"Is there any chance we could go at the weekend, rather than from Wednesday to Friday?" Many a football fan will recognise this plea; a subtle but fundamental building block of any plan to sneak a football match into one's travel plans. It may be addressed to a friend, a loved one, even one's boss; but for me, it's always made to my fantastically understanding girlfriend. So it was that we arrived in São Paulo on a Friday morning, giving us plenty of time to take in some culture ahead of Sunday's main event; Corinthians vs Atlético Mineiro.
Luckily for me, our tour of sights and museums was to include a visit to a veritable sporting Mecca; the recently opened Museu do Futebol, which is conveniently located at one end of Corinthians' Pacaembu stadium. After a quick journey from the city centre on the city's impeccable metro, we met a couple of friends outside the Clínicas stop, named after the preponderance of medical facilities in the area. A steep descent brought into view the Pacaembu district, an ardently green valley in sharp contrast with the surrounding Megalopolis (see photo below). At its centre stands the Estádio Paulo Machado de Carvalho, which, like many Brazilian stadiums, more commonly goes by the name of the bairro in which it is found.
Located at the head of the glorified roundabout that is the Praça Charles Miller (named after the man credited with introducing football to Brazil), the main entrance to the Pacaembu has a glorious retro charm. With pillars, flagpoles, and portholes rendered in a creamy off-white, the recently renovated facade (see photo below) certainly bears the hallmarks of antiquity. Constructed in 1940, the stadium hosted six games in the 1950 World Cup, as well as some events in the 1963 Pan-American games. Although considered the home of Corinthians, the stadium is municipally-owned, and has also been frequented over the years by Palmeiras, Juventude, and even Santos.
Before entering the museum, we nipped to the club shop to buy our tickets for the following day. A student ticket in the main stand set me back 30 Reais, which although more expensive than the games I'd attended in Rio, was still absurdly cheap by UK standards (around £10). The Museum represented even better value; entry cost just 12 Reais (£4) each. Annoyingly, photography was banned within the museum, so your wide-eyed reporter was restricted to a handful of sneaky snapshots.
The entrance hall of the Museu was an utter treasure trove; an enormous concourse devoted entirely to footballing paraphernalia of every sort. The collection ranged from the sublime (a huge wall covered with club banners and crests) to the brilliantly ridiculous (a selection of some of the ugliest replica kits I had ever seen), encompassing everything in between. A particular highlight was the assortment of antique futebol de botão (the Brazilian equivalent of Subbuteo) sets, all lovingly decorated with the names and numbers of past footballing greats.
We filtered through to the next exhibit, a dark room with ever-changing projections of seleção idols. Dangling headphones blasted out commentary of some of the defining moments of Brazil's football history; Carlos Alberto's goal in 1970, Roberto Baggio's penalty miss in 1994. Round the corner, interactive displays allowed visitors to relive important goals in the history of the Campeonato Brasileiro. All simple stuff, but mesmeric to a fan of the game.
After a brief lull in my interest level (a room about common football chants should have been intriguing but was poorly executed, and an area filled with 3D videos and interactive games was predictably tawdry), we arrived at the holy grail of football fandom. A group of what can only be described as televisual pillars (see photo above) played highlights from every single World Cup, alongside videos putting the tournaments in context. Further displays provided an enthralling look at the careers of Pelé and Garrincha, the country's most cherished sons. I could have spent all day in that room. A small door at the back of the hall led to a platform overlooking the Pacaembu pitch, dwarfed by the skyscrapers which tower over the valley. I left the museum on a high, full of anticipation for Sunday's match.
On the day of the game, we met our friends in the same place. On this occasion, though, we could barely move for Corinthians fans, and were positively swept down the road to the stadium. As we entered the East stand, my friend Leandro was stopped by an overly judicious security guard for attempting to smuggle in...a piece of paper. The sheet bore the message "faltou você, Fabi," in reference to a mutual friend who supports São Paulo, and as such wouldn't be seen dead (or perhaps more accurately, would have a death wish if he came) within a mile of the Pacaembu. After taking a picture of ourselves holding the sign outside the stadium, then, we entered the ground and settled into our seats. By 'our seats,' I of course mean 'the seats that we had to scramble to secure'; stadium seating in Brazil is a bit of a free-for-all.
Before kick-off, we bore witness to the raucous Corinthians crowd. To our right, the club's brilliantly-named supporters group Gaviões da Fiel ('hawks of loyalty') were in fine voice, ringing out choruses of "Ooooh, o Coringão voltou!" ('big Corinthians is back!') and "Uuuuu-oooooo-oh; todo poderoso Timão!" ('all-powerful big team'...slightly lost in translation, that one). At the opposite end of the stadium, the fans in the famous 'ski jump' stand (see photo above) showed their support in more austere fashion, unfurling an enormous replica of the Corinthians jersey. The Atlético Mineiro fans, although small in number, added to the atmosphere; dancing back and forth above their vivid 'Galoucura' (a nice portmonteau mixing the club's nickname, Galo (rooster), and the word Loucura (madness)) banner.
Despite only having regained their Série A status nine months earlier, the hosts boasted an impressive starting XI, with many of the players who have since impressed in the 2010 Campeonato. Jorge Henrique and Dentinho started up front, while Elias, Jucilei, Willam, and Chicão were also on the pitch. The match itself, in truth, was unspectacular; Atlético boasted a good strike force in Diego Tardelli and Éder Luís, but little else, and Corinthians were sluggish in the main. The hosts would pick up the points, however, thanks to two moments of inspiration. Dentinho's pace allowed him to slot the hosts ahead in the first half, and Boquita added a late second with an emphatic rising drive.
The crowd responded wildly on each occasion, and your reporter twice found himself topless and twirling his Corinthians shirt above his head with the best of them. Despite having a reputation for violence and criminality, the Timão's fans were brilliant; vocal and fully supportive of their side. After the final whistle, the punters sat behind us were only too happy to take our photo and chat about the game. Of all the matches I have attended in Brazil, this is the one I look back on most fondly; that this be the case despite the rather drab on-pitch spectacle speaks volumes about a wonderful stadium and those who populate it.
(Photo credits; (1), (3), (4), (6), (7), (8) & (9) Writer's own, (2) Wikipedia commons, (5) Uol.com.br.)