Situated an hour to the East of Sao Paulo, the coastal city of Santos isn’t exactly picture postcard stuff. A city forged on a working class port, it is the industrial mouth of the financial metropolis that is the state capital. Santos does have a certain claim when it comes to beauty though. What it lacks in natural finesse it more than makes up for in the footballing variety. Home of Pele and Neymar, this city can claim the World’s best (in Brazilian eyes at least) and most expensive players respectively. With the latest academy prodigy, Rodrygo, on his way for $50 million to Real Madrid it seems that the boys from the beach are more than a match for their big city Paulista rivals: Corinthians; Palmeiras; and Sao Paulo. I met up with Xande, a life long fan, to find out why he chose to support the ”Peixe”.
Having written recently about how I started supporting Palmeiras I was keen to find out if there was any intrigue behind Xande’s decision to support Santos. The story I hear is one that has played out in families around the world since the game began “My father and grandfather supported them. They didn’t force me into it but they were delighted when I started being fascinated with Santos aged 5.”
Although not an unusual story it is relatively unusual to be brought up within the Sao Paulo city limits and not go for one of the” big three”. Xande explains that you have a bit of a mixed identity when you choose to be a Santastico “ Some see us as a the laid back beach team but we are also very much a Sao Paulo team. We have a big rivalry with Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and Corinthians”. This is borne out in Santos’ choice of home. In theory they play their home games at the 16,000 seater Estadio Urbano Caldeira in Santos. However, with so many of their fans living and working in Sao Paulo they often opt to play in the much larger Pacaembu just off Paulista Avenue in Central Sao Paulo.
Santos have had some highs and lows over the years and we start chatting about Xande’s life as a fan. He vents his frustration at the media’s perception of them as a little team and their disrespectful attitude. Another disappointment he feels lies not with the club but their treatment in last year’s Copa Libertadores. COMEBOL decided to award Independiente of Argentina a 3-0 win for the first leg due to the fielding of an illegible player. “ There were no Brazilian’s on the committee that made that decision and their own website said the player could play” he laments. The timing of the decision was disastrous too; just before kickoff of a second leg which should have been poised for a thriller. “This happened an hour before kickoff of the second leg. The atmosphere was bad and as the game went on the ultras started setting off “bombs”. As each one of these went off the crowd got more agitated until they started fighting and the game was abandoned “. Did he fear for his safety? “No, not really. The riot was at the other end of the stadium. On the way out the police were firing water cannons at fans but we were far enough away - so much so that people were using the spray to cool down and dance in the street!”.
We turn to happier moments. When asked about his favourite game there isn’t a moment’s hesitation “1995 Brasileirao. It was my first time at the stadium. At that time the championship was decided by a play-off. In the first leg of the semi-final we lost 4-1 away at Fluminense. With the game “lost” there were tickets available for the return leg. Me and a few friends decided to go along and never regretted it. We won 5-2 and ended up going through. Although we lost the final to Botafogo the semi-final game was amazing. “
The hero of that 5-2 victory was Giovanni, latterly of Barcelona and Olympiakos fame. “ He was the main reason we won that day. We still call him the Messiah at Santos”. A recent young Santos player making his way to Europe is Rodrygo. “ He’s too young to star at the moment but hopefully he can get time to learn. Neymar left as a more complete article having just won the Copa Libertadores. He was in a great team too. Unfortunately back then we had to wait half a year between winning the Libertadores and the Club World Cup. Most of our stars had left for Europe and we ended up getting embarrassed by Barcelona 5-0” . And what of Neymar, does he have a claim to the thrown of the great Pele? “Hahaha, no way! No one comes near. Argentinian’s might say Maradona but no way. Pele was the best of the best team”.