When I found out that I was moving to Sao Paulo the first thing I knew I had to research was the football teams at my disposal and pick one to start going to. A Celtic season ticket holder until I began travelling the world, I had gone eight years without really having a local team to call my own. In China I had been to a few Shanghai Shenhua games and had the chance to watch Nicholas Anelka play defensive midfield, something not many people have had the comic fortune to witness. In Slovakia I chose to play rather than attend games, so before coming to Brazil I was going to right a wrong and start following a team for real again. Sao Paulo is a city rich in football history and success so surely I was going to find a team to follow. In those years away from regular attendance something had certainly been missing. Yes, there is something fun about meeting up with a bunch of Glaswegians in a dingy Shanghai pub in the wee hours of the morning to watch a dodgy stream but something was always lacking. The sights and sounds of game day are things that make the game all the more enjoyable. The way to the stadium, the meeting of friends, the habitual pint in the same old pub (a war zone on an off day and a paradise of stale beer and pregame analysis on those halcyon afternoons). These were the things I’d been missing and was looking to find. But where?
Within a one-hour circumference of the city (make that 1-12 hours depending on the crazy traffic here) you can see four of the nation’s big teams: by the seaside, outside the city, you have home of Pele; Santos. As well as the Brazilian legend they can count Neymar and Rodrygo amongst their recent alumni and won the Libertadores in 2011. In the North of the city there is Palmeiras the most successful team in terms of Brasileirao championships; West is Sao Paulo FC who gave Kaka a start in the game and play their games in the 72,000 capacity Estadio Morumbi where the opening ceremony of the Copa America 2019 will be held; and to the East, Corinthians, the “team of the people” that conquered Chelsea in the 2012 FIFA World Club Cup competition. But who to support?
Picking a team isn’t something you really do as an adult. Most football fans will have had their team since a young age. Maybe family influenced, maybe the team of the day, maybe a moral or a style choice. Whatever the reason you will have chosen young and then stuck with it. For this reason I’ve seen some ups and some downs following Celtic through the 80s, 90s and beyond. The pleasure of those years was the emotional attachment; the sense of belonging. Going to a local “non-dom” primary school could be agonizing as Rangers waltzed to 9-in-a-row however the joy of winning the league in ’98 was magnified through the prism of that pain. Now, as a fully-grown adult, I was about to choose a team to cheer on in a language that I barely understood. Was it possible to find a team to share the same connection with?
A bit of research was in order and so I set about picking my Brazilian team. A simple scan of Google images got me on the right path. For someone with a deep-rooted love of my home club it may seem a bit facile to choose a team to support based on the colour of their strip but with only 20kg of luggage to haul with me it was handy when you could mix and match your kits! So, Palmeiras it was. Looking beyond the superficial, the decision actually made more sense. Both clubs founded by immigrants to represent a minority of society (Irish in Scotland and Italian in Brazil). Both clubs with passionate and vocal fans. Both are clubs with a history of playing attacking and exciting football. I’d found a new football home. But surely my passion couldn’t be the same as for the club I supported as a boy?
Well, three seasons down the line I can count myself as being on the way to being a Porco (the club nickname- a denigration of the Italian community embraced as a badge of honour by the fans). Of course it’s a work in progress. Slowly but surely I’m building up a friend group of fellow fans. Slowly learning the songs and feeling less like an outsider. Gradually feeling like I belong in this new family. And the Palmereise have helped this process of assimilation. If I ever turn up to a game in the hoops then invariably I will be stopped and asked about Celtic and why I’m here by people keen to share their love of Palmeiras. Nothing quite matches your first team but I feel I’ve made a good choice for my life in Brazil. Then again everything looks good through green and white tinted spectacles!