcoholic, yet who was a genius on the pitch. When Pelé was injured during the 1962 World Cup (bet you did not know that), it was Garrincha who was credited with bringing Brazil’s second World Cup home.
I believe I read a stat that when Pelé and Garrincha played together, on the national team, they were like 100 – 0. Not a typo.
So while most Brazilians liked to make fun of the Gringo rooting for a team from Rio, and at that, a team that had not sniffed success in decades, well, it was for literary and cultural reasons.
Plus, while I rooted for Botafogo, they qualified for the Libertadores (South American Champions League) for the first time in 16 years. So there!
However, then they went all Miami Marlins and started to disband the team. With that, I decided it was time for a new team. Having already rooted for a Rio team, there was no point in a Flamengo, Vasco or Fluminense — the other teams from the Carioca state.
So my choices were from the state of São Paulo. Here is a brief on the 4 main teams:
Palmeiras (Palms): A team that 20 years ago was essentially the national team. Many titles, but albeit most recently had fallen on hard times, even being relegated to the second division (imagine for instance, if the last place team in a baseball division had to play the following season the Triple A), and almost suffering the same fate in 2014. This also happens to be the team of my brother-in-law, his son, and my son, the famous RPG I. As I want RPG I to be happy, I will always root for them as a father. If I were to compare them to an NFL franchise, I guess they would be like the Dolphins. Had some major success in the past. Some recent minimal success and some major disappointments. Always a threat to rise up (if you forget about the Patriots for the time being)
São Paulo: This is the team that my wife supports, and for marital bliss so should I. They were dominant as recently as 2006-2008 with three consecutive titles, but have recently been up and down. They mostly compare with the 49ers as their fan base is considered effete (the white wine and cheese crowd) and less fanatical.
Santos: Pelé’s team. These are the Green Bay Packers. They won EVERYTHING in the 60s/70s with Pelé and admittedly a bunch of other stars. Then they fell on hard times for two decades. However, since the early 2000s they have had some good success and even gave the world, and Barçelona, Neymar. Like the Packers, no one hates Santos.
Corinthians: Simplest way to represent this team is to say that it is the Dallas Cowboys of the 70s, 80s and 90s, the Lakers of the 80s and early 2000s, and the Yankees of eternity in one team. Either you love them to the point that you tattoo their name on your arm, or you hate them to the point that you wish Biblical plagues on their supporters.
Anyway, with open recruitment, I will admit that it was only a soft sell from Palmeiras and São Paulo, a no sell from Santos, and the hard sell from Corinthians. Even though I had not truly aligned to a team in the past 3 years, I had learned to NOT support Corinthians, as does everyone who does not support them.
So a couple of weeks ago I was invited by a group of Corinthianos to attend a Libertadores match against Danubio from Uruguay. The match was played in their new stadium, Itaquerão, which I had been to twice during the World Cup. This time it was full of Black and White clad supporters.
I will admit that the energy was intense and fun. Always helps when there are no fans from the away team to generate ”confusion.”
The match is a mismatch. Corinthians dominates to the point that even I could do a better job coaching Danubio. With the lead stretching from 0-0 to a final of 4-0, I start to view the end zone section where the ”Organized Fan Clubs” are. These are the groups that raise those enormous flags and banners that cover entire sections. They are also the groups that arrange to fight other organized groups, are accused of murders, drug dealing, etc. But from a distance, their choreography, uniforms and chants are enjoyable.
The most famous group, Loyal Falcons, I had heard of. I hardly want to be a member of such a well established fan group. Since I was for sale, I wanted more radical.
Fortunately, there were three more groups. So I asked my sponsor, Garrido about them.
a) Camisa (Jersey) 12: Essentially like Seattle’s 12th Man, but without the majorly annoying chip on their shoulder about how ”nobody believes in us.” In fact, Corinthians fans are the most confident in the world and act as if they have won every title in the past 20 years, regardless. I find this preferable to Seattle’s obnoxious and insufferable 12th Man. Nevertheless, the name is off-putting.
b) Pavilhão Nove (Pavilion 9): Garrido says that there was this “altercation between the police and prisoners at….” I interrupt and ask if he is referring to ”Carandiru prison riot 20 years ago when 100+ prisoners were massacred?” He says ”Yes.” Turns out many of the victims were Corinthians, so this group was formed to honor them. I feel like joining this group would be equivalent to having a group called Jonestown, or Waco. Nope, not gonna do it.
c) Estopim: My portuguese is fluent, but occasionally there is a word I do not know. Estopim was one. So Garrido points out that this is the ”thing you light to ignite, for example, a stick of dynamite.” Hardly a passive device to support your team, but taking poetic license and realizing that a ”Fuse” can be used for a candle, or a firework, or…..” I figure this is the Fan Club for me.
Now note, I would actually never join any of these fan clubs. For in the words of my sponsor, they are all basically groups of ”criminals.” And to be honest, just hanging in the parking lot with them after a game can reduce your life expectancy. But as part of the decision-process, I found this to be key.
So this is where we are: I am still for sale. Why you might ask? Well, I have developed some rules (one previously mentioned):
I root for my son’s team.
I root for Brazilian teams in all international competitions (Libertadores)
I refuse to choose a team based on the State Leagues, which is all we have had up until now. [What is the State League? It is a stupid competition. To parallel, it would be like a shorter California league of baseball in which all teams from Single A to the Majors would compete and even have a championship. While there would be the occasional upset, the final would undoubtedly be Giants – Angels, or A’s – Dodgers and no one would care.]
I will have to wait until the National League of Futebol starts to see where, as my Corinthian friend Jordi says, my heart lies. There are strong pulls from immediate and extended family, and from friends.
Two final notes, one interesting impact of being courted by Corinthians is that they are by far the most passionate. When I mention how my family is ostracizing me and how my son is disappointed, and how I suspect that my wife has started clandestine divorce proceedings, they all tell me to stand firm as it is worth it. 🙂
On the flip side, Palmeiras and São Paulo don’t make a big effort to sell you, but when they hear that you are considering Corinthians, they are passionately AGAINST this decision and try to talk you OUT OF IT. My brother in law threatens to charge me for doing my taxes. The doorman in my building intimated that he would never open the garage for me again. And the look of disappointment from the Wine and Cheese São Paulo crowd cannot be emphasized enough.
I must admit, I like the attention of being notorious, hence, no hurry to choose!
Still for sale boys!!!!!!!!!!