Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Beginners Guide To Football In Sao Paulo- Part Two

“What is THIS I’m watching?" my Mum asked this on several occasions when I was growing up. She would ask whilst firmly pressing button number three on the remote control, perhaps hoping it would change what was being broadcast on that channel. "Football? Where’s bloody Coronation Street!?!” 

7.30pm means soap opera o’ clock in the UK. Yet every once in a while, live football games are shown on channel three instead of the usual soap operas. So Deadrie having a bit of banter down the Rovers with Gail used to be (if you didn’t read the TV guides carefully) unexpectedly replaced with a group of football pundits, sat in a studio, providing the build up to a Champions League match.

"What? I'm not on tonight....because of the football?"
“I was looking forward to Coronation Street tonight” she would sigh.

My Mum always sounded incredibly pissed off whenever she needed to say this, almost like she’d taken the schedule change personally.

My mother, like many soap lovers up and down the country did not take kindly to this kind of disruption to Coronation Street. Of course, with digital TV things have changed now, but back in the day football used to rule the channel whenever it clashed with the soaps.
So when I moved to Brazil, a country obviously very famous for it’s love of football, I fully expected that football matches would also dominate early evening television here.

Well, I was really wrong on that front.

Brazilians are also big soap lovers, but because Globo (the terrestrial TV channel screening the most popular soap operas), own the rights to the majority of Brazil's football games it made a deal with the clubs over here. So games don’t start until the soap's final credits have finished rolling.

Everyone seems to be a winner, soap opera fans aren't really affected by the football and TV channels don’t miss out on the revenue the TV advertisements bring in. Also, in a city like Sao Paulo where businessmen frequently find themselves working until late into the night; late kick offs mean that if they can get in front of a screen by 10pm, they’re not going to miss the start of the game.

Everyone is a winner…. everyone that is, except light sleepers.

"I'm just calling to let you know I love you!...Brazilian style!"
Expressing Yourself

As I’ve already discussed in previous blog posts, I'm constantly fascinated by how passionate Brazilians are. And I’m not just talking about how much they love kissing and hugging each other! I remember once sat at my friend’s house when he answered a call from his mother. When he put down the phone ten minutes later I asked him what he was arguing about.

“Well, nothing!”
“Oh, so why were you raising your voice to your Mum?” I replied (Like it was any of my business)
“Andrew, I am Brazilian, this is just how we talk. I wasn't fighting!”

It's only as I've started understanding some Portuguese that I've realised (whilst ear-wigging) that he was right. When Brazilians are 'chatting', they may be raising their voices and sounding like they're in the middle of a fight...but this doesn't necessarily mean that they actually are. They generally just seem to be (to the untrained eye at least) a whole lot more passionate about what they're talking about.

Yes, in general Brazilians like to express themselves in a way British guys like me… don't.

So it came as no surprise for me to discover that a passionate, football-loving country like Brazil likes to show its appreciation of a goal being scored or a football game being won in a way that isn't very subtle.....with fireworks and car horns!

Whenever Corintheans, Palmeiras or Sao Paulo are involved in a big match, it’s a given that on the night the game is being played (usually a Wednesday or a Sunday) fireworks will be exploding around the city alongside blaring car horns.

This is NOT what a sleep-loving killjoy like me wants to hear around midnight when a football game (I have no interest in) ends....especially when I need to be up early for work the next morning. I rarely keep up to date with the football calendar, so the fireworks always come as a bit of a surprise too.    

There was one match that took place a couple of months ago where the fireworks were actually STILL going off at lunchtime the next day. This game was a bit of an exception though, the game I’m talking about is final of the Libertadores Cup.

Copa Libertadores 2012

In the hundred and something years Corintheans have been playing football, despite being one of the most successful clubs in Brazil, until this year they had failed to ever reach the final of this competition, let alone win it. So this final against the Argentinean Boca Juniors was BIG.

A few hours before the game started I was sat teaching in one of my student’s offices. The fireworks had already been going off for some time, and as I ended the class I asked my student if he was looking forward to the game.

“Not really” he answered without hesitation. “I have an eleven month old baby at home who won’t be able to sleep tonight because of the noise in this city”. He half-heatedly shrugged his shoulders, gestured at the window and then continued. “Those fireworks mean tonight is going to be a very long night for me”.

My neighbourhood is not the most expensive place to live in, so it’s almost a given that I will be hearing fireworks going off near my house whenever these big games take place. Yet for him, a high flying business executive who lives in a fairly affluent area of the city, I was surprised that he too would be affected by the game in this way

I guess this goes some way to show just how much these football games impact on most people living in the city….weather they like it or not! 

My morning students had wisely chosen to cancel class the next morning, as they expected to wake up with hangovers. So with nothing in my schedule until lunch time, I was able to relax with my housemates with a few beers in my local bar.

The Scary, Football Loving-Woman

As the game kicked off, my attention was immediately drawn to the feisty looking woman sat in the corner. She’d gone under my radar for the first half hour of me being there, but the sound of the whistle almost seemed to trigger her wild side. She was in her late thirties, was wearing a blue-on-blue tracksuit and had the type of hair you could imagine being cut with garden shears instead of scissors. It was a huge, unwashed, Diana Ross inspired bouffant.

Sat next to her were her two children. Her son must have been at least ten and was sat enthusiastically in his Corinthians kit, and her daughter was probably around six. She was naturally looking a whole lot less enthusiastic about being there. She sat there by her mother, colouring in her colouring book, stopping what she was doing only to yawn and look at her watch.

She looked very out of place at that time in a bar full of football fans. Her Mum had no doubt brought the crayons along to make sure she could get pissed and enjoy the game without being hassled.

Just five minutes into the game and I noticed that she was already pretty animated. “Chupa! Chupa!” she roared whenever the Argentinean team got possession of the ball. 

I’d not heard this word before; my Portuguese teacher hadn't covered it in class. Naturally, I wondered what it meant. I asked my friend, who responded with a huge grin on his face.

“It means….suck my dick”

I looked back at the woman whose long curly hair was now being thrown from side to side as she stood gesturing at the TV. Her kids looked on like this kind of thing was fairly standard.

Kerry Katona, you have yet to meet your Brazilian doppelganger!

Whilst I’m pretty sure this woman was a ‘one off’, she does illustrate quite nicely how it’s not just the men who get involved in football over here, a large number of women also enjoy these games...all be it, in a more civilised way!

Brazilian Football Commentators

It was during the second half that Corinthians scored, to the delight of everyone around me. “Goooooooooooooal” the commentator cried, against the backdrop of car horns and fireworks.

I’m sure Brazilian football commentators get trained at the Mariah Carey School of note holding, because the word ‘goal’ is stretched for an uncomfortably long time. They must have to take deep breaths whenever the ball goes into the penalty area, just in case they need to scream “Gooooooooooooooooal!” 

I was once giving a class to a group of five students when one of the guys told me about his recent trip to England. “I was watching a Manchester United game in a pub, and I noticed that when they scored, the commentator said ‘goal’ really fast. I was so surprised, it was so restrained!”

The class were visibly intrigued by this, with one asking ‘Andrew, is this true?’

I then felt four pairs of eyes on me, awaiting verbal confirmation that British commentators really do lack passion whenever they announce that a goal has been scored.

“Well yes, we do say it like this, but…it’s NOT really necessary to scream whenever a goal is scored, is it?” I could see from the look on those faces that to continue this argument would be to fight a losing battle. I quickly gave up.

Reaction To The Libertadores Win

Corinthians won this game, and in doing so successfully managed to add the Libertadores cup to their trophy cabinet. As the final whistle blew, a whole load of fireworks went off, and for a good 10 minutes, the Sao Paulo skyline looked like a poor man’s Disneyland firework display.

What Sao Paulo didn't really look much like
Interested in seeing how Sao Paulo would be celebrating, 15 minutes later myself and my housemates were sat in the back of a taxi heading to Vila Madalena. This neighbourhood is an upper/middle class area of the city that has a lot of bars… and so we guessed it would be an area that would also have a lot of people out in the streets partying. As we stepped out of the taxi and walked up to the square, we weren't disappointed.

Crowds of people were dancing in the streets, some were throwing lit fireworks into the air and plenty were knocking back beers…. like sailors on their last night of shore leave. Everyone was in incredibly high spirits.

Not sooner than we’d got out of the taxi than I saw a bus driver heading down the road to the square. He’d obviously not got the memo about avoiding this particular area like the plague in the event of Corinthians winning.

As he drove towards us, the sea of people gradually parted to allow it to pass. As they did this, they began to push the bus, making it rock from side to side. I could see an elderly woman sat near the front clutching her bag of groceries close to her chest.

She was clearly terrified. It was obvious that she was not just holding this bag to stop things from falling out, but she was hugging the shit out of it for some sort of reassurance that she would be ok. It is with relief that I can tell you she did!

I realised just how infectious the atmosphere on the street had become when my flatmate, an IT specialist and self-confessed nerd, looked at me with wild eyes, and said this: 

“Come on! Let’s go and push the bus with these people”.

Alarmed by his sudden and unexpected transformation from white-collar worker to street yob, I replied:


We partied in the streets until well into the early hours of the morning, and I was seriously impressed by the unexpected carnival-like rowdiness.

“We are just partying with Corinthians fans Andrew, imagine what the streets of Brazil will be like if we win the World Cup. People will probably be celebrating like this for a whole week!”

This I can well imagine, because having been in Brazil during the last World Cup, I saw the country in the midst of football fever….

Which brings me nicely onto the topic of my third football related blog, the World Cup in Brazil (I'm really surprising myself with having this much to write about on the subject of football....even though I'm sure there aren't too many football blogs out there containing references to Mariah Carey, Deadrie Barlow and Diana Ross!)

To Be Continued!

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Beginners Guide To Football In Sao Paulo- Part One

I’ve had to split this blog into two posts, because I’ve ended up writing a whole lot more on the subject of football in Sao Paulo than I’d ever thought possible….for me!

I can just see my friends back home right now, sat looking at their computer screens and scratching at their heads in confusion. "Creelman has written a blog about football? Seriously!?!”

And why would my friends be doing this? Well, before coming to Brazil I had very little interest in watching or talking about football. Me and football were like fat men and thongs….we just didn’t go well together.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know all the basics…I can explain the offside rule, I get really involved in watching the England international matches during major tournaments; and if I’m bored enough I will even read the back of a newspaper to see which player is being transferred to which club…but to be honest, I’m rarely that bored!

This is not to say that I haven’t watched many Premier League matches, because I have actually seen plenty of those. When I was at university my housemates would often invite me to watch games in the pub with them. Well, what I mean is that they would often invite me to watch games in the pub with them….when they had nobody else to go with.

“Please just sit there with your pint and don’t talk much during the game. And for the love of God, don’t shout ‘kick it’ at the TV again when it looks like someone is going to score!”

So me writing a blog about football might seem strange to those who know me, because I don't really know a whole lot about it. But because I write this blog about life here in Sao Paulo, writing on the subject of football almost seems unavoidable (I’ll go more into why this is the case in my next blog)

After two years of living in Brazil I have enough basic knowledge to give you a bit of an  insight on the football culture over here. Surprisingly I'm quite clued up on it now, helped in no small part by the amount of time I seem to spend talking about it both inside and outside of my classrooms. 

So if you plan on immersing yourself into the Sao Paulo culture any time soon, but have no knowledge of football...let me give you some help!  

And let me start by telling you something I’m often asked by my students.

Being a Non-Football Loving Brit

“What’s your team in England?”

Well, now I’ve stopped answering this question with “I don’t really have one”, because when I used to say this, I could read the look on my student’s faces. It was a look that told me exactly what they were thinking….‘I like talking to you, just not nearly as much as I did 10 seconds ago.’

“But you’re from England, don’t all English people love football?” I used to be asked. Not only did this make me feel like I sucked at being English, but I also knew it meant I’d just lost myself a few man points!

So whenever I’m asked, I tell people I support Middlesbrough, which is the nearest city to my hometown. This generally elicits a positive response, because for a while it was the home to the former Brazilian international, Juninho Paulista.

I remember as a kid when he arrived at Middlesbrough, it was a big deal. For a while he was also a permanent fixture of the local newspapers and news bulletins. Before Juninho arrived on British soil, the team he used to play for in Brazil was Sao Paulo, so when I arrived in this city I was quite interested to learn more about his former club.

Sao Paulo FC

Back in the days when I was starting out as an English teacher in Brazil, my students used to tell me who they supported, in the hope they would convince me to adopt their team. Whenever someone told me that they supported Sao Paulo, this would happen…. the other students in my class would laugh and then call out the name ‘Bambi’.

Naturally I had no idea why they were doing this. I wondered if Bambi was a football player, or a Portuguese word. For a while I simply didn’t ask.

After seeing my Sao Paulo supporting students being mocked on several different occasions, I was confused. I remember wondering just what was going on. What was wrong with this Bambi? So one day I asked one of my students; “why do Sao Paulo supporters have people constantly tease them? Aren’t they a good team?”

“Andrew, they are a very good team”, was how the response started. Then my student smirked before continuing; “but they have the type of supporters who enjoy fine wines and novels”.

As an English Literature major, I like novels…and I also like fine wine (well, if I'm being honest I like any wine really), so this football team sounded right up my street. But before I decided to get myself a season ticket to join the red wine drinking, football supporting, novel reading student gave me a knowing look, and asked ”do you know what I mean?”

My face must have given me away. I really didn’t.

No sooner had I been asked this than another student came to my rescue, whilst laughing. “He means they are all gay! We call them Bambi from the Disney movie, because they play football like gays!”

Now, it was a while ago since I saw the film Bambi, but I really don’t remember this deer (who so tragically lost his mother)….being portrayed as a flaming homosexual.

“I’m sorry, what does Bambi have to do with gay football players?” I enquired. The answer? Well Bambi is effeminate, and fans of other teams like using Bambi as a nickname for Sao Paulo fans, to make fun of them. “Andrew, you must have seen Bambi walk on ice….well this is how players from Sao Paulo run when they play football”.

Since being told this, I’ve seen a few Sao Paulo games on TV. I can confirm that this is in fact, a big, fat, lie! They really don’t run like Bambi skidding around on ice!

When I’ve asked why Sao Paulo supporters are referred to ‘gays’, I've been told that the club’s supporters have been given this tag because Sao Paulo is known for being a rich club. Their stadium is in a very affluent area, and because rich Brazilians are more likely to take pride in their appearance, ‘they sometimes look like metro-sexuals’. 

Sao Paulo fans watching a match
As I’m reading this back, I’m aware of how formal this explanation sounds. But at the end of the day it’s football, and  nobody really takes this sort of banter seriously…but for an outsider this is interesting to know...

Especially if you find yourself in Sao Paulo, watching a Sao Paulo match, listening to people shout Bambi at the TV....and you're sat there wondering which number he is wearing!

Sao Paulo is just one of the three main teams here in the city of Sao Paulo (and not the main one like I originally thought). The other two are Corinthians and Palmeiras, who are HUGE rivals. I have written this word in capital letters and then put it in bold, to emphasise how big their rivalry actually is….I hope you like what I’ve done!

Corinthians V’s Palmeiras

So about 100 years ago, a London based team called Corinthians toured around Brazil. They inspired a group of working-class Brazilian footballers to form their own team, and just 10 days after the British Corinthians had played in Sao Paulo, the Sao Paulo Corinthians were playing their their first match….this tedious link back to the UK is one I give to justify why I prefer them to Palmeiras.

Of course, this is not the real reason at all…I have picked the team I support over here in the same way I would pick a horse at the races. Corinthians play in a black and white kit, which looks very similar to the Newcastle Untied one. As someone born and raised in the north of England, I feel inclined to back this team….so Corinthians is my team of choice.

Also, Palmeiras play in a green kit, and I don’t really understand why a team would choose to wear green AND play on a green pitch. Surely they are just making life difficult for themselves!?! (I’m pretty sure I’ve just lost ALL my man points with this comment!)

Interestingly Palmeiras were founded just a few years after Corinthians, and were formed to represent the Italian community in the city. Initially they were supported by fans of Italian descent, but nowadays their supporters are a very diverse mix of people.

Other Nicknames

So whilst Sao Paulo’s fans are known as Bambis, Palmeiras fans get called ‘porcos’ (pigs) by their rivals. I have no idea why their nickname is porcos, nor do any of my students. Their actual mascot is a green bird. But....they are known as the pigs!

Whilst Corinthians are often referred to as skunks (apparently they smell bad), and/or thieves (because of their working class roots), Santos are nicknamed fish, simply because the city of Santos is by the sea.


This brings me onto Santos FC, which is of course Pele’s former club, and the home of the current Brazilian player of the moment, Neymar. Despite the city of Santos being just 80 km away from Sao Paulo, I have met very few Santos supporters here in Sao Paulo; particularly in comparison to Corinthians, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo fans.

I found this strange, with Santos being so close, and with it being a team known for having had Pele on their books. However when I quizzed my students on this, they pointed out that after Pele left the club in the 70’s, the clubs winning streak began to dry up.

This meant newer football fans became less enthusiastic about the club and subsequently this new generation of supporters then began to follow other, more successful teams. As time went on, without these new supporters, the remaining Santos supporters were often referred to as ‘Pele's widows’, older guys who followed the club because of the time they’d invested in it during it’s glory days.

In the past couple of years though, the club has once again become a force to be reckoned with and has started winning championships. So the younger generation of kids are now beginning to support Santos again.

There is a player who has become the poster boy for this turn around in Santos’ fortunes...


....which brings me neatly onto the subject of Neymar, because a blog on Brazilian football nowadays surely isn't complete without mentioning him!

Despite there being no billboards in the city (after a law on visual pollution was passed in 2006), I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I told you that in Sao Paulo, Neymar’s image still seems to be EVERYWHERE I go.

Let me give you an example, last week I finished a class and needed to get across the city to my next student’s offices, a banks headquarters. As I walked down the street to the subway, I saw Neymar’s face smiling up at me from a newsstand; he was on the front of several magazines and newspapers. When I got inside the subway, his face was looking at me again, only this time it was plastered all over the walls (I’m guessing the visual pollution law doesn’t apply inside the subway).

Neymar was tempting me to buy a new phone.

A new phone? No thanks Neymar, I already have one!

As I got inside the subway train, I looked up at the small TV screen near the train doors. There he was again, but this time he was spraying his armpit with Rexona, trying to tempt me to buy some deodorant.

Ok Neymar, it’s getting hot in Brazil right now….I probably need some of that. I’m sold!

By the time I got to my students office, I found myself sitting in the reception area, looking up at the big screen. You will never guess whose face I saw looking down at me. Actually, you probably will. It was bloody Neymar, advertising that bank. That’s right, 20 year old Neymar, who has a reputation for spending a ridiculous amount of money on his playboy lifestyle (well, that is if you believe the press over here), has also been roped in to promoting banks!

Things like deodorant I understand, he plays football…he runs about.

But banks?

Over here, Neymar also advertises underpants, Panasonic, soft drinks, Red Bull, Nike, Tenys Pé Baruel (a foot deodorant)…and more recently Volkswagen cars...and I'm sure there are many more products that have managed to slip under my radar. So Neymar’s face looks set to be a continued presence in Sao Paulo for some time to come, as I'm sure these companies will be keen to capitialise on his image in the run up to the Rio World Cup.

Well there you have it, the first half of my blog on football in Sao Paulo. Next time I’ll be describing, amongst other things, how difficult it is to avoid football in Sao Paulo.

Until then, here is my favourite Neymar commercial, In it, he dances to Beyonce with some team mates to advertise Seara, a meat based company in Brazil (the largest exporter of pork in Brazil, according to Wikipedia!). This advert really shouldn't work....but it does! 

"Hiya, it's me again! Wanna buy some foot deodorant!?!"