As you enter the Mooca neighbourhood, the Italian influence is clear. Small restaurants pump the aroma of pizza, pasta and pastries into the street. The Portuguese of the locals is injected with the odd Italian expression or mannerism. Fingers come together and flick up and down in a sign of exaggeration or dissent. It’s an authentic taste of the European peninsula in the middle of South America’s biggest city, São Paulo.
As you wander the streets of the quaint neighbourhood, one thing stays constant; the colour maroon and the letter J. Walls are painted with murals dedicated to the local football team, as is often the case in South American neighbourhoods. Shops and café are branded, officially or unofficially, with the badge and name of the club. Cars are decorated with the club’s window stickers and locals walk the street in various editions of the shirt. It’s clear that this is a Paulista community that breathes through a little football team.
This little football team is Juventus.
Well, Clube Atlético Juventus to be exact. One of the most iconic names in football has a second home, 5849 miles away, in the narrow streets of São Paulo. The comparison and contrasts between the two fit the big brother/little brother mould beautifully.
The Italian outfit’s nickname, The Old Lady, is one of the most memorable in football, and the Brazilian side have a brilliantly complimentary alternative. They are warmly known as the Moleque Travesso (The Prankster Boy) and live up to the name by playing in the colours of Torino FC, the city rivals of the Italian champions. The metaphorical image of a small Brazilian team teasing a respected Italian stalwart of football is undeniably satisfying.
The other Juventus were formed 93 years ago, in 1924, by the staff of the Contonofício Rodolfo Crespi factory. The majority were Italian immigrants, working and residing in the area through the funding of Rodolfo Crespi himself.
Crespi was an interesting character. He built up the Mooca area almost single-handedly through money generated through his industry. His factory was the hub of the neighbourhood and still stands there today, albeit as a food market, like a slice of the British industrial revolution in the middle of São Paulo.
He was also reported to be somewhat of a fascist, and a friend of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini; Crespi was personally invited to Mussolini’s celebrations for the anniversary of the city of Rome. He was an avid Juventus fan, hence the adopting of the name, and his son was a fan of Torino FC, causing the conflicting kit colour of the Mooca outfit.
Originally named Extra São Paulo, Juventus’ on-field history has generally remained within the realms of the state. Their Prankster Boy nickname was earned in 1930 after a 2-1 victory over giants Corinthians, in their own backyard, when a local journalist coined the term. In the same year they lost 6-1 to Santos but regarded the match as a ‘dream’, as the factory team was finally competing with the state’s elite clubs.
The club’s glory years, per say, came during the 1980’s. They were promoted to Série A, the top division in the country, in 1983. The league was played as group-structured round robin tournament at the time; Juventus came third in their pool, with one win in eight, and were subsequently demoted again. In 1986 they won a qualifying tournament for the Campeonato Paulista with four 0-0 draws, thanks to a combination of penalty shoot-outs and corruption scandals.
Although not blessed with too many football icons themselves, Juventus hold a place in the heart of one of the best of all time, Pelé. The Brazilian legend claims to have scored the most beautiful goal of his career in the Estádio Conde Rodolfo Crespi, against Juventus, on 2nd August 1959. The goal was never filmed, but was re-created by an animator for the striker’s film Pelé Eterno.
The club recently celebrated their 93rd anniversary with an exhibition match that included ex-pros, celebrities and some current Juventus players. I went along to get a feel for the club and managed to speak to Darcio Zarpellon, a Juventus fan and the man who originally introduced me to the club.
What is your relationship with C.A. Juventus?
I have always been a São Paulo fan but, as I am from Mooca, I have always loved Juventus. When I was a kid, my house and school were next to the club’s social club. At that time the houses and apartment blocks didn’t have swimming pools and tennis courts, so the club was a meeting point and leisure area for groups and families at the weekend. At the time, some of my friends and neighbours played in the youth team. Everyone dreamed of being a professional Juventus player.
What is the importance of the team within the community and the Mooca neighbourhood?
Mooca without Juventus and Juventus without Mooca? I would say that one doesn’t exist without the other. It’s like going to Disney and trying to find Mickey! The history of the neighbourhood is the history of Juventus, and is unified by the community.
When people speak about Juventus, they say ‘Juventus of Mooca’!
Is there any relationship between this Juventus and the Italian giants?
Yes, there is one. Many fans of the Brazilian Juventus also support the Italian Juventus.
Mooca is a neighbourhood that was constructed by many immigrants, but mostly Italians. The name of the team was given as a tribute to the city of Turin, which was an idea of Rodolfo Crespi himself, the owner of the Contonifício Crespi business, who employed a lot of Mooca’s immigrants.
Juventus only doesn’t wear their colours because many Brazilian teams already used black and white (Corinthians, Santos, São Paulo, Botafogo etc.). The subsequent decision was to wear the colours of Torino FC instead.
What is your best memory of C.A. Juventus?
I have never frequently been to the stadium and, unfortunately, the current situation of the club is not good.
So I would say it’s the context: the team’s past, the tradition of the neighbourhood, the people, the small stadium without floodlights, the cannoli of ‘Seu Antonio’… all of this reminds me of Juventus!
More than anything, this song that the fans sing:
“Eu sô de Mooca, sô Juventino, na minha mesa, sô pizza e vinho.”
(I am from Mooca, I’m a Juventus fan, on my table, is only pizza and wine)
Sum up Juventus in three words…
Tradition, family and cannoli!
From my afternoon at the club, and from my chat with Darcio, it was clear that Juventus is a beating heart within the Mooca community. Families populated the crowd along with some more elderly fans and a 20-man strong group that made up the more hardcore ‘torcedor’ behind the goal. As the sun set, a golden glow came over the 4,000 capacity stadium and the beauty of football became ever-more apparent. It’s not about the glory, it’s about the collectiveness and being part of a community.
The Old Lady play this weekend for ultimate club glory, in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, and the name of Juventus will be on everybody’s lips. Yet thousands of miles away in deep São Paulo, the Mooca community will be wearing the colours of their own Juventus; nothing beats The Prankster Boy.
Thank you for reading.