MARACANÃ, birth, life and death in seven acts

Marcos Alvito 29 de julho de 2015


1968. Seven years of age. Sitting on the hard cement stands of Maracanâ next to my father. We and nearly a hundred thousand fans, a normal but not exceptional crowd, taken it was a classic match. On the field, we sadly watched Flamengo being hammered by Botafogo that had stars such as Gérson, Jairzinho and Paulo César, not to mention Afonsinho the hairy player that would revolt against the slave structure of Brazilian Soccer. But on that day the young boy feasted his eyes with the Botafogo´s right wing called Zequinha who was at that time a substitute. Even so, he would twist past Flamengo defenders as elengatly as a ¨mestre-sala¨, which could be best translated as a master of ceremonies, dodging them without losing the pace. After struggling to get a tie, Flamengo takes one, two, three goals. Faced with the humiliating score of four to one, my father took me by the hand and decided to leave the stadium. That year was marked by masses of students going to the street against the military dictatorship, which would eventually show his nasty side with the sinister AI-5, which led to the introduction of censorship on the media and the arts and as well as to the suspension of basic civil rights as habeas corpus. My sweet protest with my father was not politically motivated but held water somehow due to the fact I didn´t find it quite right to walk out on my team in difficult times. At that moment, I promised myself two things, one of which I could not meet and the other that´s still under consideration so far. I promised that under no circumstances would I leave a Flamengo game before the final whistle which, like death, marks the definitive end ever. The second promise was somewhat contradictory: while delighted and amazed at the opponent´s performance, I decided to be a right wing.

1944. Do not be misled into thinking that my father was an ordinary supporter. He was already a fan long before the construction of the famous Maracanã. He remembered the time when the clubs disputed the games in their own stadia, which, not taking into account São Januário, Vasco da Gama Stadium, were considerably small. I’ve lost track of the number of times my father told me about the winning of the third championship of 1942-1943-1944, a last-minute-victory at Gávea. He would enthusiastically tell me about Valido who was running a fever and even so managed to lean over a vascaíno defender to score the winning goal by heading the ball into the net. He spoke as if he had seen the move at a very close distance, which would not be impossible at that time. Flamengo had a great team, with two unquestionable stars. On defense, the incomparable Domingos da Guia, who found it rude to hit the opponents and kick the ball all over. Rather, He would take that out by politely dodging the opposing strikers. Finally, Zizinho, in midfield, the greatest Brazilian player before Pelé and Garrincha. As strange as it may sound, my father´s great idol was Vevé, a left wing. Vevé, according to my father´s mythological memory, dismantled the defense with short dribbles, had a powerful shot and was a specialist in completing for the goal using the “sem pulo”, a strong kick on the ball before its falling to the ground. Vevé, with his thin mustache that would go with a mocking way of playing soccer, stopped in 1948, two years before the construction of Maracanã. Unlike his fellow, Zizinho would be forever marked by the tragedy of 1950.

Plant of Maracanã – exposed frame at Maracana Museum. Photo: Sérgio Settani Giglio.
This is where it all begins – exposed frame at Maracana Museum. Photo: Sérgio Settani Giglio.

1950 (First Half). The 1950 World Cup surely deserved the title of the messiest of history. With European countries still recovering from World War II, Brazil was the only one to bid to host the World Cup. It was then decided that a stadium would be built for the final and for the most important games in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro. The realization of the Cup and the construction of a stadium represented the progress and the insertion of Brazil in the western world, as a demonstration of our ability. Ma non troppo. The work was carried out accordingly, but the stadium was not finished on time. Army soldiers were asked to help but all to no avail. Even on the day of the final, there were still sidings and building material scattered all over. The stadium looked like, according to British journalist Brian Glanville, a huge construction site. He was not overdoing it. Brazilian striker Ademir said he and the other players were scared on the day of the first match against Mexico. Not because of the opponent, who could be easily beaten, but mainly because of the existence of several scaffolds which might collapse any time.

The stadium to which he referred, known by Maracanã, was called at that time Estádio Municipal Mendes de Morais. It was baptized with the name of the mayor who ordered its construction facing considerable opposition of journalist Carlos Lacerda. After all, it was the mayor who, trying to take advantage of his political position, reported to the players in a very arrogant manner before the final by saying that the Brazilian Squad was already the world champion, which sounded very disrespectful to the Uruguayans. When the game and dream of becoming a world champion ended up in tragedy, the crowd would never forgive the mayor. Once past the silence, the Brazilian fans gave the Uruguayan national team a big hand. No one left the stadium for everybody seemed paralyzed by the shock. Right after that, they begin to manifest themselves by setting fire to the same newspapers that have stamped headlines declaring Brazil the world champion. They furiously yanked out the bust of the mayor and cast it in the Maracanã River, which gives its name to the neighborhood. From that moment on the concrete giant was renamed Maracanã, which in Tupi language means “like a rattle.” Maracanã has always been called by us fans by Maraca in an affectionate way. The locals generally demonstrate affection through this ironic way in which, all diminutive is actually a compliment.

1950 ( Second Half). I would rather not refresh Brazilian´s minds with this sad story they know by heart. I’ll tell the story of the first great party that happened at the Maraca which my father remembered with joy. It happened three days before the tragedy. There were four teams at the end therefore, Brazil hammered Sweden by 7×1 and then had to face the dangerous Spain squad. What happened on that day July 13, 1950 was magical. The renowned Gazzetta dello Sport, Milan, Giordano Fattori said that it was “science, art, ballet and even played circus”. So enthusiastic he was that he compared Zizinho to Leonardo da Vinci: ” the one who created masterpieces with his feet on the field.”

Within half an hour, the Fury had already been crushed by three Brazilian goals: Ademir, Jair and Chico. The Brazilian team did not stop there. As the second half begins, after 11 minutes, Brazil is 4×0 with Chico, after a ¨hellish preparation of Ademir” according to one of the broadcasters of Radio Nacional. The crowd cannot control itself anymore and begins to sing olé, olé, as if Spain had turned into an animal to be slaughtered. It was then that a group of fans began to sing a ¨marchinha¨ de carnaval launched in 1938 that was part of the country´s popular songs, whose chorus said:

I´ve been to a bullfight in Madrid

(Parará tchim bum bum bum)

(Parará tchim bum bum bum)

The party continued with Ademir scoring 5×0 just two minutes after the Chico´s goal . White handkerchiefs could be seen all over along with the whole crowd singing “the time is coming” for the Spanish team, which even moved the Rádio Nacional Speakers that said: “Wonderful show of white handkerchiefs: more than 150 000 people waving white handkerchiefs to the Spanish people.

At twenty-five minutes, Zizinho scores the sixth Brazilian goal, in a great performance. A few minutes later Spain scores his goal of honor, Brazil 6×1. The last minute of the game was like carnival for the crowd: flashed fireworks, balloons, the waving of the famous white handkerchiefs and, finally, the return to the song “Bullfight in Madrid.”

My father loved to tell the story of the victory over Spain. He also told me the story of the tragedy of July 16 at Maracanã. He did not give details of the game, nor commented on individual performances, rather, he only spoke about one thing: the deafening silence that engulfed the Brazilian fans. For most experts and scholars, the victory over Spain led to a wave of uncontrollable vainglorious optimism that sealed our defeat against Uruguay. Allow this modest writer to kindly disagree on that. Life is lived here and now. At that moment, but just at that moment, for the maddened crowd, Brazil was the world champion, the planet of every galaxy. They sang, rejoiced, danced and jumped intoxicated by this feeling. And I’m glad to know that there was, before the silence of defeat … a song.

Anyway, back to the final. After the newspapers and their predictions turned into ashes, Brazilian fans of all races leave the stadium “as a battalion of undead.” But down the ramp the crowd awakens and furiously yanks out the bust of Mayor Mendes de Morais. The mayor was symbolically removed and thrown in the river that now would name the stadium. It was then replaced by the statue of the 1958 Captain, Bellini.

The crowd goes crazy – exposed frame at Maracana Museum. Photo: Sérgio Settani Giglio.

1972. Eleven years old. In full military dictatorship, the Brazilian economy was in full swing: that year GDP growth was over 10% and in the following year achieved a record of 14%.Thanks to the generous foreign funding, ruthless wage squeeze, manipulation of inflation rates and a brutal concentration of income. I still knew nothing of it. On that day I might not even want to know. After all, Dad would take the whole family to Maracanã for the Independence Cup Final.It was a tournament devised by the Generals to take advantage of the conquest of 1970 along with the patriotic date of the 150th anniversary of our Independence. Their dream final: Brazil’s dictator Emilio Medici Garrastazu against the dictator Marcelo Caetano Portugal, Salazar’s successor. The game was tough, scoreless until the 40 minutes of the second half. Then Dad decides to leave five minutes early to avoid problems. After all we were with my mother and my younger sister. Needless to say I was against that. When we got to the car, the punishment of the gods: the tires were punctured. Then I saw on television Jairzinho dive goldfish in the small area to give the title to Brazil.

1980. Nineteen years old. I was a history student. Although amnesty had been decreed there was still a general-president. The economy was still, it was time to pay the foreign debt which had multiplied during the military regime. In that year the Workers’ Party was found and came up as a hope for a new way of doing politics. In the course of history, those who loved soccer e were still considered shallow or naive. I never cared about that. In front of the Bellini´s, that´s how my friends and I would set out on our trips to Maracanã. The good old captain, lifting the cup of our first global victory, was a perfect symbol of the hopes of the fans before the match.On that day Flamengo could win its first national title, facing a very difficult opponent, Atlético Mineiro with stars like Reinaldo, Toninho Cerezo and Eder. At that time the tickets were cheap, about half a movie ticket. They were usually bought on the day of the game, which led us to face queues that would take forever. Special games such as decisions were sold a few days before. The traditional schedule of games was that of five in the afternoon so that they would end early in the evening. Already with the tickets, we got to Bellini four hours before the game started. It was late. When we entered, there was almost no place to “sit”. I put quotation marks because, with an audience of over one hundred and fifty thousand people, we gave up and had to squeeze ourselves in. To make matters worse, we stayed very close to the fans of Atlético. We spent a lot of time dodging the fireworks that would come in our direction and vice versa, of course. Going to maraca implied risk before, during and after the game. At that time we would never think about this.

The game itself was touch and go. The draw was theirs and when we were winning two to one, and the wonderful Reinaldo would be replaced by injury. Our fans did not forgive that and screamed out of their lungs: “Bichado,Bichado”, a popular expression used by Brazilian people for those players who tend to have series of injuries consequently taking a long time to recover from them. Reinaldo was a star. Before leaving the field, Reinaldo, literally with one leg tied. Our team was a dream team, with stars like Zico, the greatest player I’ve ever seen. But there was also Júnior, Andrade, Adilio, and a left wing as mischievous as Vevé, Júlio Cesar. The irony is that our redemptive goal, which gave us the win and the title, was scored by a limited but efficient and vibrant player, the striker Nunes. The rest was an indescribable party, inside and outside the stadium.

2010. Fifty years. Enjoying huge popularity, Lula manages to convey the power to Dilma Rousseff. Three years earlier there was the glorious announcement that Brazil would host the 2014 World Cup, a fact that was presented, again, as a proof that Brazil had finally reached the First World. There I was again, in front of the Bellini. It was not game day. And even if it were, the good old Maraca was closed. It would be “rebuilt” for the 2014 World Cup. Along with my colleague Chris Gaffney and some students of history from Universidade Federal Fluminense, where I was now a professor, we were there to found the National Association of Supporters. Our fear, which proved correct, was that the World Cup would be like the Trojan horse of a process of gentrification of Brazilian football. A spurious alliance between politicians and contractors who fund their campaigns for 2014 would be a big deal. Not for us that would have pay the bill, to see our stadia turn into sanitized arenas by expelling people from the stands. This process of gentrification, in fact, begun five years earlier, in 2005, with the extinction of the so called ¨Geral¨, which was that part of the stadium where the low-income people would stand to watch the game. Given the fact that the upper platform was designed for the rich and the stands for the so called middle-class, the ¨Geral¨ was essentially the popular space with a lot of vibration and true folklore even though it was hard for the crowd to see the game. The Geral was murdered in cold blood, almost without protest, under the applause of those who did praise the necessary “modernization of Brazilian football.” In 2010 it was not like that due to the fact we had already begun to understand the meaning of that process of destruction of the supporter´s culture. We fought a lot. We did demonstrations, gave dozens of interviews, wrote articles, participated in roundtables. But the inescapable truth is that we did not manage to get a massive mobilization. Maracanã would never be the same after that.

The Maraca where I had my watch stolen in 1983 (where Flamengo was beaten by Fluminense at the final), where there was a not room to swing a cat in, in a playoff game against Paraguay in 1977, where a piece of concrete fell on my face in 1984, where I saw Flamengo be six times Brazilian champion and Carioca champion countless times, where I bought fake tickets where I fled from the police and their horses, where I almost fell from the stands in 1992, where as a child I would see Santa Claus arrive by helicopter, where besides Zico, I saw Eusébio, Doval, Rivelino, Maradona, Bebeto, Romário, Renato Gaúcho and many others, where my son learned to swear and be faithful to his our team, where I will never be able to take my daughter, who was born later on.

Maracana illumination test before starting the reopening of the stadium between Brazil and England held in 2013. Photo: Erica Ramalho – Government of Rio de Janeiro.

2013. Fifty-two years old. The reopening of Maracanã. After nearly three years at a cost of over one billion dollars, the stadium was finally ready. In the same month of June Brazil was shaken by a wave of protests that brought millions to the streets. In a context of economic crisis, distrust in politics, sense of injustice and lack of hope for the future, young people mobilized to protest and the World Cup and their millionaire spending became a perfect symbol to be attacked. I also took part in the protests, but I couldn´t help going to the new Maracanã. At least, Bellini was still there. From the outside, it looked the same: a simple and adored facade and the old concrete ramp of war, all that was there. When I finally sat down in my numbered seat, I would say I was totally shocked. Lícia noticed and asked me, fondly, what was going on. I didn´t know where I was, taken that I was unable to recognize the stadium. It seemed out of place. After talking with friends, everyone told me the same thing: they could hardly figure out themselves in the place they had been for ages. I spent a year in England visiting dozens of stadia, and I would say without fear of contradiction that this stadium, they want us to call Maracanã, is like many others. It has no mana, no magic, has no chemistry. It is not a stadium anymore. It is a studio aimed at broadcasting a show called soccer game. The day I went to see Brazil and England, despite buying an expensive ticket, I realized that the advertising boards prevented the vision of the goal line for the first 15 rows. Just a detail, they would say so. Another insignificant detail: the dimensions of the field were decreased by a fifth, thus affecting the style of the game to be practiced. With all due respect, let´s imagine the shrinking of the Coliseum. But the new stadium now has hundreds of bars, shops, two big screens for propaganda, a powerful sound system, as well as luxurious cabins and hundreds of employees who do not stop to give you good afternoon and ask if you need anything. I I want to have the old Maraca back, I feel like saying that to them sometimes.

Cópia de 02jogo22
The reopening of the Maracana Lucas (7), Brazil, prepares the shot by approach Lampard (8), England. Photo: Glauber Queiroz – Portal da Copa.

I will l tell you about the most beautiful memory I have from so many afternoons and evenings of my past life at Maracanã. As time went by, my friends had commitments that prevented them from going to the stadium with the same frequency. Due to that, I had to see Flamengo by myself at Maracanã. But the hug after the goal was a mandatory and essential tradition. When I went alone I would try to interact with the supporters sitting next to me. So the hug was guaranteed at the time of the goal. It has never failed. Just like me that have never failed in my promise to see every game until the end, regardless of the outcome. Unfortunately, the lack of ability did not allow me to fulfill the promise and the dream of being a right wing. The reality principle forced me to play as a center back.

Seja um dos 9 apoiadores do Ludopédio e faça parte desse time! APOIAR AGORA

Marcos Alvito

Professor universitário alforriado. Escritor aprendiz. Observador de pássaros principiante. Apaixonado por literatura e futebol. Tenho livros sobre Grécia antiga, favela, cidadania, samba e até sobre futebol: A Rainha de chuteiras: um ano de futebol na Inglaterra. O meu café é sem açúcar, por favor.

Como citar

ALVITO, Marcos. MARACANÃ, birth, life and death in seven acts. Ludopédio, São Paulo, v. 73, n. 11, 2015.
Leia também: