BRAZIL FOOTBALL ROAD-TRIP (extended version)
Stuart Roy Clarke accompanied by Lucinda Helen Grange
Being a photographer “who sees the World differently” according to the Times newspaper back in the UK, me (and my accomplice) JUST HAS TO start the Brazil trip at the Museum of Modern Art in Niteroi across the harbour from Rio where we will be able to look back at Jesus with his arms outstretched.
Instead, without the satellite-navigation Avis promised us, we wake that first morning with the car wheels-deep in sand on a beach, God knows where up the coast, no Christ in sight, surrounded by wild dogs with teeth sharpened at sunrise waiting to play us football.
We won’t make the same mistake again!…the 2nd night we sleep in safety under the stars high on a mountain …surrounded by mischievous monkeys. We thought we would go to nature ahead of the human onslaught that will be the BIG city: San Paulo with its tens of millions of people living in a pressure cooker.
Out of which is born the infamous Corinthians, the richest club in the land with some estimated 25 millions supporters (should they all show up!).
When we get to the Stadium through the rabid traffic, we are turned away from the Press gate for NO good reason except for that “I am wearing shorts?!”. But it is boiling hot! No one speaks English. They speak Brazilian forms of Portuguese with a few short English words when it suits them. Eventually, with the match underway, and the adrenalin of the people on the gate waining, we prevail – we argue our way into the ground flashing Press cards.
But we are sent to the stands to do our photography, away from live tv, from the players kicking the ball about in their shorts. We are in with the fans. Fan-tastic. Where we wanted to be in the first place. Brazil 1 England …2!
Behind the high wire fencing we will work our eyes and cameras: at this OUR VERY FIRST MATCH EVER…on Brazilian soil.
Corinthians fans LOVE their club. It is as if there is nothing so important as their football team in their whole darned lives. Some men clutch babies and wear tattoos proclaiming undying love and detailing the years and seasons and achievements coming and going. There are more females in the crowd than in any country we have seen outside of an Olympic or World Cup event. This is truly a family affair, an opportunity for procreation, full of banners and songs and adoration. If their team were to get a pounding, they would still surely sing on into the night. Between bouts of physical love no doubt. Even in the face of (rubber) bullets, no doubt.
Santos would be our next football port of call. And quite a contrast. 100 kms and a world away, to the east, on the coast. Where Pele made his name and played and scored and played and scored. By the sands and breezes of the sea. The Santasticos seem so much at home – relaxed – it is like a match in your living room in their 15,000 capacity Vila Belmiro stadium – NOT chosen to be a World Cup venue and as such left mostly alone…for groundsmen henpecked by wives to apply a few licks of paint to its fading grandeur, as and when.
The tv cameras, during warm up, focus not so much on players, nor on the stadium, but on couples, kissing. Snogging.
Smiles and kissing and snogging all round. The Brazilian way.
And yet this summery love-in is played out on the back end of a Brazilian winter. This afterall is the Southern Hemisphere (with everything upside down or back to front, including the sun and the moon). This is in fact much the time of the year the World Cup will be played out in 2014.
Travelling further down the coast, towards the south of the country, nearing Uruguay and Argentina, the cities and lifestyle appear more European (and it is colder and more drizzly accordingly). Porte Alegre IS to stage the World Cup …whilst Florianopolis NOT – it was rejected by the WC panel.
But not by us. It is our destination. We need Florianopolis with its order, its traffic code observed, its sand dunes, its whales in sight just off the coast.
Florianopolis boasts two modest clubs: Figueirense and…across the big bridge on the island by the airport – Avai. My accomplice Lucinda, by night, climbs the length of the bridge. That is her way of saying “hello”. I meanwhile swim in the lagoon, by the light of a boat.
After a couple of days we are ready for a couple of nights of Florianopolis football. (And, as a result of which, I shall become a Figueirense fan and Lucinda support Avai).
In the days when we photographers aren’t hanging around in the mountains with monkeys, but down in these towns and cities pursuing the football experience, we couch-surf our Brazil. This was always our plan – a way in our minds to remain close to what we had come for.
COUCH FOOTBALL FANS
But not everyone in Brazil follows and loves football the moment their head is raised off the pillow. They are merely always aware of it. They are NOT borne with a ball beneath their feet.
There aren’t footballers on every corner. Nor football pitches.
By these criteria Brazil is certainly not the home of football, nor even its soul. The beautiful game is just as likely to be being played in Brazilian homes on computers in bouts of EA Sports Fifa’13. This comes with the territory of being a developed country, of having wealth, of staying indoors. Brazil, like England and Scotland and Germany and Holland and other countries who developed their football through street football, has come of an age.
THE LAND OF PLENTY
Brazil’s future is bright whereas all but three or four other countries in the World are on the backheel recalling better times…all in the past. Even the U.S.A. which since its goldrush inception has been adding to its wealth of wealths and confidence and sense of history, is now thinking the best of times are ALL behind them.
Brazil is bigger than the U.S.A. (if you take out Sarah Palin’s Alaska). Much of that idea of America! as the land of opportunity could soon be switched from North America to South America.
Brazil has huge natural resources, as well as endless road-horizons. It has oil /sugarcane-as-oil for generations to come. It has water, the new oil. It can feed its people essentials. Berries and every fruit plus remedial herbs-in-the-jungle-not-even-discovered-yet can be added to the host of woods, wheats, cocoa already on offer. It has human resources and little cause for unemployment. Unemployment breeds unschooled footballers. Hordes of them.
And so when you are looking for street football, look to Africa. Including Mali where we visited before Brazil. There they have football pitches everywhere and matches being played everywhere, at all times. Some villages of just a few houses have several football pitches.
Brazil is not the land of football plenty. But that won’t stop it being football good.
We have the chance (if we drive 1200 kms – and we WILL) to see ‘the national team’ which will actually turn out to be the 2nd string (most of the 1st team play in Europe and won’t be available through club commitments) …in the annual Superclasico de las Americas: Brazil Vs Argentina. This first leg is in Goiania, near Brasilia, the capital. No, it is not Rio.
As has become usual, there is confusion over our accreditation – all this after driving some considerable distance. As is usual we prevail. This time I wear trousers and we are down by the pitch…when we probably would prefer to be in the crowd. In the huge bowl of the Goiania Stadium – not chosen to be a World Cup venue – the match is dazzling. With a last minute penalty to Brazil.
A SECRET KEPT FROM YOU TOO LONG
We have kept a secret from you. A big part of the Brazilian trip before we got to the Superclasico, hasn’t been accounted for.
Let’s rewind to a town called Varginha. Famed less for its football and even its name but for its UFO spotting. Yes, it happened here some years ago.
We can hardly contain our excitement – football and UFO’s!
And to add to the fun, we are lost on some dirt track which our sat-nav insists we take. We believe it’s all part of the plot to have us meet up with the aliens.
Eventually we get to the emerald city of Varginha…but are unable to locate our couch-surf host who appears to have been abducted. Brazil defined: things might not go to plan.
His father, also a Press photographer, tries to explain to us… … anyhow we decide to stay in the Motel Friendly we saw as we came in off the dirt track. It transpires that the Vasco Da Gama team are staying there also. Their match ‘away’ at Cruzeiro has been moved from out of town from Belo Horizonte to here as punishment for fans throwing missiles at players. As luck will have it we will have 2 matches tonight and tomorrow in little Varginha. First the local team Boa playing Ipatinga who we saw play away at Avai. There they had just 3 of their own fans (Brazil is a big country)…tonight they have 7. The locals turn out like it’s a drive-in or a musical fete, running around, playing games, eating popcorn. Even ET the extra terrestial is in the crowd.
In the morning our hotel is under siege from fans waiting on their Vasco team. Some on horses. Loads of police meanwhile are heading towards the Varginha Stadium. Helicopters overhead. It’s a military operation not seen in Varginha since…the UFO incident in 1996. And the capture of the aliens! Brazil is everywhere readying for staging The World Cup and The Olympics.
Leaving Varginha after the excitement of everything, we come across a statue to Pele in the middle of the road. Lucinda walking backwards falls down a manhole and as if that’s not bad enough has a stake 10cms into her calf. She pulls it out slowly and measures it. Even photographs the whole procedure.
Bandaged, she’s good to go and we make our way into town realizing we had by that statue by the manhole stumbled on PELE’S BIRTHPLACE.
A kindly doctor – the first person to speak English in the entire time we have been here – isn’t interested in Lucinda’s bandage but rather excitedly leads us along a path to the “Pele house” and suddenly we are in THE HOUSE OF PELE. Where it all began. The best player ever. Some would say from another planet – from outer space? Yet HERE is the evidence the Pele walked on all fours …along this corridor. Whilst over in the garden focused his attention on getting the ball between those two trees. And banging the shithouse door with unbelievable overhead scissor-kicks accuracy.
He sat on this step chewing corn. At some point he left for Santos, never to look back.
ON A PLINTH, ARMS OUTSRETCHED – TITANIC TIME!
Eventually, back in Rio, the road-trip almost done, we sit in the shadow of that elusive Christ editing and summing up what we have done, with some more matches accounted for.
But today, Sunday, the last day, and still in one piece despite the huge distances, the millions of decisions made on the two-lane motorways when to overtake and when to avoid unexpected things in the road …TODAY must surely be our biggest challenge yet.
We are to be again in the company of beloved Corinthians Paulista (away-possee) and hosted by Botafogo of Rio (welcoming committee-to-Corinthians-home-possee). The atmosphere in the streets is electric. I turn to my accomplice and say this is fun, but the atmosphere is on a knife-edge. It could go rubber-bullet time.
I add that many of these fans from both sides could be the roughest fans I have EVER come across.