Going to a football match in Brazil is something even those bored by the game will enjoy as spectacle: the stadiums are sights in themselves and big matches are watched behind a screen of tickertape and waving flags, huge banners, massed drums, fireworks and firecrackers, to the chants, roars and whistling of the world’s most passionate football supporters.
Brazil’s major teams are concentrated in Rio and São Paulo. In Rio, Flamengo is the best-supported team in the country, and its distinctive shirt of red and black hoops is seen everywhere. Its clashes with perennial Rio rival Fluminense (maroon, green and white stripes) is one of the most intense matches in Brazilian club football, rivalled only by the games between São Paulo’s two leading teams, São Paulo (white with red and black hoops) and Coríntians (white). In Rio, Botafogo (black and white stripes with the famous white-star badge) and Vasco (white with black diagonal stripe) vie with Fla-Flu for dominance, while Palmeiras (green) and Santos (white) make up the big four in São Paulo. The only teams that consistently live with the best of Rio and São Paulo are Internacional (red) and Grêmio (blue, white and black stripes) from Porto Alegre, and Atlético Mineiro (white) and Cruzeiro (dark blue) from Belo Horizonte.
Brazilian stadiums tend to be enormous, concrete, and with a few exceptions rather dingy and lacking in character: they are rarely full save for clássicos, matches between major teams, and rely on the supporters rather than their architecture for colour and feeling. Most pitches are separated from supporters by a wide running track and sometimes even a moat, which puts the play further from the terraces than British fans will be used to. But some stadiums are worth going out of your way for: the Maracanã in Rio, it goes without saying, but also the beautiful Art Deco Pacaembú in São Paulo. No football fan should visit Rio without leaving a morning for the excellent tour of the Maracanã, or miss the superb new Museu de Futbol when in São Paulo.
Tickets are very cheap by European standards; good seats at a clássico will cost no more than R$50, but an ordinary match will be half that or less – the issue is availability rather than price. For clássicos, hotels often have packages that include transport, tickets and a guide for around R$100 all in, an expensive way of doing it but often the only practical option if you can’t get a ticket a few days in advance. For ordinary matches, you can almost always turn up half an hour beforehand and look for the bilheteria, the ticket office, which usually only takes cash. All stadiums are two-deckers, most are now all-seaters but a few still have terracing on the lower deck: upper-deck seats are arquibancada, lower-deck geral. There is not as much of a problem with crowd violence in Brazil as in many European countries, but don’t wear a Brazilian club shirt just to be on the safe side: non-Brazilian shirts are no problem (except for Argentinian ones – the two countries don’t get on well in footballing terms), and Brazilian fans are extremely friendly to foreigners. December is the off season; otherwise, a mixture of state and national championships ensures constant football.