18 August 2009
Fluminese 1 x Coritiba 3
Campionato Brasileiro, Serie A
16 August 2009
For many years, when I told people that my research was "stadiums in Latin America", the inevitable response was, "Have you ever been to that huge stadium, I can't remember its name, but it holds, like, four hundred thousand people, that must be crazy." The name of the stadium is Estádio Mario Filho, aka Maracanã. Yes, I have been there, many times, and it doesn't hold nearly as many people as it used to. It can be crazy though it’s also just a local stadium where people go week in, week out to watch soccer.
The Maracanã is arguably the most famous stadium in the world. Built for the 1950 World Cup, the original capacity was somewhere between 180,000 and 190,000. The Brazilians were so sure that they were going to win the 1950 World Cup that they offered to paint this colossus, the biggest stadium in the world, the grandest stadium since Imperial Rome’s Circus Maximus, the stadium that was to represent Brazil’s emergence as South America’s post World War II industrial, technological, and cultural leader – in the colors of the winning team. On 16 July 1950, 220,000 people witnessed the unthinkable. To this day the Maracana is celeste, the sky-blue of Uruguay a continual reminder of the folly of hubris. It is surprising that so few Brazilians know the story behind the colors.
Despite the infamy and drama, going to the Maracanã is really just an ordinary thing to do on a Sunday afternoon in Rio. I arrived late to the game but there were so many others doing the same that I wondered if the kickoff hadn’t been delayed. I bought my R$20 ($US 12) ticket for the cadeira comum and hustled into the stadium. Fluminese were a goal down after fifteen minutes and the fans were clearly angry. There wasn’t much to recommend in the play of either team – Fluminese entered the game second from bottom and Coritiba third from bottom. This was a mid season relegation battle.
Before half-time, I moved from behind the goal to behind the player’s benches and below the media cabins. This is usually the most crowded section of the stadium as the fans are within earshot of the coaches and players. When I first started going to the Maracanã in 2003, this area was known as the geral, an open area where young men ran back and forth screaming at the players, coaches, and referees. The geral was eliminated in 2006, reducing the capacity of the stadium to 87,000 (from an already diminished 119,000) . Families have taken the place of the ruffians and it is no longer possible to watch the game form the railings as Military Police shunt everyone into seats before kickoff. This hasn’t stopped the streams of vitriol flowing from the stands to the pitch, but the police are omni-present.
One of the other changes that has come with the architectural modification is that prices have increased from R$5 to R$20. It literally goes without saying that when you put people in seats they become more sedate. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the former geral, now cadeira comum, continues as a place where the norms and mores of Brazilian society are transferred from one generation to the next. I can’t decide if it’s funny or not, but hearing dozens of pre-teen voices fill the air with “Oi juiz, vai tomar no cu!” (Hey referee, go take it up the ass!) is pretty funny.
One of the main differences between going to a stadium in Europe or the USA and Latin America is the amount of information about the event. At the Maracanã, there is a scoreboard but no game clock, no game day programs, no stats, no player profile magazines, nothing. People just know these things. There is also no place to buy souvenirs, and no half-time show. There is half-time entertainment, though it hardly compares in Lolita-esque sensuality with the RailHawk dancers. I hope to get an interview with this guy in the coming weeks. He goes the length of the pitch and then returns to midfield, which takes him about 15 minutes.
Fluminese went 2-0 down mid-way through the second half, thanks to some shocking defending and even worse goal-keeping. The newly reinstated coach, Renato Gaucho, clearly had nothing and no one to bring off the bench and paced the sideline with his head in his hands. Somehow, a long ball out of defense combined with a lucky bounce and a bit of pace to pull a goal back for Fluminese, but hope was short lived as Coritiba killed the game on a counter-attack. Once the result was beyond doubt, the fans spilled into the old geral to take up their swearing positions. There was nothing the police could do but let the abuse wash over them and onto the coaching staff and players.
In the movie clip below, there is an impressive diversity of ages, all screaming “Frangeiro” which can be loosely translated as “chicken shit”. Those familiar with Monty Pyton will be surprised to see a cameo by the “It’s” man. Just another Sunday at the Maracanã.
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