| POSTCARD FROM BRAZIL
The beautiful game in South America
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By Gibby Zobel March 2003
The poor man, Vampeta. So ugly that the name on his shirt literally means half-vampire, half-beast.
So stupid that last week he lost a contract to do ten commercials because he couldn't manage to say one simple slogan. So unlucky that he broke his leg in the first game of this season and is out for the forseeable future.
He is, therefore, my favourite player (and a World Cup winner to boot).
Vampeta is the exception to the Brazilian rule – all the other national squad members (except the goalkeeper Marcos) ply their trade abroad. But that isn't to say there isn't a shortage of talent here.
The teenagers Robinho and Diego helped Pele's old team, Santos, win the latest Brazilian championship. I haven't seen Wayne Rooney yet (they don't show English football in Brazil), but 18-year-old Robinho is something else – a master dribbler.
In the final of the championship he jinked his way into the penalty box by feigning to kick the ball, waving each leg in turn over the ball eight times. Eventually he was brought down and he converted from the spot.
Interesting thing, a final of the championship. Santos in fact finished eighth in the league but won the title.
How? Uniquely in world football (I think), the championship isn't decided by who has the most points after everyone has played each other.
Instead, the top 8 take part in a knockout tournament, giving the league the extra magic of the cup.
Going to a match is like a throwback to the 80s in England. The cost of a ticket, £3, is affordable, so it is still very much a people's game. All the stadiums have seats, but people just stand on them.
And then you can add the samba, the passion, the firworks and spectacular spaces like the world's biggest studium, the Maracanã, in Rio.
My team is Corinthians, one of the three big teams in Säo Paulo, a state the size of a country, with 36 million inhabitants.
Named after the old English team, they are, to quote ex-world footballer of the year Sócrates, "not a team with supporters, but supporters with a team".
They are a movement, an enigma, a people's team. Last month they won the state championship in an electrifing game against the boring only-sing-when-your-winning São Paulo.
In the first minute of the game two players were sent off in a mass brawl. Eight yellow cards. 72,000 fans.
They won 3:2 will a goal in the final minutes. Fireworks exploded across the city. Enormous banners, I mean enormous, are collectively brandished by the fans.
The banners are the size of an entire stand. The design and the method of unravelling them, are a source of great pride. A single letter, say the C in Corinthians, is the size of two hundred people. How they make them is a mystery to me.
The game was typical of the type I watch here. Loads of goals, crap defences. And I've yet to see a game end without a fight.
In one game, the riot police came on to the pitch and the Santos players started fighting with them, kicking their shields. Pandemonium.
There seemed to be more people on the pitch than in the stands. Then their manager, Leão, got pepper-sprayed full in the face by one cop. After it died down they simply got on with the game.
I was glad Leão got sprayed. Why?
You have to go back to the aforementioned Sócrates, a former Corinthians teammate with Leão, and one of the great Brazilians of all time with Zico, Falcão and the mesmerising World Cup squad of '82.
Anyway, during this time (1976-1985) Brazil was a military dictatorship. Sócrates dreamt up a way of combating the military through football and created a player's movement called 'Corinthian's Democracy'.
It worked like this. The players agreed that instead of listening to the management, they would vote on and decide everything from when they could have sex with their wives to what time they arrived for the match.
They would come on to the pitch with huge 'Democracy' banners. In the huge public arena of football, it was one of the principal movements which led to the fall of the dictatorship. There was one player who refused to take part – Leão.
Sócrates, or The Doctor, as they call him here is now a TV pundit and political columnist and all-round intelligent guy. I met him in December last year. He's a dude:
"The process that we went through (Corinthians Democracy) was extremely rich. We were working in a really popular environment ... and we managed to develop a form of action that generated a series of polemics ... in relation to the structure of employers and employees.
"At this time the idea of talking about democracy was something unimaginable for the greater part of the Brazilian population. Every society tries to organise itself in relation to the people who are participating.
We created a truly democratic system in a world that's very .... a group of people who had a sensibility of the situation of the country." Imagine David Beckham saying something like that?
Last month it was decided by FIFA that the World Cup will be held in Brazil in 2012 for the first time since 1950 – which a national tragedy when Brazil lost 2:1 in the final to Uruguay.
Brazil is a poor country and the stadiums are getting old and dangerous, so it will need a massive injection of cash.
The national team are going through one of its characteristic crises that happens when the spotlight is away from them, losing 2:1 to arch-rivals and former colonialists Portugal. Carlos Alberto was sent off for headbutting the referee.
He's named after a famous Brazilian singer, by the way. A little more glamorous than being called a vampire-beast.
Recommended reading: Futebol, the Brazilian Way of Life, by Guardian correspondent Alex Bellos
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