29 March 2010

Casaca, Casaca, Casaca-saca-saca

Vasco (3) x Fluminese (0) Campeonato Carioca, Taça Rio, 28 Março 2010-03-29

Judging from the number of hits from the English speaking parts of the Americas, I am going to write this one for the northerners.

I make no secret of my footballing allegiances: Carolina RailHawks, New England Revolution, USA Nats, Celtic, Brighton and Hove Albion, St. Etienne, Ajax, Barcelona, Boca Juniors, Argentina, São Raimundo, Figurense, Vasco da Gama. I understand myself, and football, well enough to know that this list is conditioned by geography, emotional experiences, media, conscious and unconscious choices, caprice and accident. The only way to rank this list would be to put some electrodes on my head and show me a series of goals for and against and evaluate my emotional reaction. I don’t pretend to understand it myself, but everyone in Rio wants to know why eu torço pelo Vasco. Torço, porra, e já.

Until yesterday, I had never been to a game in the Campeonato Carioca (which I describe here). But Vasco were playing at a reasonable hour, the Rio State Football Federation (FERJ) managed to get their act together enough to use the Maracanã for a clássico, and so on Saturday I went to Fluminese F.C. to buy my ticket, knowing that on game day tickets are not available at the stadium. The cheapest ticket was R$40 (and sócios were not entitled to a discount).

I took the Metrô, which has recently changed to eliminate the need to get off at the Estácio station in order to change from line 1 to line 2. Except for the weekends. Of course there was no information about this, so when the train went to Praça Onze, I assumed that I had boarded the wrong train, went back to Central, and then didn’t get on the next train because the shiny new flat screen tv in the station said that it was headed to Saens Peña, not towards Maracanã. Incredibly, there was someone there to explain that I needed to look at the small sign on the map on the inside of the train to know that on weekends, the old transfer system is still in place. Anyway, I can’t decide if my confusion resulted from familiarity or from ignorance, but at least 4 other people asked me for help in getting onto the right train to go to the game. The cars were full of people headed back to the Zona Norte after a day at the beach plus Vasco and Flu fans headed to the Maracanã. 

Crossing the bridge from the Metrô to the Maracanã, one always enconuters cambistas, selling tickets. But who do they think they’re kidding, scalping tickets for a game that was 69,000 people short of a sellout? More curious, FERJ was actually selling tickets on the day of the game! I was dumbfounded. One never knows just what system is going to be in place for a given match.

Walking up the rampa monumental, which is one of the few elements of the Maracanã that will not be completely renovated for the World Cup because it is tombado (lit: entombed) as a cultural patrimony, there were a series of signs that were not present when I last visited. These signs say: Use Collective Transport; Don’t buy tickets from scalpers; In the end, you are a fan of the World Cup; Celebrate in Peace. Ironically, one of the biggest concerns that FIFA has with the Maracanã is the lack of parking. More irony stems from the fact that the scalpers are there because FERJ and the teams can’t figure out how to sell tickets effectively. These new signs also point to the use of the stadium as a disciplinary space, something which Gilmar Mascerenhas and I wrote about some time ago

I saw dozens of Vasco fans wearing the new 3rd strip which ‘only’ costs R$199,90 (US$120). The jersey is modeled on the Maltese Cross that fronted the armor of the Knights Templar as they protected Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. My first introduction to the Templars was in Umberto Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum, which I though was pretty cool when I read it 20 years ago. However, my fascination with a Christian military order protecting religious fanatics on their way to the newly sacked Jerusalem has taken a more critical turn. I can understand the economic logic that C.R. Vasco da Gama has in launching a new kit for R$199,90 (of which only about R$8 goes to the club), but the symbolic logic is a bit of a stretch for me. One of the cool things about Vasco is that they are never afraid to reach back into the middle ages in search of iconography that will rally the troops, as it were. The launching of the new jersey has political overtones within the club as there's some confusion between the current president Roberto Dinamite and the former, disgraced president Eurico Miranda. I was shocked to see a banner supporting the latter, and have taken the liberty of making a small alteration. One wonders what the Vasguaçu torcida is getting from Miranda. 
  
The Maracanã is both amazing and ordinary, one of the most well known sporting venues in the world that is part of the everyday reality of the city. Of course, it’s always like this. For people living in Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, the Holy Land wasn’t something to be continually amazed about and maybe it wasn’t even wholly Holy, but ask a Templar how he felt about getting there. I’m getting used to the Maracanã, but I always find something new to occupy my attention.

The obvious: there are yellow lines behind all of the seats in the arquibancada. Not so obvious: these were the old seats, replaced in 1999 in preparation for the World Club Championships (for you ManU fans, this was the FIFA competition that Sir Alex sacrificed a run at the FA Cup for). What’s surprising here is that 11 years and hundreds of millions of dollars of reforms later, the lines are still there.

The obvious: reclining in a green seat just isn’t possible. Not so obvious: this forces people to lean towards the field actually forcing them to pay more attention to what is happening on the field. What’s to come: all of these ass-catching seats will be replaced with chairs so that World Cup fans can consume their spectacle more passively. This is going to further diminish the capacity, but no one is saying by how much. FIFA demands, millions obey.

The obvious: the luxury boxes aren’t particularly luxurious and have terrible sight lines, especially those stuck behind the enormous television screens installed for the 2007 Pan American Games. Not so obvious: these luxury boxes increase the heat of the stadium by cutting off air flow, make the rampas monumentais unusable and more than doubles the amount of time it takes to empty the stadium. What’s to come: the luxury boxes are going below the upper level of stands, which will bullox the lower seats (installed in 2006), which will then have to be demolished and built anew. FIFA demands, millions pay.

 

The obvious: leaning slightly back in your seat on a clear night, the elliptical form of the roof makes both the sky and the stadium seem connected, huge, único. The roof catches sound and whips it through the stadium augmenting the noise, but also letting it escape into the city. Last night, the roof framed an azure sky as the moon passed overhead and Christo celebrated a goal on his perch. What’s to come: the roof is going to extend to cover the lower section of seats, cutting out the sky, reducing a majestic arc to a doughnut hole. FIFA demands, culture disappears, architecture suffers. 

One final curiosity: because of a long standing tradition of keeping the hand in the till, FERJ and the CBF are now required by law to report how much money is taken in and how many people were in the stadium. Last night's match had a total renda of R$383,500 and a paying audience of 13,096. This means that every person who paid did so at an average of R$29.29. However, there were officially 19,607 people in the stadium, dropping the average ticket to R$19.55. This also means that 33% of the people in the stadium didn't pay to get in! You have got to be kidding me. The logic here is baffling and perhaps some people from MBA soccer can buzz down here and help me with this. Charging more for tickets reduces attendance, which dimnishes overall revenue, so in order to increase attendance, more people get in for free? Did the Templars come up with this system for transporting people to the Holy Land?

Whatever about the Templars, the new kit did the trick for Vasco in the second half and they overwhelmed Fluminese who deserved better from their strong first half showing. With so much going on in the stadium it's kind of hard to concentrate on football but next time I promise some kind of match report.  

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