Experiencing Futebol

The futebol bug (AFP)

The futebol bug (AFP)

Brazilfooty is rethinking itself and embracing new ideas to improve the site. As part of the process, we’re inviting authors, travellers and inspired people to contribute. If you think you’ve got what it takes and/or something worth saying, please get in touch. The first new contributor is Eric, an American who has recently moved to Brazil with his (Brazilian) wife and Brazilfooty reader. As a ‘soccer enthusiast’ and with a passion for Brazil, he has already caught the Brazilian futebol bug and started his own blog about Brazilian football (www.footballdobrasil.com). Here are his reflections on the game, how he came to love it and what it means in Brazil. Check it out.

First, before proceeding further, please allow me a moment to introduce myself.  My name is Eric Seiferth, and I am a twenty-eight year old American Ex-pat currently living in Brasilia with my wife and two cats.  As long as I have known myself I have been obsessed with human expression whether it be through music, architecture, visual arts, the written word etc…  And, while all these various mediums for expression have their own proponents, practitioners and intrinsic values, I am particularly drawn to the oldest, the most animal and the most elemental display of our humanness – that of athletic competition.  Since long before the current version of our species existed our ancestors competed with one another, just as every living thing does, for life’s necessities.  As we evolved we began inventing new ways to prove our physical superiority, and as these games have evolved they have become outlets for more than determining the strongest and fastest of us.  Sports provide the participants the opportunity for creativity and thought – for true human expression.  And, it is soccer that arguably provides its athletes with the most malleable canvas for expression.

To truly understand another culture you must first fully immerse yourself within in it; you must eat the food, drink the beer (however freezing and tasteless it may be), read the greatest writers as well as the most base and all that exists between, you must know the people and celebrate their pastimes.  Since my arrival in Brazil, this alone has been my purpose.  What I have learned thus far represents only a minute fiber of the entire quilt I hope to someday sew, but within this fiber is a growing knowledge and understanding of futebol – the national obsession.

There are, to be sure, other sports within Brazil.  People here embrace volleyball, basketball, triathlon and even their own unique and strange combination of cricket and baseball known as bate-ball.  These games, however, live on the margins – on the back pages of the sports daily and in the ghostly appearance of unused, unloved and dilapidated basketball rims hanging solemnly above every futsal court.  And for most they are, as I say, mere games, not true sport, not something to argue over and fall in love with, but something to practice for the sake fun and exercise.

As an American, I have often wondered what it would have been like to experience the glory days of baseball when the sport earned itself the moniker ”The National Pastime.”  In the United States, we have always complicated our lives with multiple forms of sporting entertainment, but for about forty years of the last century (roughly the 20s through the 60s) baseball was king.  To be ”American” was to know who was leading the pennant race and to be able to artfully explain your position on the never-ending question of Yankees vs Red Sox or Cubs vs Cardinals.  In Brazil, soccer, somehow, lives within this idiom.  Speak of soccer and every Brazilian who overhears you will have something to say.

The ubiquity of the sport in Brazil makes it easy to discuss.  Upon meeting a person one thing that first must be determined is what team they support.  A simple, ”which team do you like” quickly solves this problem (there is no need to preface this question with a prior one concerning whether or not the person follows sports – or even if they like soccer, and, obviously, when asking the question the sport is already implied), and the answer immediately indemnifies them within a certain regional or socio-economic group.  Moreover, in the reply people don’t say ”I like Famengo,” they say, ”I’m a Flaminguiesta..”  For many, being a fan of a team provides them with an identity, and a few hundred thousand Brazilians (if not more) belong to social groups based solely around their affiliation with a football club.

It is likely, if you are reading this blog, that you are aware of the enormous, sometimes violent, anti-government demonstrations that have been gripping this nation since even before the beginning of the Confederations Cup, and that (apparently) crescendoed during it.  Living in Brasí­lia I had the opportunity to experience this phenomena first hand, and on the day of the largest demonstration, I found myself square in the middle of the crowd.  Much has and can and needs to be said about these events, but here, with limited space, let me impart that they, in my experience, included feelings of national pride.  Brazilians were expressing their discontent, but, within this idea, they were also expressing their Brazilianess – and football has a place within this idiom.  Few of the protesters had negative things to say about the Seleção.  On the contrary, many protesters held up various signs announcing they were against this or that (typically corruption or overspending or government impunity), not the National Team.  The timing of this movement, if a spontaneous avalanche can include timing, had more to do with the availability of a national soapbox than the hope of canceling the Cup.  This was not and has never been a part of the movement.

Over the past month of June, as the nation hosted the Confederations Cup, I had my first opportunity to see how Brazilians experienced and supported their Seleção.  I had, of course, watched the national team in action at various bars and coffee shops since arriving in Brazil, but these games were only friendlies.  During the Confederations Cup I was hoping to sneak a glimpse of Brazil’s true love and passion for international football.

At times people like to proclaim that certain sporting events in this or that country are in fact national holidays.  In Brazil, when the Seleção plays a meaningful match, it is in fact just that.  If scheduled during a weekday, work or school (to my great satisfaction, my Portuguese class twice experienced this phenomena) is summarily canceled hours before the start of the match.  And the time is used as it should be – in front of a television at a friend’s house or in a bar with a (much too) cold tasteless beer in your hand.  To understand the Brazilian psyche, you must experience this wonderful afternoon, which seems to seamlessly stretch into evening.

Part of what makes the experience so memorable is that it is collective.  Regardless of where or with whom you are watching the Seleção, you know that millions of other Brazilians are doing the same.  And, when you see your friends and colleagues the next day you can skip the formality of asking, ”Did you see the game last night?” and go straight to the meat of the issue, ”What’d you think of Neymar?  About Felipão’s XI?  Wasn’t it a beautiful match?”  The day after games I heard these questions everywhere – at class, on the street, from my housekeeper – and in the most surprising of places, such as the group of sexta and septuagenarian women with whom I attend a weaving class.

With the conclusion of the Confederations Cup less than a week ago, Brazil and Brazilians are now turning their heads back to their teams.  This past Wednesday, the third round of the annual open tournament known as the Copa do Brasil resumed, as did the Semifinals of the Copa Libertadores and the first leg of the Recopa Sul-Américana (Brazilian soccer has no lack of crowns to be won).  This weekend the Campeonato Brasileiro resumes with its sixth (of 38) round.  And, while At this point it is a bit too early into the season to know much about the participants, we can presume the nation will be watching.

Eric Seiferth is an American ex-pat living in Brasí­lia where he studies and writes about Futebol at www.footballdobrasil.com

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4 thoughts on “Experiencing Futebol

  1. Thanks for this post Eric! I hope its the first of many and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on your blog. Look forward to learning about how your thoughts and experiences evolve over time. You post brought back come fond memories for me and I do miss all of the crazy football talk. Everybody has got and opinion and a team. Love it!

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