On Saturday, I got my stripes.
All the football fans bring theoretical texts on football to the games. That's what I'm led to believe, at least.
“Perder faz parte,” my football godfather said with a worried look as we bid each other goodbye before the Botafogo-Fluminense game. “Losing’s part of it.”
Pump-up talk: you’re doing it wrong. But I was prepared for wailing and gnashing of teeth – perhaps even readier to grovel than to exult. As Nelson Rodrigues famously put it,
The Botafogo fan buys his ticket like someone obtaining the sacred, inalienable right to suffer.
Consider my ticket purchased.
I went with a group of five gringos – one undecided, two Flamenguistas (one halfhearted, one rabid), and two baby Botafoguenses out for our first game. I had probably seen a total of 5 football games in my life, none of them in a stadium. This was a big day. We took a picture together before heading off. “Don’t look so serious,” said our photographer friend. I hadn’t been trying to.
We got off at Engenhão – incredibly early, as predicted by more seasoned torcedores – and joined the steady stream heading for the massive gates. Being a lone alvinegro is something; being in a mass of them is quite another. As we arrived at the stadium, time started to elongate.
To get to the upper section we walk up a massive spiraling track. From the top you feel nestled in the mountains, and the view reminds me of looking out from temples in the Yucatan. I see the tricolor masses on the other side of the field and want to know what we look like. Over to our left, an impossibly large banner unfurls itself over the bleachers. Flags are parading through the seats. I’m too far away to see the people wielding them, which makes the sight even odder. The torcida looks like it’s taken on a collective life of its own, as if the flags and banners sprouted spontaneously once given a critical mass of alvinegro pride.
The game starts without me realizing it. Shouldn’t there be some 21-gun salute, shouldn’t someone sing the national anthem? Nope, they’re already running around down there. Continue reading