I meet Claiton and his family on the underground en-route to Itaquera, the home of Corinthians and the battle ground for not only three points but the hearts and minds of some special supporters. A friend from playing football, this is our first time watching a game together. When I told him that I was part of this blog and looking to write about supporters of different teams, he immediately invited me to this fixture - an example of the hospitality extended to me from everyone I was to meet. Today is Corinthians x Bahia. Maybe not a standout fixture in many households, but the game of the year for this family. Claiton relocated to Sao Paulo for work, but has kept his love of EC Bahia alive from afar or, on occasions like this, by getting to the game when they come to town. With two young sons, it provides a great chance for them to stay aware of their roots in the North-East and keep in touch with fellow internal migrants who, for one reason or another, have ended up far from home. What better way for a father to bond with his sons than a shared love of a football team? One hitch though: Mum supports Corinthians!
As we shoot along the red line to the brand new Arena Corinthians, Claiton breaks the bad news to me. Pedro, his eldest, will be in the home end. The boys have attended games since before they could walk. In fact, Pedro’s first match was as a three month old attending a final in Bahia. But times have changed and here we are with him heading to his first game as a Corinthians fan. I ask Mum, Jeane, if she has any fears about her son becoming a fan of a notoriously tough “team of the working people”. The answer is no. Yes, there is a bad reputation and yes, there are some bad apples but no worse than any other team. This is a fact borne out by the swathes of families I see in and around the ground. I turn to Claiton. How does he feel about his first born choosing a team other than Bahia? He’s magnanimous if still very disappointed. As far as I’m concerned it beats him joining the masses of PSG and Barcelona supporting kids that litter every playground and football field in the country.
And so to the game. We are joined by friends and family from both sides and make our way up the hill to the stadium. And then a twisting of the knife, as Pedro gets his first Corinthians jersey. Time comes to part ways. Jeane and Pedro go their way and myself, Claiton and Gabriel, the youngest member of the family, head towards the away end. And then it happens, an act of resistance, Claiton gets Gabriel’s Bahia top out of his bag. Gabriel’s smile is as big as Dad’s, and as we mingle with the fellow Bahia fans I can’t help but hope it stays this way. The sense of community and sharing of an experience is unlike any I’ve experienced at a Brazilian ground. Everyone is in it together and Gabriel is in the right place. Clinging to Dad, Gabriel soaks in the atmosphere, a mix of giddy excitement and awe on his face. Although a brand new stadium, the Arena Corinthians is quite open to the elements and as the drizzle becomes rain, a lady behind Claiton offers to shelter Gabriel from the elements. Again the sense of belonging, of being one of the family, shines through despite the miserable weather. A notorious venue for boisterous home fans, the game's noise and action heats up as the game goes on and it finishes in a crescendo of goals in the final few minutes. It ends 2-1 to Corinthians and they jump ahead of Bahia in the league. However, the real result that matters is that of who the boys have chosen to support. That ends 1-1. I guess a draw is a fair result, no matter the score!