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New Article - The Maracana

Hi all, this follows on from my blogs on Italy and New York. It is longer but it covers more matches and will explain some things that Andy Townsend and the like won’t tell you. I hope a few of you enjoy this!

The Maracana is not just an icon of Brazil but of football itself. Situated in Rio de Janeiro’s west, we all know of its reputation, the legends who have played there, the 1950 World Cup final which hosted 200’000 spectators. Lesser recognised here is its place in Brazilian domestic football. Home of Flamengo and Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama also use it for their larger fixtures. Literally and figuratively it is the city’s stadium.

In 2010 I set off backpacking in South America for four months. My first stop? Rio. As a holiday destination it surpasses most expectations, the city seemingly has everything – beaches, street parties, scenery, weather, friendly locals, marmosets in the parks, football. Step on the Copacabana and you’ll see men and women of all ages practising their ‘headers and volleys’ skills. Take a favela tour and you’ll see children showing off. The city lives and breathes futebol.

Vasco’s Estadio Sao Januario on the left.

It is difficult to divide the city by its teams geographically. Flamengo are the best supported and draw fans from all parts of the region and beyond. Vasco are their fiercest rivals and hail from the northern slums – for those going to Rio, keep an eye on the hills on the right as you travel from the airport. Stuck in the middle of a favela (in 2010 at least), I have not seen a more intimidating ground for visitors. Fluminense are considered the rich person’s side then Botafogo can be forgotten by some – left aside in Rio’s grand derbies, their traditional area is near Sugar Loaf by the town centre. These clubs plus many more from Rio State also make up the local Carioca championship annually.

My first taste of Brazilian football was actually with Botafogo at the Olympic Stadium. As it’s not wholly relevant I’ll save details for perhaps another time. I’ll simply say that fed up with South Americans confusing Charlton and Chelsea, they did enough for me to claim I was a Botafogo supporter when travelling. The next day though, saw Flamengo’s season opener against giants Sao Paulo at the Maracana. With my own hostel organising tours, a large group going and me not having a caipirinha hangover for once, what could go wrong?

Not how you envisage the Maracana.

Nothing went wrong but little lived up to anticipation. From the outside the (old) Maracana is impressive without being imposing, many of its seats being below street level. The interiors were dusty and roomy, from there you could walk completely around the dry moat which lapped the pitch. Only non-alcoholic beer was on sale but I recall being impressed by the cigarettes on offer. Having been the temple of Pele, Ronaldo, Zico et al, I left some Akpo Sodje graffiti in the toilets.

Up until kickoff the stadium remained eerily quiet. Raining hard, had kickoff been delayed? No, the players emerged with no warm-up and without music. This was/is seemingly normal. With Flamengo in Libertadores action midweek, stars such Adriano and Vagner Love were also rested.

Expect close-ups of similar soon.

11’000 were there. Amid tropical downpours it was a damp squib, the hostel over-charged us and I was surrounded by American tourists. I asked my tour guide about the poor attendance and he blamed Mothers’ Day. Really? Having seen dozens of red and black shirts around town I was disappointed, especially after my Botafogo adventure. Flamengo drew 1-1 draw and similar happened to me the next week at Sao Paulo’s Morumbi – 11’000 were inside their 70’000 capacity ground to see them lose 2-1 to… Botafogo.

The new Arena de Sao Paulo will instead host matches.

So of my three matches in Brazil, only one had genuinely excited. The few Flamengo and Sao Paulo followers who did attempt to make noise were vibrant, had an array of tunes and were accompanied by some highly technical drumming. Honestly though, we have better atmospheres at The Valley. Brazilian fans were seemingly only worth anything if they actually bothered turning up, either all or nothing. Having booked my flight home from Rio, I thankfully had another chance to see the Maracana in its full glory.


  • Great article, I'll give Colombia a miss though!
  • Really enjoyed reading that mate. I've led a sheltered existance
  • Good article. The old country (Portugal) is the same - they turn up for the biggest clashes, but despite a reputation for fanaticism, they cannot hold a candle to English supporters when it comes to actually getting your bum on a seat at the ground for a run of the mill game.
  • Nice article again RP.

  • Loving your stories, Red Panda.
    Keep 'em coming.

    Great experiences to treasure.

  • Done a similar trip back in 2001...3 months in total (Rio 1st stop)...Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Peru....could have done with six months to be honest but had a great time all the same, even got some of the old photos out the other day....this world cup will bring back some good memmories.
  • Great stories. Would love to see a game in Buenos Aires myself.
  • Absolutely loved that Red Panda, a really good insight. Thanks for taking the time to write it up.
  • Good stuff Panda.

    Not wanting to highjack your thread but will upload some pics of my visit to the Maracana if i can work out how to upload them...
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  • Good article Mr Panda.

    My wife is brasilian so as a result I have been able to tie in a few games when over there on holiday. I did the Vasco v Flamengo derby game in October 2008, very fruity to say the least!

    It was a home game for Vasco. With the derby's they generally switch them to the Maracana as the stadiums are generally too small to accommodate demand.

    Having said that the attendance was only 37,000 of which about 25k were Flamengo, who won 1-0.

    Due to the size of the country and the prices being relatively high for many, attendances are generally very poor, although you will always see people watching the football on tv in the bars over there.

    Overall it is a great experience watching the passion of the supporters over in South America.

    Buenos Aires anyone for the Boca v River Plate derby?
  • Many thanks for that RP: a most interesting article. :-)
  • I went to the Maracana back in 2001, watched Flamengo v Gremio.

    Earlier that day I did the tour, what amazed me was the half size football pitch off the home dressing room for the players to warm up on, you could just imagine the greats knocking a ball about under that great stadium.

    Later we (me and four lads) went down to Copacabana beach, met some locals for a kick around - we were absolutely destroyed!

    Rio is a fantastic city!
  • Nug said:

    Great stories. Would love to see a game in Buenos Aires myself.

    Went to Boca's ground, there wasn't a game on but we just walked in for a few photo's and a look around...the stands are very steep. The walk there from the city centre took us around 2 hours and was a good way to see some of Buenos Aires, we did a similar thing with the Maracana and the stadium in Monteviedeo where the first world cup was held.....the guy who let us into the stadium in Monteviedeo said his favourite English team was Man City, as they played in light blue shirts.
  • Thanks for the comments everyone. It was just over 4 years ago I was in Buenos Aires so it was the off-season before the World Cup… Had I been a few days earlier my hostel had organised a trip to a Libertadores game(!). Not being able to see a club game there is one of the biggest regrets of my trip. I saw Argentina v Canada at River Plate’s ground but it was really subdued. I think their league would be in with a shout of being one of the most mental and atmospheric (and dangerous) in the world. Some other countries were a good laugh, especially Peru. I have plenty more to ramble on about.

    @Boom Sign up to Photobucket, upload to there, copy the image URLs, then on here click the image icon in the message tab and paste the address. If you have them on Facebook already you can also right click the photo, copy image URL (you may have to go into properties) and paste to Charlton Life.
  • Thanks, best article I've seen on here. Been a couple of times and quite liked Brazil. Columbia, on the other hand was horrible. It's been 15 years though, I think things have improved a bit
  • RedPanda said:

    Vasco had flags and balloons in abundance as well, while the volume from both ends made for a real cup final atmosphere. Their singing is interesting too, more songs than chants, all energetic and bouncy and often with ‘oohhh’ parts. Although not of great quality this video does convey some of the electricity; I still get this stuck in my head:

    Were Vasco the away team? I'm sure they are singing Oohaah Mortimer don't soil your pants counting how many of us are in the away end. ;-)

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