Brazilian Football Fans

You can change your wife but you cannot change your mother and your football club.  [Common saying]

In the very funny How to be a Carioca, Priscilla Ann Goslin described the soccer fan in Rio de Janeiro: "Every carioca has a favorite futebol team.  If you are a real carioca,  your team will be either Flamengo, Botafogo, or Fluminense, and depending which one you choose, you will be eternally referred to as a Flamenguista, Botaguense or Tricolor, meaning respectively a Flamengo, Botafogo or Fluminense fan.  You will cherish your team second only to your mother and be more faithful to your team than to your own spouse.  Consequently, once you have chosen your team you will despise the other two for as long as you live.  If a team other than yours is playing a team from São Paulo, for example, in the finals of a national championship, you will simply ignore the entire event.  Under all circumstances, a true Carioca will only acknowledge the existence of his own team."

The unresolved question from the above quotation is just how a carioca chooses a team.  Is it purely random?  Or are there social, psychological, economic and/or political factors involved?  Given the central importance of the sport of football in Brazilian life, this is not a frivolous musing.  In Tony Mason's Passion of the People? Football in South America, he wrote:

The word passion is never far away from any attempt to get under the skin of football in South America.  Passion means 'any vehement, commanding or overpowering emotion of feeling.'  To be passionate about something is to be more than enthusiastic: it is to be 'ardently desirous' or zealously devoted.'  There is no lack of evidence to suggest a growing passion for football in South America, most clearly seen in the great cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.  Football established itself in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay less as a competition between cities, more on the basis of club rivalry within cities.  The city leagues were dominated by what the British call 'local derbies' between a relatively small number of clubs; in Montevideo, Nacional and Peñarol; in São Paulo, Corinthians Palestra Italia (Palmeiras), São Paulo, Portuguesa; in Rio, Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama; in Buenos Aires, matches between the big five, Racing, Independiente, San Lorenzo, Boca and River Plate ...

The choice of a club is a matter of substantive interest.  According to the paper T. Bar-On (1997) The Ambiguities of Football, Politics, Culture, and Social Transformation in Latin America, Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 4, the political, economic and cultural uses of football in Latin America are summarized as:

As a device in the quest for national identity; as an arena 'constructively' manipulated by politicians and generals; as an agent of political, socio-economic, and cultural elites in order to stunt working-class and popular consciousness and revolt; as a rare potential 'bottom-up' medium of challenging dominant, hegemonic perceptions in order to create more suitable psychological and cultural conditions for social change; and as a bodily, psychic, and spiritual extension of the individual and community senses ... the dominant orientation of Latin American football, especially at the professional level, has been towards a nationalistic, authoritarian, class-based, and gender-specific manipulation of the sport by political, military, socio-economic, and even cultural elites.

Now that was certainly a broad collection of ideas and constructs.  In the case of football clubs, Maurice Del Burgo wrote in the essay Don't Stop the Carnival: Football in the Societies of Latin America (in Stephen Wagg (ed), Giving the Game Away: Football, Politics and Culture on Five Continents):

In the early years of the century, many old-style establishments - not only football clubs but also factory management boards and the like-representatives of Latin America's elite, made attempts to form relationships with working-class teams. At times this took the form of patronage, with an established club funding an affiliated local team. At other times, it took on other dimensions - managers encouraging the creation of football sides among the workers to engender company loyalty and, perhaps more importantly, to divert employees' attentions away from the more damaging spectre of industrial unrest. In these early relationships formed between the elite and the masses in football, can be seen the origins of one of the most compelling arguments in the analysis of football in Latin America: that football serves as an opiate of the masses, an instrument of mass control, a social adhesive binding the most volatile and precarious of ethnic and political mixes.

Tony Mason's Passion of the People? Football in South America continues with:

The clubs represented particular neighbourhoods and in some cases represented and dramatized other social differences.  Once River Plate had moved their ground from Boca, for example, then the Boca-River matches became confrontations between the rich and the poor.  Similarly in Rio, Fluminense was associated with the old, high-status families, Flamengo the team of the poor and the blacks, Vasco da Gama supported by Portuguese migrants and their Brazilian-born descendants while Botafogo attracted the modern middle classes.  In São Paulo, where the immigration was much higher, Palmeiras is still run by Italians and their descendants and São Paulo and Corinthians are the clubs of the middle and lower class respectively.  Of course these neat and tidy interpretations should not be taken too far.  Football clubs attract supporters for many reasons, both rational and irrational.  Fluminense clearly attracts some workers who wanted to identify with a powerful club supported by the best families, and over time success and the spectacle provided by outstanding players also attracts.  

A history of club football in Brazil is recounted by Luis Costa-Lima (Inter-relations: Brazilian soccer and society  (1995), Stanford Humanities Review, Volume 6-2):

... the initial phase of soccer in Brazil has been characterized as a practice confined to the descendants of upper-class native families and well-established foreigners, usually Englishmen.  Social discrimination against common and colored people pertained, so to speak, to the order of things.  Soccer was practiced in private clubs—first at the São Paulo Athletic Club (1888), and subsequently at the Associação Atlética Mackenzie College (1898), Sport Club Internacional (1899), Sport Club Germânia (1899) and Club Atlético Paulistano (1900)—whose associates were recruited exclusively from the ranks of high society.  Since Brazilian society officially ignored racial discrimination, colored people were not necessarily banned from playing soccer. Rather, the initial predominance of white players in Brazilian soccer stemmed from social criteria. For this reason it is legitimate to speak of "social whiteness," a phenomenon dictating that people, independent of their skin color and thanks to their privileged socio-economic position, are well received by society. As Mário Filho has pointed out: "If a player like Joaquim Pedro, Paulistano left-winger (as the position was then known), a black man, from the black branch of the Prado family, was transferred to Rio, he would be very well received in an elite club like Fluminense. Joaquim Pedro was a colored man but he belonged to a distinguished family; he was a rich man and he frequented the best circles."  As this example shows, skin color was no hindrance if the player had a privileged socio-economic position.  More sophisticated, or perhaps more hypocritical than American racial discrimination, Brazilian discrimination can be suspected or discovered only if one notices that the great majority of Brazilian colored people occupied (and continue to occupy) low-status jobs. "Colored people prevail or stand out in jobs like those of shoe polisher, carrier, cleaning personnel, night watchman, streetcar conductor, kitchen personnel, lower grade railroad employees and similar activities, which are either badly paid or have a low profile of social prestige." 

But soon the white person's privilege began to dissolve in a fortuitous and surprising way. In 1904, technicians and section directors of a textile industry, Companhia Progresso Industrial do Brasil, founded The Bangu Athletic Club. Whether the number of founders was not enough to compose two teams, or, as is suggested by Rosenfeld, the directors of the plant knew that "the English textile producers in Russia had promoted soccer among their workers to stimulate their willingness to work and their esprit de corps,"   the truth is that Bangu became the first Brazilian soccer club to have working-class players. Indeed colored players did not threaten the privilege of white players: "The worker, white or black, who played with the masters, did not either rise or climb down in the industry; he would stay where he was."  The Bangu example opened a rift that in the short term would change the history of Brazilian soccer. Even by its geographical location—the plant and worker's village were built very far from the city of Rio and far away from the private high-schools attended by wealthy students—The Bangu Athletic Club stimulated the admittance of colored men to the sport. Although soccer did not promise its players a profession, we can see from the Bangu example, which was almost immediately followed by other worker's clubs (Andaraí, Carioca), that it assured them lighter work and some privileges: "The player-worker, on the day of training, would receive a ticket with which he could leave the plant earlier without losing the day's pay."  So the closed clubs, whose associates belonged to the upper- and middle-classes, came to lose their exclusivity in soccer, as clubs spread out along the plains (the so-called campos de várzea), where the players manufactured the soccer-ball itself. From then on the difference between the big and small clubs was established. The former—in the Rio of that time, Fluminense, Botafogo, and Flamengo—continued to have socially white players as athletes. The latter comprised the clubs of the suburbs, formed in the north zone of Rio. During the first decade of this century soccer was already becoming a popular sport and received some good coverage in the newspapers. Its popularization, however, did not threaten the great clubs. "Fluminense and Botafogo did not find a menace in soccer's popularization. The most expensive seats were separated from the terraces. Everything was separated. It was not enough to play soccer to get into a club such as Fluminense or Botafogo. It was necessary to belong to a good family."

... When soccer overcame rowing in popularity, representation of an opposite ideal of the athletic body threatened white supremacy, as embodied by the great clubs, which made use of stricter measures to defend their privileges. The Liga metropolitana, which then directed soccer in Rio, prescribed that players be able to read and write, as well as to provide proof of employment in some legal business. The second measure stemmed from clandestine professionalism: to maintain colored and poor men as players, the clubs that tolerated them offered their athletes modest benefits, such as help with transportation, small sums of money for victories and, above all, fake jobs. From the point of view of white players these benefits were either dispensable, or proudly refused. However, the clubs that relied on poor athletes needed somehow to provide for them. This explains the growth of a younger club in Rio: Vasco da Gama. Without belonging to the circle of the great clubs, Vasco was founded and supported by the Portuguese colony of Rio de Janeiro. Owners of the majority of businesses at the beginning of the century, the Portuguese registered the soccer players as fake employees in their grocery stores, shops, and plants, releasing them for training at Vasco.  The policy adopted by Vasco da Gama was so successful that the club won the Rio championship in the first year it competed. The following year, the Associação metropolitana de esportes amadores (Metropolitan association of amateur sports) was founded. One of its first measures was to exclude Vasco from the championship under the claim that the club did not have its own stadium. Only in 1926, thanks to the Portuguese colony, Vasco overcame the prohibition by finishing the construction of its stadium. In the same year, however, another small club, São Cristovão, became soccer champion of Rio.

Given these historical factors for the development of these football clubs, the choice of a club may indeed be circumscribed to a large degree.  Here, we do well to recall Karl Marx's famous passage from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:  "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language."

A contemporary account of the Brazilian football scene is given in the book of Janet Lever (Soccer Madness: Brazil's Passion for the World's Most Popular Sport (1995).  Waveland Press Inc).  Here is her detailed analysis of the clubs in the Rio de Janeiro:

Rio de Janeiro provides a setting in which to explore the internal workings of soccer clubs and the role they play in symbolizing the real divisions within the city: Rio's twelve soccer clubs help break down the urban mass and integrate people into subgroups.  Confrontations on the playing fields reflect real-life antagonisms and jealousies between fan groups.  In Rio, as in other Brazilian cities, the strongest rivalry is between social classes.

Rio's team of the masses is Flamengo; its symbol is a black vulture.  Loyalties fluctuate according to team standings, but roughly one-third of Rio's population pledges allegiance to Flamengo, far more than to any other team.  It is said that more Umbanda rites are seen before Flamengo games than are performed for any other team.  Flamengo is the most famous club in Brazil; requests for Flamengo shirts come from as far away as the Indian regions of the Amazon.  Often migrants adopt Flamengo as their team when they arrive in Rio, because they have heard of it back home, thereby further swelling its huge following among the urban poor.

Flamengo has 65,000 card-carrying members (exceeded only by Corinthians in São Paulo with 150,000), but its fans number in the millions.  They are despised by rival fans for their overwhelming numbers and boastfulness after victory and for the fervor with which they try to recruit new fans.  However, they are also respected for their fidelity to the team and for their feeling of brotherhood toward other fans.  Sayings like "when you meet a Flamengo, you meet a friend" attest to their communal spirit.  Flamengo fans I spoke with claimed that, when they must choose, they prefer to do business with someone who cheers for Flamengo.  I saw a beach vendor offer a discount to those who could show they were fans of Flamengo on the morning of a big game, although I presumed he was motivated more by commercial instincts than be sentiments of brotherhood.  There is a folklore that people believe, like the story of a rich man's being robbed of all his possessions: finding a Flamengo membership card in the man's wallet, the robber ,also Flamengo, returned everything.

Flamengo's greatest foe, Fluminense, thought of as the team of the elite, has the second-largest following in the city.  The team's nickname is 'white powder,' referring to the powder used to lighten the faces of aristocracy of an earlier era.  Although both teams draw players from the lower class, Flamengo players are expected to act rough and crude; a more gentlemanly code is imposed on Fluminense players because of the heritage they represent.

Fluminense's social pretensions are best reflected by the fact that it is one of the few soccer clubs in the country that restricts its social membership.  More like an exclusive country club than a soccer club, Fluminense rigorously screens applicants.  The club's list of ineligibles includes criminals, persons with contagious diseases, and the handicapped, except for those who were maimed while fighting for their country or while in the service of the Fluminense Club.  Fluminense is so restrictive that its own players, although worshipped on the field, are treated as "employees" and are prohibited from attending most of its activities.

Considered on of the most elaborate soccer membership clubs in the world, Fluminense is one of the two Rio clubs to profit from its social sector.  White stucco buildings roofed with red tile, surrounded by lush gardens, form a compound in one of the central districts of the city.  Fluminense has its own stadium that holds 25,000 people, massive gymnasium, tennis courts that accommodate more than 2,000 spectators, three swimming pools, steam baths, rifle range, and beautiful club buildings that house the administrative offices, library, trophy galleries, bar, restaurant and ballroom.

Vasco da Gama represents the city's huge community of Portuguese immigrants and their Brazilian-born descendants.  The team was well known in Portugal, so immigrants joined upon arrival.  The club's ready-made community eased their entry by providing contacts for those who came alone and a place to socialize for those with extended family and friends already in Rio.  Vasco is now one of Brazil's richest soccer clubs.  The $20 million the club claims in assets has come mostly as gifts, in the form of city properties, from wealthy members of the Portuguese community.  It has more than 2,000 "owner-members" (proprietários) holding titles worth $2,5000 each.

Vasco has 60,000 general members and the third largest following in Rio.  It has fielded so many great winning teams that even those not of Portuguese descent have declared themselves Vasco fans.  The Carnival celebration at Vasco's club grounds attracted 150,000 members and friends.  Every Saturday night 5,000 teenagers come for their "Hi-Fi" dances.  More than 2,000 watch players train before a Flamengo vs. Vasco match.  In addition to the professional players, approximately 700 amateur athletes wear the Vasco da Gama uniform.

The Botafogo Club was started by college students in the affluent Botafogo district of Rio and attracted wealth and politically powerful patrons who built a strong club based on modern management techniques.  Botafogo has retained its appeal to the young, the urbane, the politicos, and the nouveau riche.  Botafogo has supplied more than its share of World Cup players, so it attracts young fans from all over Brazil who attach themselves to the national heroes they see on television.  Large clubs like Vasco, Flamengo, Fluminense, and Botafogo each have about 250 employees who care for the grounds, arrange the festivities, service the teams, and do the necessary clerical and bookkeeping work for the professional soccer, amateur soccer, and social membership sectors.

We will now cite some survey data from the TGI Brasil study.  In Rio de Janeiro, a total of 1,280 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old were interviewed during 2002.  Within this sample, 45.3% said they were Flamengo fans, 20.9% were for Vasco da Gama, 10.6% for Fluminense and 7.7% for Botafogo.  In the next chart, we show the incidences separately by the three socio-economic levels that is commonly used in Brazil.  Indeed, the patterns are quite consistent with Lever's presentation.

(source: TGI Brasil)

Within the same TGI Brasil survey, a total of 1,792 São Paulo residents between the ages of 12 to 64 years old were interviewed.  Among these respondents, 34.8% said that they were fans of Corinthians, 18.1% for São Paulo and 14.6% for Palmeiras.  In the next chart, we show the incidences by socio-economic status.  Here is the story of a Brazilian-Amerian remembering his father, who was a loyal Corinthian fan.

(source: TGI Brasil)

It is not always the case that the political economy acts as the base which affects the superstructure which encompasses socio-cultural matters such as football club affiliation.  In fact, it is possible for the superstructure to modify the base.  The best known counterexample is Sócrates, the Brazilian national team captain of the 1980's who led a democratic movement within the São Paulo-based Corinthians club.  The story of the democratic Corinthians is recounted in Alex Bellos' Futebol: Soccer, The Brazilian Way:

Sócrates started his career at Botafogo, the local team in Riberão Preto.  In 1978 he transferred to Corinthians, in São Paulo.  After a few years he started to tire of the way he and the players were treated by the management.  Players were never consulted on decisions.  It was an authoritarian atmosphere that paralleled the political situation of the country.  

So, Sócrates --- together with his team-mate Wladimir --- rose up against the club hierarchy.  They organised their footballing colleagues into a utopian socialist cell, called Corinthians Democracy, which took control of all the decisions that would affect them.  'We decided everything by consensus,' says Sócrates.  'It was simple things, like "What time will we have lunch?"  We would suggest, say, three options and we would vote on it.  And the majority decision was accepted.  Problems hardly existed.  there are only problems if there are confrontations of opinion.  And there weren't any.  Everything was voted on.'

But it was not just 'simple things'.  Corinthians Democracy voted to print 'vote on the fifteenth' on the backs of their shirts in the run-up to elections on 15 November 1982.  The elections --- for federal deputies, senators, governors and mayors --- were one of the first steps towards ending the dictatorship.

Sócrates' comrades also challenged the 'concentração', which is part of Brazilian footballing culture that is perhaps the greatest affront to players' liberties.  The word means 'concentração' in the military sense, of 'bringing together troops'.  It is usual for Brazilian clubs to insist that before every match --- no matter how important --- the team must sleep in a hotel, often for several days at a time.  The reasoning behind it is that players are now grown-up enough to look after themselves and must be supervised.  'Footballers are not mature enough to behave themselves before games without anyone supervising them,' argues the national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.  'It's been proved that sex before a game isn't bad for you.  But, for our players, they don't do things by halves.  At home they behave more normally.  Away from home, with their other sexual partners, they want to prove that they are the best lovers in the world.  So they go carousing and tire themselves more, to the point that their performance on the pitch is affected.'  The concentração may be paternalistic, he says, but it is for the players' own good.

'It took us six months to change the rules about the concentração,' explains Sócrates.  'This was the trickiest one.  There was a certain fear, which remains until today --- that without the concentração some players feel exposed.  But, ideologically speaking, concentração exists to lower a person's status.  It's like: "You aren't worth anything.  You are irresponsible.  You need to be a prisoner."  It's stupid.  The better someone is feeling, the better he will play.  It's obvious.  And where do you feel better than in your own home?'

He smiles sincerely when he remembers the battles that were won.  In 1982, Corinthians won the São Paulo state championship with 'Democracia' printed on their shirts.

'Perhaps it was the most perfect moment I ever lived.  And I'm sure it was for 95 percent of the others too.'

In Corinthians, and Questions of Democracy and Citizenship (in Joseph Arbena (ed) (1988) Sport and Society in Latin America : Diffusion, Dependency, and the Rise of Mass Culture), Matthew Shirts quotes Sócrates: "I'm struggling for freedom, for respect for human beings, for ample and unrestricted discussions, for a professional democratization of unforeseen limits, and all of this as a soccer player preserving the ludic, joyous, and pleasurable nature of this activity."  Of course, that is not just about football.  This is what most people want too, and it is really not a lot to ask ...

(posted by Roland Soong on 02/27/2003)

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