Brazilian fans just aren’t singing anymore
Self-proclaimed ‘country of football’ has lost a traditional fan culture
Fans take pictures at the 2014 World Cup Group A soccer match between Cameroon and Brazil at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia June 23, 2014. Photograph: Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters
Brazil is never tired of telling us that it is the país do futebol – the country of football. And in fairness it does have five World Cups and a pantheon of players who over the years have done enough on the field that we can concede the argument.
But the problem with hosting a World Cup in South America, as Brazilians are rapidly finding out, is that the neighbours will show up in huge numbers. Fans from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Colombia are here, with their own exuberance highlighting something gringos resident in Brazil have long known about – that as far as the seleção is concerned Brazil has something of a prawn sandwich brigade problem.
It is not that Brazil fans do not make much noise, rather that it is the wrong sort of noise. This paper’s Ken Early described being at their side’s opening game against Croatia as like attending a One Direction concert rather than a football match.
“It is obvious that the [Brazil] fans at the World Cup are not your day-to-day fans,” noted Luiz Fernando Gomes in sports daily Lance! who admitted the locals lost the battle of the stands to their outnumbered Mexican rivals “almost by a knockout” when the two sides met in Fortaleza.
Stated bluntly in Brazil there is no tradition of regular club fans supporting the national team from the stands, or if there was it died long ago. This has been best highlighted by the huge Argentine hinchada that arrived at the tournament with a funny little ditty about their victory over Brazil in Italia 90 which they’ve been singing ever since they arrived. A rough translation goes:
Brazil tell me how it feels
To have your Daddy visit
I swear that though the years have passed
We’ll never forget
That Diego dribbled you
And Caniggia vaccinated you
You’ve been crying since Italy until today
Now you’re going to see Messi
He’s going to win the Cup
Maradona is greater than Pelé
The premise here is dodgy. But as wind-up wit it is a winner, born of the direct link between fans of the national team and a strong club terrace culture.
In contrast, so stripped of traditional fan culture is the Brazilian support that the fans have been completely unable to respond to the Argentine taunts by creating any such songs of their own, restricted as they are to a worn-out dirge based on Bonnie Tyler’s It’s a Heartache’ about how proud they are to be Brazilians.
There are various reasons for this sad state of affairs and most are the fault of the mafiosos running the country’s football confederation, CBF. For a start many genuine Brazilian fans feel completely alienated from the national team which has turned into football’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters playing twice as many games abroad as at home in the last decade. Since the World Cup in Germany in 2006, Brazil have played more games in London than São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro combined.
When the team is in town tickets are expensive but just as much a problem is the fact whole blocks are reserved for the galaxy of companies that sponsor the CBF. Another chunk goes to local politicians in return for protecting the organisation from corruption investigations and they in turn distribute them to supporters and donors. In Brazil a seleção game is a back-scratcher’s day out rather than one for fans.
So embarrassing has this state of affairs become that Rede Globo, the country’s biggest television network, along with the seleção’s local beer sponsor are now leading a national campaign to try and broaden the repertoire of songs sung at Brazil games. It seems Brazil, the país do futebol, is just one step away from following South Korea’s approach before it hosted the 2002 tournament and running public service slots on television explaining how to support your team.
A quicker, surer route to success would be to somehow attract back to Brazil games the ultra groups that provide the sound and colour at local club games. “The problem is that this type of fan is stigmatised and unwanted,” says Cláudio Norrland, a Brazilian writer who has researched South American fan culture. “Who would have the courage to say finance with subsidies the tickets of these fans who are commonly associated with football violence?”
In Brazil the answer is no-one. But in Argentine the authorities have no such qualms about pepping up the support for the national team with hooligans. In 2010 they funded the trip to South Africa of a coalition of barrabravas – as the country’s ultra groups are called – from various clubs, grouped under the umbrella of an ‘NGO’ titled United Fans of Argentina.
This group dissolved itself just before the World Cup complaining that the Argentine FA was handing tickets directly to ultras from the country’s biggest clubs. Among the 19 barrabravas arrested at Argentina’s game against Iran in Belo Horizonte was the leader of the hooligan firm attached to San Lorenzo which in Argentina has a reputation for being one of the most creative ultra groups in composing songs sung at the stadium. It was not reported whether he was singing when police yanked him from the ground.