At 4 o’clock on Saturday night, we meet Bruno, the host of our AirBnB experience, at Largo do Marchado metro station. He is taking us to a football game at Maracana Stadium. Because football is such a huge part of Brazilian life, I want to experience it as a local, and thanks to AirBnB, I can. This is something I’d never do on my own, so being able to participate in an experience like this, and not be a tourist here, is much more appealing. (This is similar to the New Year’s Eve experience we did in Buenos Aires.) It’s a small group, there are only 7 of us total, which turns out to be a really good thing. The crowds on the metro are insane - we are going to a Flamengo/Botafogo game, two of the biggest teams in Rio. Flamengo is a fan favourite and the leading team in the country. Everyone is dressed in red and black, and the metro is pulsing with the voices of the fans. They are singing, ok - maybe yelling - one of the team songs at the top of their lungs. It’s like Carnaval all over again - when Brazilians are passionate about something, they don’t hide it.
When we arrive at the stadium and make our way out of the crowded metro station, Bruno warns us to put away our cell phones. Fans congregate outside the stadium to drink beer and sing more songs and it’s not the safest place. We make our way directly to the entrance where we are briefly searched and then let in. Although we have tickets, there are no assigned seats, so Bruno leads us to our section and we get good seats with amazing views. Three quarters of the stadium is filled with black and red clad Flamengo fans. Directly across from us, a small part of one section is filled with white and black clad Botafogo fans. Bruno tells us that they are not hopeful and don’t bother coming to games anymore.
All around us, the fans sing. They sing at the top of their lungs, to each other, with each other and to themselves. This is the most excited group of people I have ever seen in my life. (Even more than Carnaval). No one sits. They sing, cheer and high five one another even though the game hasn’t even started. Up behind us, some fans have giant flags on long poles and they wave them back and forth in time with the music. Bruno points to the section behind us and up to the left. A giant flag has appeared and it takes up the entire section. They aren’t passing it along the crowd, but rather moving their arms back and forth, making ripples in the material. I thought Canadians were crazy about hockey - but I have never seen sports fans like these.
The singing doesn’t stop - not for a second. It’s International Women’s Day and they ask for a minute of silence on the screens - and no one complies. The singing carries on - right until we board the metro to go home.
The game is fast and exciting. In front of us, two fathers with children still in diapers are watching the game. The little boys, who are maybe 2 years old, are on their fathers’ shoulders watching the game like they’ve bet $1000 on the outcome. They cheer, clench their fists and screw up their faces when a shot is missed. I’ve never seen kids so involved in a game - it’s like they know what is supposed to happen, they understand the rules and are waiting for their team to score a goal. We have several cold beers and popcorn, and just take in the atmosphere. I feel completely safe here, but coming here on our own would have frightened me. I wouldn’t know what was going on, where to sit or even which entrance to enter through.
What I like about football is that it’s fast and it has a time limit. They don’t stop the clock for anything, and before I know it, we are at half time. The singing hasn’t stopped once. In fact, I think it’s getting louder. In the second half, Flamengo scores 3 goals and the place erupts. The fans are out of control in their excitement, the songs get louder, people are yell singing into their phones, pointing at their faces reflected back at them with the erupting crowd behind them. This carries on for minutes after each goal. It’s amazing to see a group of people so diverse so united in one common love. Maybe it’s because all the Flamengo fans are sitting in one area, but I feel safe here. Fights would have broken out by now at a hockey game. Yes, the fans are rowdy, but they are rowdy with love. Love for the game, and love for their team. This is a must do. I feel like a local, like I belong here in this crazy world with these crazy fans. Rio is becoming home. Sure, I still can’t speak the language or understand much, but I'm just immersing myself in the process of becoming a Carioca, I don’t think as much, I just enjoy.