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!?!"


  1. Ah a Middlesbrough fan who supports Corinthians because they play in black and white like... Newcastle. Middlesbrough's big rivals! Classic Creelman. :)


    1. Hey Martin,

      Cheers for stopping by to comment. And yes, I like Middlesbrough AND a plastic fan, the same rules don't apply so I can do both!

      It's all about supporting the local teams isn't it...oh wait, you're a Manchester United fan, think I'm talking to the wrong person!

      I didn't know you wrote a blog too, I'll have to have a look later. Hope you're doing well.

  2. Fine wine and novels. Haha. SPFC was the first team I eliminated from contention too. Why voluntarily subject yourself to that kind of abuse? Great post, looking forward to part II!

    1. Hey Juan, thanks for the comment. I know what you mean about the abuse those Sao Paulo fans get, they must really love their team!