On arrival in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, there was one thing that stood out to me. The financial hub of Brazil brings less touristic hot-spots then its glamorous sister Rio de Janeiro, but as a fan of football it’s a pot of gold. I did my research and had a look at what clubs called São Paulo their home, finding three big names: Palmeiras, Corinthians and São Paulo FC.
Three big teams brings an abundance of riches to mind. The stadia of the city is impressive, and includes a brilliant fusion of modernity and tradition that represent both the history and developing future of the sport in the country. The paulista people are football-mad and every taxi driver or guy in a bar will be able to discuss and debate with you for however long you wish – there’s no better way to improve my Portuguese. The city’s heart is pumping with football-infused blood.
The final, and most important, benefit of a city with such footballing heritage is the potential to go to games. However much football you watch on TV or online, nothing compares to the live experience. This is especially relevant in South America where the atmosphere created by the fans is a cauldron, wherever you go whenever you go. Having been to see San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors in Argentina and already seeing a Brazil international in Rio de Janeiro, the consistency is clear; the fans make the experience.
The quality is far inferior than that in Europe’s top leagues, there’s no contesting that, but the support is in a league of its own. As a Chelsea fan, I can hold my hands up and bow down to the home-support that they offer over here. We’re watching Eden Hazard and they’re watching Jô (ex-Manchester City flop) but we’re clapping and they’re screaming.
So I had a 10 day period in São Paulo before heading back to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, and I ticked off the main tourist hotspots in my first few days. So what’s a football fan to do with themselves? Well, I wanted to see some football. I knew that I had arrived in a time of the year when football is most accessible, with the Campeonato Paulista* in full flow. I checked the websites of the ‘Big Three’, and selected three games for the next week. This schedule would take me to the stadiums of Palmeiras (Allianz Parque), São Paulo (Estádio do Morumbi) and Corinthians (Arena Corinthians) in each corner of the city. Despite all ‘travel advice and warnings’, I would go alone to every match and experience a match-day as the locals do it. First up was a trip to see the champions of Brazil – where else to start – and I was off to watch Palmeiras.
Palmeiras vs São Bernardo, Campeonato Paulista, Allianz Parque, 16/02/2017.
There I was on the eve of the match, staring at a hole in the wall with a Brazilian mouth on the other-side. Everything I said seemed to fall on deaf, irritated ears and my efforts to try and buy a ticket were not going well. Every order she barked at me got more and more venomous; I don’t think she was much a fan of the ‘gringo-charm’. Either way, I paid my BR$90 (£22.50) and was handed my under-whelming paper square of ticket for a seat in the opposite side of the stadium to where I had asked…
I was not put off by the enthusiastic Palmeiras’ ticket-vender, and the next evening I boarded the metro at my stop at Santa Cecilia and headed to the end of the red line to Palmeiras-Barra Funda. The tube train was a blend of commuters, green-shirted Palmeiras fans and a combination of the two (work suit w/Palmeiras scarf or hat) and the vibe was typical of a summer evening football crowd. This spilled out of the metro and onto the streets of Barra-Funda, and the chirpy, ever-growing green crowd casually strolled the 20 minutes to the stadium.
Now let’s talk about this stadium. The Allianz name seems to immediately add a slice of quality to whatever it attaches itself to, especially stadiums, and this masterpiece is no different. Reminiscent of its cousin in Munich, the Allianz Parque shines uniquely as the sun reflects of hundreds of thousands of metallic panels that cover the exterior. It’s quite something, and the descending sun put a complimenting glow on my host for the evening. The inside was typical of a modern stadium, all clean and shiny, and I took my seat behind the goal next to the ‘ultras’ which was promising (maybe the ticket lady did take a shine to me).
As the sun set, the game started, and the champions of Brazil kicked-off against the lowly São Bernardo. Players I had my eyes on were ‘still quite good’ Felipe Melo, 42-year-old Zé Roberto and the star playmaker Moisés. However the player that initially caught all of my eyes was the number 9 for the visitors. Edno is 33 years old and about the frame of Adebayo Akinfenwa (a.k.a freight-train massive). He was causing all sorts of issues for the home defence and was really entertaining to watch. He even hit the woodwork in the opening exchanges. Who doesn’t love an underdog?
I’m not going to give a match report but I’ll discuss the things that caught my eye (except Edno). First things first, there was some really nice quality on show. When I was in Argentina the football on show (bar Carlos Tevez) was sub-mediocre, but Brazil was an improvement. As I mentioned, Melo is still close to the top of his game and dominated the midfield in a way only an experienced, bruising defensive midfielder can. Moisés is highly-rated and reminds me of Julian Draxler in both appearance and playing style, gliding past players and dictating attacking play in a sophisticated manner. Finally, the 42-year-old Zé Roberto was bombing up and down at left-back for 94 minutes. The man must have lungs of steel; he’s older than David Beckham!
However it was another nostalgic favourite of mine that changed the game. An injury brought Michel Bastos (ex-Lyon and AS Roma) off the bench and he lit up the game with drive and power that took me back to 2009. He even set up the first goal, which I was lucky enough to catch on camera, and eased the tension that was rumbling among the fans. The elation was amazing, and soon fuelled by a penalty given right in front of us. Dudu slotted it away calmly and gave me another nice bit of footage for my collection (this will be a theme…).
The game finished 2-0, the fans were buzzing and the first leg of my football week was complete. Everyone seems to be terrified of football crowds here but I felt perfectly comfortable making the 20 minute walk in the dark back to the metro. I’d even go as far as saying that it could’ve been London. So overall, here’s the night summed up…
Ticket Price – BR$90 (£22.50)
Players on Show – Felipe Melo (ex-Juventus, Internazionale and Galatasaray), Michel Bastos (ex-Lyon and AS Roma) and Zé Roberto (ex-Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich).
Game – 7.5/10
Stadium – 9/10
Fans – 7.5/10
Safety – 9/10
Overall – 8.25/10
TO SEE THE INFAMOUS INSTAGRAM POST WITH GOALS AND FANS GO HERE – https://www.instagram.com/p/BQnM5ZLAbll/?taken-by=jack_colman&hl=en
TO READ THE OTHER PARTS OF ‘ONE WEEK, THREE MATCHES’ PLEASE CLICK BELOW
*The Campeonato Paulista is a pre-season tournament that takes place in São Paulo (everyone region has their own version) and involves every team in the area. Every team plays eachother before the best-performing teams head to the final knockout rounds and subsequent final. Whilst not as serious as the league, it’s taken very seriously by every team and spreads across over 2 months of action. You often see the the strongest possible squad put out by the big boys (São Paulo, Corinthians, Palmeiras and Santos) and the will to win the competition is visibly evident.