In most sites of South America football had a similar introduction: brought by european immigrants (mainly english, which explains a lot of team's names) the sport began being played in factories, companies, ports and local clubs, being adopted by the people of the city eventually. In São Paulo it was no different, but football set its roots also in the varzea: the flat area that during the rainy season gets occupied by the river and during the dry season stays empty, where people played the game and even developed an unique varzeano style.
From this scenario 7 professional clubs emerged: Comercial, Juventus, Nacional, Ypiranga, Portuguesa, Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo. Those last 3 are considered part of the 12 big Brazilian teams (also Santos, which is from a coast city with the same name 80kms away from São Paulo).
O Trio de Ferro
Corinthians, São Paulo and Palmeiras form the Iron Trio which virtually sums up the city professional football. Being three, a very interesting triangular relation has been formed throughout the years, normally with two of them on focus and the third one in a low form trying to get out of ostracism. That was the case in the beggining of the 90's when São Paulo had the best squad of their history and Palmeiras got support from Parmalat, forming a superb team too. Later in the same decade Corinthians took São Paulo’s place and played Palmeiras on the Libertadores Cup playoffs two years in a row. In the 2000’s it was Palmeiras time to stay out of focus and watch São Paulo and Corinthians dominating the scene, alternating which has the upper hand through the tabus (a winning streak over the rival).
This triangular relation has another interesting reflex: the freguesias. Historically, Palmeiras beats Corinthians, being the 1999 and 2000 Libertadores playoffs the peak of it. Specially in the second year, the alvinegro team had better players and a significant goal advantage, but managed to lose the second match and see São Marcos, the Palmeiras goalkeeper and idol, hold Marcelinho's, Corinthians idol, penalty kick during the shootout - pretty much the same that happened one year before. The same way, Corinthians usually beats São Paulo, holding a favorable record against the tricolores specially on playoffs. Corinthians is a trauma for the sãopaulinos and a defeat to them can trigger a nightmare crisis that shakes every aspect on Morumbi, even getting coaches fired. Finally, São Paulo always does well against Palmeiras, having beaten them twice in a row in Libertadores playoffs, returning the favor they did to Corinthians, and being the only team to beat them during the Parmalat years, outshining the best team they had for decades.
Football's Role in the Metropolis
The life of a supporter in São Paulo is really thrilling, with something interesting happening with their teams or their rivals all the time. The recent matches are always the opening subject for people - from lifetime friends who mock each other all the time to people that just met and normally take a more respectful approach. You can talk about football almost anywhere in the city, from the bus to a fancy restaurant, and with almost anyone, from the president of a multinational company to the begger on the streets. There is also a culture shared across the whole city, with known opinions and jokes that are told everywhere. In a country with such a tremendous wealth concentration which builds barriers and almost forbids people from connecting and in a city that gets more cosmopolitan each day, maybe football is the only subject that makes people sympathize and actually hear what the other has to say, whomever he is.
It would be a shame to write a text about football in São Paulo and not mention Juventus. The team that was founded in 1924 by the italian colony has remained loyal to it's origins. Always based in the traditional Mooca neighborhood, Juventus remained as a local club, even though the city and the world have changed, grew and became international. The club is nicknamed as Muleque Travesso, or Naughty Boy, since it has always created difficulties to their bigger and richer brothers. Those who attend their matches on the 5.000 people stadium at Rua Javari can experience a trip to the past, where you can breathe the air of the romantic stands, talk to people face to face and live a little of what football used to be. They are few, but managed to stick together and preserve their local culture and identity. For sure, the nickname Muleque Travesso its not just about what they do on the field.
Special thanks to our friends from BabaGol, who encouraged us to write about football scene in São Paulo