It’s the phone call that those closest to football fans the world over dread to receive: informed that either their loved one(s) won’t ever make their way back home from the stadium, or that they’ve been confined to a hospital ward in critical condition.
In Brazil, the possibility of this incidence exists on an almost weekly basis, even when clashes involve supporters of teams that don’t commonly share famous rivalries.
On a pleasant mid-June Sunday morning, a five hour trip from São Paulo to the southern city of Curitiba took a nightmare turn for coaches full of Corinthianos , as their motoristas headed to the wrong stadium entrance, directly into the path of suspected Império Alviverde (Green and White Empire) Coritiba fans, who flung rocks and whatever else they could find close to hand, mirroring fatal incidents where faulty GPS systems have led unsuspecting drivers – in one case an elderly couple – into Rio’s favelas where they’re ambushed on sight.
In particularly shocking scenes, one man was dragged from a bus and set about by a large group of hooligans. Although initially reported dead, he was hospitalised with six others, while arrests have been made in the aftermath of an episode that blemished an otherwise thrilling 0-0 affair.
In an impressively-packed stadium for any match as the country struggles to flee the clutches of a crippling economic recession, not to mention its 11am kick-off time, third-place Coritiba came the closest yet to beating league leaders Corinthians, and they would have been unlucky to escape without at least a point had Jô’s goal been allowed and not deemed offside.
At full-time, unruly Coritiba fans showed no mercy by hurling missiles at Corinthians fans and police leaving the ground as the most volatile of these early kick-offs thus far, introduced in the 2015 season in order to attract foreign viewers, showcased the worst element of Brazilian football.
For a start, it’s not difficult to see why Brazilians can be so fanatic. After all, as one of its most famous recording artists Tom Jobim once stated in his eternally-famous quote, Latin America’s largest country ‘não é para amadores’ (isn’t for amateurs).
Faced with rampant crime, corruption, and inequality whatever the weather, 2017 sees Brazil in the throes of financial, social and political crises, with unemployment exceeding 13 million and the cost of living spiralling out of control.
As it did during comparably hard times for working class Britons during the 1970’s and 1980’s, football provides solace. A refuge. An escape. A sense of belonging to feel united with your fellow torcedores on a Sunday afternoon and, as the majority manage to do without violence, lose one’s self in his or her favourite team; the female populace just as into their futebol as their male counterparts.
And yet, whereas hooliganism and its associated shenanigans in the UK has been pushed underground, save for the odd arranged ruck among old heads and young romantics paying homage to a bygone era, organised supporters groups in South America are far more sinister and merciless – in some cases a suspected natural extension of murderous, notorious drug gangs such as São Paulo’s PCC.
In 2015, eight members of Corinthians’ Pavilhao 9 group, who were enjoying the treasured Brazilian pastime of barbecuing and preparing flags for the weekend’s derby with Palmeiras, were murdered by gunmen who stormed their headquarters.
The gunmen ordered all present to lay face-down before slaying them, execution-style.
Immediately, the leading detective on the case ruled out any suspicion linking Palmeirenses or their most infamous organised group, the Mancha Verde (Green Stain) to the fracas as attention instead focused on rumblings surrounding Pavilhao 9’s purported links to the now-closed Carandiru prison.
The prison was the venue for a riot, reportedly over a football match between inmates, excellently-dramatised in Hector Babenco’s 2003 film, Carandiru.
The riot led to the worst massacre in Brazilian history, which in itself led to the birth of the PCC, as prisoners became united in a bid to defend themselves from further authoritarian brutality.
Ironically, since the 2016 implementation of the Torcida Única ban on allowing away fans to attend derby clássicos in São Paulo – brought about after the death of an attendee to a game between Rio de Janeiro outfits Botafogo and Flamengo – those games have become among the most sterile fixtures on the calendar, whilst the law stuck in Rio for just a month.
Until now, with the exception of Porto Alegre, home to both Internacional and Grêmio, Torcida Única has yet to be tried out elsewhere in the country in cities where it is evidently required more desperately.
In Belo Horizonte in 2010, testosterone-pumped Atletico Mineiro fans – in a trend familiar to UK boxing fans stumbling across inebriated brawlers in the men’s rooms of arenas nationwide – waylaid a pack of Cruzeiro rivals on their way to Rio to see their team take on Flamengo.
Spearheaded by César Gordinho Augusta, a leader of the Galoucura who apparently gave martial arts lessons to his fellow Atleticano runners, the attack resulted in the death of a 19-year-old, as well as serious injuries to another fan.
In the north-eastern city of Recife, the rivalry between Sport and Santa Cruz is one of the most bitter found anywhere in football.
The rivalry reached fever pitch in 2012 when a 17-year-old girl, accompanied by her boyfriend, died after being assaulted by a group of eight rival supporters. Two years later, during a Serie B clash between Santa Cruz and Coritiba’s arch-nemesis Paraná, a 26-year-old man was killed when a toilet basin was somehow smuggled into the ground and thrown down to the lower tiers.
Back in São Paulo, for a fan of any of the city’s clubs, the greatest risk of being attacked on derby day, or on any other day, is more likely to be encountered on the way back from the game on public transport, or when passing a bar known to be associated with a rival team anywhere out of a favela.
Once an act that could spell the intervention of local child services, as a Palmeirense’s theft of a policeman’s gun at a Paulistão state championship meeting between Palmeiras and Corinthians in February 2015 provided the tip of the iceberg in fan-related violence, young children and even babies could be found in attendance at the Arena Corinthians almost a fortnight ago as their team received São Paulo FC.
Generally speaking, especially at clubs such as Palmeiras which has a proud traditional Italian background, stadiums in Brazil are pretty much family-friendly settings, with youths permitted free entry from anything up to six to eleven years of age, and placed far from anything goes environments such as Corinthians’ seatless North Stand.
As witnessed last weekend, the greatest dangers for followers of the big dogs from São Paulo can be provided through newfound rivalries from supporters of smaller teams trying to make a name for themselves against those regarded as supposedly being among the toughest in domestic football – akin to the manner in which England fans were set upon by Russian yobbos in Marseille at Euro 2016.
Boasting over 30 million supporters, Corinthianos can be found in all corners of Brazil, and their team is actually the most followed in Curitiba’s home state of Paraná, trumping the local contenders. Alarmingly then, Coritiba fans could have, in essence, been attacking their own neighbours, as it remains unconfirmed how many of the coaches came directly from São Paulo or elsewhere in Paraná state.
Year after year, the leadership for Brazil’s most followed teams flip-flops between Corinthians and Flamengo, with a high number of Flamenguistas from a state bordering those of São Paulo and Rio, Minas Gerais, but more predominantly the north-east of the country and towns which may not have a big club nearby, yet have Flamengo games broadcast to them.
Lacking top-flight football, these regions identically lack work opportunities forcing mass migration to Rio and, far more frequently, São Paulo – in turn resulting in the original creation of favela slums as the neglectful state failed to provide adequate housing and sufficiently deal with the overload of new arrivals.
For this reason, it can be common to walk through a comunidade in a neighbourhood such as Paraisópolis and spot a Flamengo-themed bar that never sees the slightest bit of bother, as the ruling PCC imposes a strict (sometimes punishable by death) no-tolerance policy of violence or theft towards one’s fellow man on their turf, whilst simultaneously receiving protection money from the establishment, if it’s not owned by the PCC rank and file.
Come matchday, and a possibility for the Corinthians vs Flamengo tie at the end of July, how is one to know, presuming that they wish to get involved in highly-probable fisticuffs, whether or not the focuses of their misguided anger are Cariocas from Rio or nordestinos from the northeast who could live side-by-side with them in the exact same part of São Paulo.
Likewise, this doesn’t bode well for hardworking, blameless Paranaenses (natives of Paraná) who may work in Sampa, wish to see Coritiba in this season’s return fixture, yet could be targeted by militant Corinthianos baying for blood and hell-bent on exacting revenge.
At the same time, coaches of Império Alviverde thugs, anticipating a dust-up, have every likelihood of heading north to make up the numbers, as once again a small number of troublemakers spoil an afternoon for the masses and their genuine, pure love of the game.