Tuesday, 3 May 2011

In which See A Darkness lurches inexplicably towards seriousness, while still expecting a Pullitzer nomination for the line "mirthless slumberdome". For those wanting an update of on-field events, Santa beat Porto 3-1 on Saturday, while Sport lost 2-3 to Nautico in the other semi-final, but went through on aggregate. This sets up everyone's dream/nightmare final, Santa vs Sport, the magnitude of which See A Darkness is still coming to terms with. 

A small step towards the death, or perhaps the re-birth, of domestic Brazilian football in its current form came not on the pitch but in a court room in the nordeste of Brazil last week.

Ailton Alfredo De Souza, a judge responsible for maintaining the perhaps ironically named Supporter’s Statute, passed a law banning the state’s torcidas organizadas from the semi-finals and finals of this year’s Pernambuco state championship.

It is not the first time a judge has taken such an action. Corinthian’s Gaviões da Fiel group were banned for a month earlier this year, and the organizadas of CSA and CRB in Alagoas are currently prohibited from attending games. A similar ban is in place in Paraná.

The reason is the at times frightening level of violence at football in Brazil. Shootings (generally away from the stadiums) are a frequent event both before and after clássicos, buses are destroyed, and street brawls between groups of fans are a common occurence.

But to simply blame the members of the organizadas for this is to fail to understand Brazilian footballing or social reality. Violent crime is a depressing reality of life in Brazil. Around 40,000 people are murdered every year, enough to meet the UN classification of a small-scale civil war. While there is not space to discuss the reasons for this here, the ease of acquiring firearms is one factor, as are the appalling levels of social exclusion and inequality.

The behaviour of a crowd, footballing or otherwise, is rarely more than a reflection of the nature of the society it springs from, and the average Brazilian football gathering is no different.

There is also misunderstanding when it comes to identifying the nature of the organizadas themselves. The name doesn’t help – usually there is very little organised about the supporters groups. Generally there is a small central group that organises chanting, flags, drums and trips to away games. Then there will be thousands of young men (and occasionally women) who buy an Inferno Coral ,or a Galoucura or a Força Jovem Vasco shirt, despite not being in any way affiliated to the organisations. Most of these people will go to the games, some will cause trouble before and after. Sometimes people will die because of it.

This weekend brought the usual Monday morning headlines in Brazil. It was the semi-finals or finals in most of the state championships, a day of packed houses and sporting celebration and disappointment. It was also a day of pitched battles and of death. A Goias fan was shot and killed hours after the Vila Nova – Goias clássico and there were two killed in Rio, not to mention large scale fighting in a number of cities.

In Recife there was almost no trouble at all at either the Santa Cruz vs Porto semi-final (watched by 34,000) or the Nautico vs Sport clássico (an 18,000 sell out at Nautico’s cramped Aflitos). To the observer, then, Mr De Souza’s decision was a success.

Not entirely. There is an argument that the ban is akin to using a nuclear warhead to crush a fly. How many of those banned, for example, would have gone on the rampage before or after the game? Sometimes the worst football related fighting in Recife involves individuals who have not even attended games, and takes place at bus terminals and outside shopping centres miles from the stadium. A mammoth police operation this weekend may have dissuaded troublemakers.

There are legal issues involved. The ban allows the wearing of torcida organizada shirts and the entry into the stadium of small groups wearing said shirts. But it prohibits the carrying of flags and musical instruments, and states that if the small bands of supporters group together into a larger mass inside the stadium, they should be dispersed and removed from the stadium by police. 

There would seem to be not much that is legally enforcable about such a ban. If See A Darkness wished to go to the game with five friends, all wearing Inferno Coral shirts, and then stood in the same area of terracing as another five such groups, would he be expelled from the game? Is it legally justifiable to ban large informal groups of people with no criminal records and no official history of illegal activity inside a football stadium? The organizadas have promised to appeal.

The effect of the ban on Brazilian stadium culture remains to be seen. But without the Inferno Coral and their drums and flags and chanting Arruda on Saturday had all the atmosphere of a minor court quarter final at the Wimbledon tennis championships.

Brazilian football will change over the next few years as shiny all-seater stadia sprout up in the run-up to 2014, and ticket prices will increase dramatically. The country’s upper middle classes will become the new target audience, just as occurred in English football post Taylor Report and Sky TV money. But whether more affluent Brazilians, often listless when it comes to contributing to public life in the country, will be able to stir themselves from in front of their TVs is another question.

And even more worrying is that the “new Brazilian football”, if it ever arrives, will exclude poorer Brazilians, the traditional bedrock support of the game.  If it has happened in England, a far more financially homogenous country, then the effects are likely to be even more drastic in Brazil.

New stadiums and safer, family environments to watch football are obviously desirable. But there is no reason why such progress should come at the expense of a vibrant atmosphere and the right of the working class supporter to watch his team. Fans of Manchester City, who lost so much of the noise and energy of a rowdy Kippax Street terrace when the team moved to the mirthless slumberdome of Eastlands, will no doubt agree.

NB: This article is also available on the excellent www.thedirtytackle.blogspot.com website. 


  1. Excellent post as always, James. The complex relationship between social problems and football needs to be elaborated far more carefully before measures are implemented. Unfortunately, simplistic tactics like this seem likely to increase in frequency in the run up to 2014, in an effort to render futebol more palatable.
    Hopefully someone has enough sense to call for more a subtle approach to the issues at hand.

    You might, incidentally, like this; a new project I started last week>
    (Apologies for the shameless plug.)

  2. the torcidas organizadas help to excite the crowds, greatly enhancing the experience of going to the stadium to watch a match, they display banners and mosaics, and wave bandeirões for the television cameras, all with an almost mindless passion and diligence in what they do, and what they get in return is marginalization, repression and eventually their permanent banning from football. it's disgraceful.

  3. thanks both for the comments, I agree completely and hope that came across in the article. It´s a pity opinions like Tiago's don't get heard more often. Instead all we see in the mainstream media is stereotyping of the "marginais/banditos" variety, no doubt linked to the fact that many of the organizadas members are young, poor and black.