Coming soon to Kindle: A to Zico, an alphabet of Brazilian football
I am proud to say the ebook I wrote in all my free time this year is coming out very soon, before the World Cup. I won’t set a day because it depends on Amazon. But it is finally happening. After this brief introduction I will publish a part of our first chapter; it is on Brazil’s arenas — more on the new ones, the quaint ones and much more will be out with the rest of our work. For now this ebook will be available just in English. Publishers that are interested should get in contact, my contacts are in my profile in this blog.
My partner on this journey in English is the talented Scottish journalist Euan Marshall. His father made this fantastic cover. The ebook is an introduction to Brazil under a footballing perspective, of course. Not only we talk about players and their influence on the game, but also describe the actions taken by the military dictatorship to use football as a tool. Yes, we discuss the Maracanazo and its role in modern Brazil, and we also debate the impact of jogo bonito on a global scale.
Hope you enjoy it. Once it is out, I will let you know here as well.
Arenas – what they mean to Brazil
“If you decide to carry on with the strike, you will decide with a lot of courage! We have to be united until victory comes! And until then we won’t stop coming here! We will come here until they are sick of us and we will get what we want!” On the speakers, the message sounds like a prophecy. Perhaps more, it sounds like a goal. Because after those words, the stadium roars.
When union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his fellow metalworkers made a key move to kick the military regime out of Brazilian politics back in 1979, they didn’t do it from Copacabana beach. Neither did they take thousands to the capital, Brasília, so dictators Ernesto Geisel and João Figueiredo could see the writing on the wall of the presidential palace. Instead, the man who would become Brazil’s leader and a key figure for the 2014 World Cup focused his organisation efforts on Vila Euclides, a 13,000-seater football stadium on the outskirts of São Paulo. About 80,000 people showed up at every rally hosted there. After weeks of strikes, they won and the status quo started crumbling.
Football arenas were not always hostile to politicians. During the dictatorship (1964-1985), Emílio Médici, the bloodiest dictator of them all, used to watch Flamengo whenever he was in Rio. The standing ovations he received there showed he would be victorious if the military held open elections in 1970 and were even more impressive in a country with a long tradition of booing. Leftists and liberals in the opposition would attend the same matches, only because it was reasonably safe for them to meet within the crowds. Brazil today is different, although the sense of arenas as vital gathering places lives on. Brazilians fear Emirates Stadium-style venues deeply because they would stop the vast majority of their people from attending — attendances have fallen for the last two decades.
Still, arenas are more than a venue for fans to watch their teams in Brazil. They are also a part of the country’s political life. It is hardly a surprise that the huge protests during the 2013 Confederations Cup ended up knocking on their doors.
Brazilian stadiums transcend too. Even spiritual gatherings take place there: Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI know what it is to be on pitches where Pelé, Garrincha, Romário, Ronaldo and Neymar scored many of their goals. The same goes for popular evangelists who lure local football stars to join their team in Christ. The increasingly frequent pop concerts in those venues have become a symbol of Brazil’s economic rise.
Brazilian arenas plunge the country into months of soul-searching whenever hooligans of the torcidas organizadas (organised supporters’ groups) fight one another inside them. The new stadiums distress those who see taxpayers’ money being used on their construction instead of on the more urgent needs of a country that has a raft of grievances to address. The old venues, full of glitches that have already caused tragedies, call Brazil’s sense of responsibility towards their own citizens into question. Some are so small that they are reminiscent of the sport’s early beginnings in South America. Others, such as the impressive Maracanã, are modern titans that host World Cup finals and Olympic Games opening ceremonies.
In a nutshell, arenas in nascent Brazil are like the agoras in ancient Greece. Both are places for assembly, places that give spirit to a nation in the making. Whatever you see in Brazilian stadiums would be fit for downtown Athens in 800BC. They incorporate politics, religion, arts and sports. All walks of life are present, either in the expensive executive boxes or in the general admission seats. The arenas and the agoras are places where heroes are made and shattered, reputations are built and destroyed, passions are reinforced and weakened. Their resemblance is so great that both shared the presence of a philosopher called Socrates for quite a while.