On the 16th December 2012 Corinthians beat Chelsea in the Club World Cup Final. It was a great game….or so I was told. You see, with the game kicking off on in Brazil on a Sunday morning at about 7am, there was absolutely no chance I was ever going to get up to watch it! As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m not much of a football fan. I’ll happily watch big international games but I’ll only really go to watch club football in the bar to be sociable.And, well, there is nothing sociable about a game that kicks off at seven in the morning!
Nevertheless, there was no escaping the noise of fireworks pounding against the morning sky as I attempted to sleep through the match (For more on fireworks going off during football matches, click here!
). Enjoying my lie in was quite challenging, but I take my sleep very seriously and was definitely not to be deterred by the noise. At 10am when I eventually surfaced I checked the internet and discovered Corinthians had won, which I was pleased about because I knew how much the game had meant to a lot of my students who were avid supporters of the club.
So just after midday, myself and my housemate went over to Avenida Paulista for some lunch. As we ascended the subway escalators onto street above, we saw that hoards of cars were waving Corinthian football flags out of their windows. They’d won the game around three hours earlier, yet it was difficult to imagine that their enthusiasm for the win was waning at all. Horns were going ten to the dozen and the pavement was awash with people wearing Corinthian shirts, acknowledging each other with unrelenting grins and appreciative nods. I’d go as far as to say there was a real carnival atmosphere down here, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the midst of it all. I knew there would be people celebrating on Avenida Paulista, but I hadn’t anticipated on seeing so many out to mark the occasion.
With the Sunday market we’d planned to eat at now in view, and my belly groaning at the sight of it, my friend and I attempted to cross the road. However we’d not been fortunate with our timing and only managed to get halfway across; so with cars passing both in front and behind us we waited for the lights to change on the little pedestrian walkway. I noticed that the cars were in no hurry to drive down this avenue, for many this was the place they’d come to complete several victory laps with other supporters.
I can’t remember what me and my friend were talking about as we stood there waiting, probably how hungry we were or how passionate the Corinthian fans looked, but what happened before we even stepped off that small strip of pavement startled us.
Just as the lights were about to change to red, a car slowed to a stop in front of us. The driver (who had his elbow resting out of his window) was sporting a Corinthians shirt and had an arm full of tattoos, the type that look great on Beckham or that guy from Prison Break…but not really on anyone else.
“Oi, gringo!” he shouted over at me with a huge grin on his face. “Where are you from?”
I was a little surprised to have had my foreigner status identified so easily, but I smiled and instinctively answered “England”.
This prompted the woman in the passenger seat to crane her neck down from where she was sat to take a good look at me. She looked pretty rough with her hair scraped back into a harsh ponytail, but as we made eye contact she flashed me a warm smile, one I reciprocated.
“England?” asked the driver quietly as he continued to look at me. I noticed that the smile had long faded from his face and he was now looking sharply into my eyes. Then he looked down at his steering wheel thoughtfully. He was totally absorbed in what I’d just said. For a few seconds I was stood looking at this guy in silence, unsure of what he was thinking.
Then he looked back up at me, and as if the link had just occurred to him, he half whispered and half said “Chelsea”. There was a look of absolute disdain dominating his face.
Then from nowhere he punched his horn, the sound of which made me jump a little. He looked at me again, this time more venomously and the woman in the car started screaming something at him.
“CHELSEA” he repeated aggressively, punching his horn for a second time, “CHELSEA?”
I looked over at my friend who then looked back at me and it was clear we were thinking the same;
“He’s not from Chelsea” argued my friend; “he’s from near Scotland”. I could almost see the panic in my friends eyes, we both sensed that the ticking time bomb sitting before us was about to go off. The driver began to shout something I couldn’t quite catch to the woman in his car. She was shouting something back at him. I’d be surprised if either heard what the other was saying. Then he looked back at me and roared through gritted teeth;
With about ten cars now waiting behind this guy, I withdrew my gaze in time to notice that the lights at the pedestrian crossing had just changed to green.
They couldn’t have changed a second too soon either because just as we stepped off the pavement and onto the road, the guy’s car door flew open and he hurled himself out of it. I was about halfway across the road when I turned back and saw that he was stood by his car door, fists level with his shoulders, screaming something at me in Portuguese that I didn’t understand.
It was obvious from his body language that I didn’t need to understand what he’d just said, he clearly wanted a fight.
Well I didn’t, and there was absolutely no way I was about to square up to him.
I walked pretty quickly across the road and onto the pavement with the driver stood in the same spot screaming at me. He’d thought better of leaving his car at the lights to join me on the pavement for a brawl, but he hadn’t given up on me having my face rearranged.
“Look at this foreigner, he is from Chelsea” he screamed at the people walking past us on the street.
“Somebody punch that son of a bitch”.
It didn’t seem appropriate at this point to argue that I’d never actually been to Chelsea because he clearly didn’t care.
Luckily nobody walking by took him up on his suggestion.
Before long the guy got back into his car and drove off (not before eyeballing the shit out of me as he drove past of course!). “Andrew” said my friend “today you are from America, OK?”
I nodded, before starting all the false bravado a situation like this derives in order to save face. But behind it all I was a little shook up; he’d completely caught me off guard.
I really hadn’t expected that this would have happened on my way to a street market to buy a taco and a can of coke.
I knew football fans were incredibly passionate over here, but his team had won. I didn’t understand it. The students I talked to afterwards could offer little in the way of an explanation either, other than this:
“Corinthian fans can be pretty crazy, you’re best avoiding places they’ll be on match days”.
This remark naturally then led me to ask; “well if this is what people are like after a Corinthians game on a busy and fairly well policed street in Sao Paulo….how safe is it for foreigners to be around Brazilian football fans during the World Cup?”
In retrospect perhaps this question was a naive one, but like I said earlier, the world of football is one that’s pretty alien to me. Each time I asked, the question would be met with the same firm shake of the head and a reassuring smile. I can’t really compare international football fans and club football fans apparently, because football fanatics generally show a lot more loyalty to their club team.
I’ve been warned off attending big club games here in the past because they’re considered too dangerous. Many of my students have told me that they‘d rather watch games from the safety of their living rooms at home than risk going to the clubs grounds. Violence is common at rival club games, but many Brazilians I’ve talked to have looked surprised when I’ve asked about this extending to the international football scene.
Perhaps I’ve projected my own ideas on English football violence onto Brazilian fans? English football fans have a reputation for going overseas and fighting when the English team plays, and are pretty infamous for doing so during club games.
I’d never really separated the violence between club football and national football before, because for me football is football. Yet from the people I’ve talked to there certainly is a division in Brazil.This has given me food for thought; because if you find yourself watching something on TV about how dangerous club football games are over here, it might be worth considering that this isn’t really going to be much of a reflection of what to expect during the World Cup from the same football fans. It might be worth considering that those football thugs might not be bothering with the Cup at all. Instead they could well be just be planning to enjoy the games at home with their families, with a fridge full of beer and a belly full of barbecue…in their club’s football shirt.
What do you think? Is there as big a division between people who watch Brazilian club games and international games as I’ve been told? Is anyone expecting any of the trouble at the World Cup to come from football hooligans? Will Brazilians be as welcoming to foreign visitors as many here suspect?