BBC BLOGS - Tim Vickery
« Previous | Main | Next »

Football's international language

Post categories:

Tim Vickery | 10:22 UK time, Monday, 24 August 2009

A few month's back on Radio 5's World Football Phone-In (Friday night/Saturday morning, normally between 2.30 am and 4am if you care to join us), the excellent analyst of European football, Andy Brassell, was talking about the first Champions League game he attended in Italy.

He had a shock. An English team was involved, but the match stewards could not speak English. In my wanderings around South America, however, I would get a similar shock if I saw such a thing as a steward.

I have often put forward the view that part of the explanation for the extraordinary global success of football is that the game is a universal language which we speak with different accents.

Football's apparent simplicity contains a vast range of options. A player can pass right or left-footed, short or long, forwards, backwards or sideways, in the air or on the ground - or he can run with the ball if the fancy takes him, and use his head, chest or thigh to bring it under control or move it around the field.

With such variety on offer, individuals and groups can express themselves physically and mentally by the choices they make.

Cultural differences don't only apply to the game on the field. They are also present in the way the game is administered - and the way it is watched

In his groundbreaking book 'Football Against the Enemy,' Simon Kuper described the experience of going to a game in Moscow in the early 90s. "I reflected on what a perfect tourist event a Russian football match was," he writes.

"It was an authentic Russian occasion, for the game was not staged for our benefit, and nobody even cared we were there; the setting and the fans' behaviour was so similar that we could recognise differences between it and England; there were real local passions on display; good sport; and all that for three pence."

Tottenham v Olympiakos in a pre-season friendly

I paid a fair bit more than three pence earlier this month when, back in England for August, I took my Brazilian girlfriend to games at West Ham and Tottenham.

But the point remains. Going to a football match is an excellent activity for visitors, not least because appreciation of the event does not require language skills. She doesn't speak much English (though she can now chant 'Who are you?) but can still enjoy the occasion for itself and also make comparisons with the experience back in Rio.

Many things made an impression on her - the patience of the fans, for example, their perpetual encouragement and reluctance to turn against their own team after a misplaced pass.

But it was the organisational aspects that struck her most - modern, clean, compact stadiums with the fans close to the pitch, numbered seating where the numbering is respected, toilets in excellent condition. All these things combined to create an environment that, unlike Brazil, she found safe and welcoming.

I explained how this is a relatively new development, how a traditional culture of football watching was rapidly replaced following the trauma of Hillsbrough and Bradford and the entry of new money.

There are, of course, dangers in all these changes. Contemporary English football needs its critics, pricking its hype bubble, bemoaning its commercialisation and fearing that excessive prices are excluding the future generation of players and thus jeopardising the soul of the game.

But English football is clearly doing something right. The matches we saw were pre-season friendlies - both with crowds considerably higher than the average in the Brazilian First Division. And the most extraordinary thing is the depth of this popularity.

The same is true of the Championship (for foreign readers, the name used in England to refer to the Second Division) - all Saturday's games attracted crowds over 10,000, with only three below the Brazilian top-flight average of 15,000.

It is powerful evidence for the view that the new money has been attracted in large part because the old culture is so well-entrenched.

I tend to see this in connection with the country's industrial past. In its mass form, British football was the creation of the world's first industrial society, with its sense of community and its labour intensive emphasis on physical strength and reliability.

The domestic game's crisis years were those of the crisis of industrial society and now, in a time of uncertainty and bewildering technological change, football offers an opportunity to get back in contact with the collective values of the industrial age - in this new, safe and sanitized manner which so impressed my girlfriend.

Back in her homeland, a different dynamic is in effect and Sports Minister Orlando Silva is aware that the local game has fallen a long way behind.

"Brazilian football could be better and stronger," he said earlier this month. "There is no pre-occupation in having safe and comfortable stadiums to increase the crowds, or altering the kick-off times to get more people into the stadiums. The problem is that in Brazil the principal source of income is selling players."

The other major source is TV rights, which he touched on obliquely in his complaint about the kick off times - the powerful TV Globo ensures that the big evening matches get underway around 10 at night, after the main soap opera.

This leaves South American football with an awkward question. In a model of administration where, compared with player sales and TV rights, the money paid by the fan at the gate is relatively unimportant, why bother investing in supporter comfort?

Comments on today's piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) I would very much like to hear you opinion on Éver Banega's impending move to Everton. Following observation of Banega's performances throughout the 2007 U20 World Cup in Canada, I had extremely high hopes for his future career. I particularly enjoyed the way he dictated the rhythm of the side with his intelligent and imaginative passing and his performances were reminiscent of one of my favourite players - Juan Roman Riquelme.

Do you think Éver will be equipped for life in the premier league and will Moyes be able to coax the best out of him or will this be another case of a talented player leaving South America too soon and falling by the wayside?

Dean Moran

A) I'm a huge fan, but I share your concerns. I first saw him during the South American Under-20 Championships in Paraguay at the start of 2007, and the excellence of his passing meant that he was in my notebook within the first 30 seconds of the first game.

I wrote at the time in World Soccer magazine that this was a player who would be best advised to develop in Argentina for a few years before making the move - but the money talks, he walked into a very difficult situation at Valencia, was unable to make much of an impression at Atletico and is now heading for another awkward situation at Everton.

I never really imagined him as a natural for the Premier League - but he is much more of an all rounder than Riquelme. He spent a year at Boca playing the holding role in midfield, which put a strain on his defensive abilities but did ensure that the first pass forward was played with quality.

I'd love to see him come off - to do so will take some patience and careful handling from Moyes as well as a real desire to knuckle down and adapt on his part.

Q) I am a keen listener to the World Football Phone In and last time my ears pricked up as you mentioned that the Chilean coach employs a 3-3-1-3 formation, apparently to great success.

I would be interested to find out what you think would be required of the players if a 3-3-1-3 formation was to be employed and if it would be a successful tactic if used in the English Premiership, or any of the European leagues.

My own view is that it would lack width and a team would need to have a star man to boss the midfield in order to make it work, the strikers would need to work hard to find space and the attacking midfielder (the 1, in the 3-3-1-3) would have to be careful not to get pressured out of the game.

Dominic Herring

A) It's a personal thing of Marcelo Bielsa, the fascinating Argentine coach in charge of Chile. He wants to attack, and he wants the game to take place in the opposing half of the field, so he reasons that there is little use in the conventional full back.

He has one more defender than the opposing strikers - ie they come with two, he has three back, two to mark, one to cover and a defensive midfielder in front.

There is no lack of width. The idea is to have the constant creation of two v ones down the flanks, with wide midfielders linking up with the two wingers. The more obvious problem is the space left behind and the vulnerability to the counter-attack.

Bielsa seems to be interpreting the system with more flexibility now than when he was in charge of Argentina at the start of the decade. Then, the central striker seemed to get squeezed into the box without much space to work in. Now there's more inter-changing going on between the central striker (Suazo) and the attacking midfielder Fernandez.

It's a high pressure, high tempo philosophy that requires excellent levels of fitness. Argentina's big problem in the 2002 World Cup was that, drained at the end of the European season, the players didn't have enough gas in the tank to carry out their attacking intentions.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Tim,

    Superb article as usual!

    Like how you mentioned your Brazilian girlfriend too haha!

  • Comment number 2.


    Nice piece. It agree at lot with what you are saying. I have experienced watching football in 10 different countries and thoroughly enjoyed every game, each experience having its own unique features. Hopefully next up is a trip to South America, hoping to get games in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and of course Brazil.

    I must say, Argentina in 2002 were a great disappointment to me. I really fancied them, following their qualifying campaign and quality of their squad, to make more of an impact on the tournament.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great article and a very interesting view.
    However, British football benefited from the emergence of a wealthy middle class who could afford to go to games despite increase in prices.

    I doubt this is the case in Brazil.

  • Comment number 4.

    I used to love to go to midweek evening kick-offs in the UK (Brum's St. Andrews). But over here in Brazil I haven't been to one. This is due to the 10pm kick-off time; getting home around 1-2am and having to wake up for work at 5am, which is normal here, just doesn't make it very appealing. Shame. Globo TV has way too much power - hence soap opera before football and once they stopped live F1 coverage to show Pope's mass in Brazil because they had rights for both and had to choose... I hope the Brazilian clubs or the league administrators would negotiate a better deal with Globo or go somewhere else (Record, ESPN...), even with less money as that could increase gate receipts etc. But I'm not too hopeful of any improvements any time soon.

  • Comment number 5.

    I experienced some of the cultural differences in Spain a few years ago. I travelled over to watch Barca take on Celtic in the Uefa Cup.

    Due to having friends over there we got tickets in the home end for the game. Celtic actually held on for a draw and Barca were knocked out the competition.. (no I haven't been drinking)

    The fans all around me congratulated my team and wished us the best of luck etc.. even though their team had just endured a mighty upset.. I also joined some of them in a post match beer in a bar outside the stadium..

    I was mightily impressed by this and could never imagine it happening very often over here.

  • Comment number 6.

    Did you go to West Ham v Tottenham, Tim?

    Or, if I have understood correctly,you went to a match at West Ham match, and a match at Tottenham.

    Maybe WHU v Napoli, pre-season friendly, then?

    If you take your girlfriend to West Ham v Millwall tomorrow (tues) night, she might not find the atmosphere quite so civilised!!

    Personally, I miss the old days in English stadiums, and maybe that's why I enjoy going to matches in Argentina - that familiar whiff of burgers and urine as you go up steep steps to an open terrace, where fans chant all match long, but, then again, maybe that is a very male perspective?

    The big problem for me, regarding going to football in England today is the expense. And i know I woulkdn't be alone in thinking that, but, as you say, attendances show, they must be doing something right.

    Someone told me that the four biggest league in Europe, in terms of attendances are (in order) - German Bundesliga, English Premier, Italian Serie A, Spanish Liga.

    And 5th is the English CCC.

  • Comment number 7.

    Football stadiums and facilities have of course improved beyond recognition in recent years. I do think this, the massive inflation in players pay packets, the accompanying rise in prices at the stadium and over-exposure on television have all contributed to the distancing of clubs from their traditional, local, hard-core of supporters and I do find that a little sad. Gary Imlach writes brilliantly on this phenomenon in his book "My Father & Other Working Class Football Heroes".

    So many people in Dundee where I live support either Glasgow Rangers or Celtic, and many have now abandoned even this and support English Premiership teams. If I wander round the city centre I see dozens of Rangers, Celtic, Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea tops and very few Dundee or Dundee United tops. Its a very disheartening experience.

  • Comment number 8.

    Living in Brazil I'm often asked about Brazilian football and I'm very careful to discriminate between the array of talent on display in Europe and the poverty of the domestic game. Going to league football games in Brazil is something akin to going to games in the 70's in England, very uncomfortable seating, standing in concrete stadiums, inhuman toilet facilities, awful food. Added to lack of public transport facilities it makes for a horrible experience, let alone the violence in local derbies.

    The interesting thing for me is that will any of this change before the World Cup? In terms of organization Brazil is not a good receptive market for foreigners, if the counbtry cannot provide a better stadium experience it will be an absolute disaster for foreign visitors.

  • Comment number 9.

    3 - you'd be surprised by the size and spending power of the growing Brazilian middle class - the point you don't address is, of all the options available, why the new English middle class choose to spend their money on football.

    4 - an excellent point and one I hope some of the half wits who write tourist guides about Brazil will note. I saw one the other day about how Rio is proudly nocturnal. For some, maybe. But millions are getting up at 5 in the morning and enduring 3 hour journeys to work. Their story never seems to get told.

  • Comment number 10.

    6 - it was west ham -napoli and tottenham - olympiakos.
    Incidentally the napoli fans turned the clock back by having a battle with the police outside the tube station.

  • Comment number 11.

    7 - I like the Gary Imlach book very much - but i do find it very confused on the changing times.
    A journalist whose father was a top quality player, he retraces his dad's career, and the book is 200 pages of condemnation for the way that playes were treated in the 50s and early 60s.
    Fast forward years, he comes back from a spell working in the US, finds English football utterly changed and spends 20 pages moaning about it - without addressing the extraordinary advances made in the treatment of the players - which was the point of the bulk of the book.

  • Comment number 12.

    I cannot recommend watching footie in South America highly enough.Check out below what we learnt on a recent match was suprisingly in montevideo

    Is it no coincidence that bundesliga top the charts whilst providing safe standing/terracing, cheap tickets and moresupporter involvment with running of clubs?

    Brazant -
    On the subject of how Brazil are preparing for World Cup.Apparently, since 2009 the authorities want to prepare the Maracana and the surrounding area for the forthcoming 2014 World Cup by banning the street vendors who feed and water the supporters before every match. A Flamengo fan I talked to over there described the good old days at the Maracana before FIFA stepped in to kill off any traditional Brazilian supporter culture:

    "About the outdoor party that we used to have. Tourists can come along but as with anything else in Rio and tourists, beware of pickpockets!. If you do not wear club colours, it was possible to party with both sets of supporters. The street vendors used to arrive very early to take their place in the street (the first to arrive get the better place and one help another taking care of each other place). The same vendors used to stay at the same place every match. They weren't legal but tolerated by police. The supporters start arriving about 3 hours before (depending on the importance of the match). And you usually go at the same street vendor the more you get used to him (you can negotiate to pay later, you meet the same supporters and get kind of "friends" that meet only for the game, etc). These street parties used to happen with every football club playing at the Maracana or other stadiums. Not only Flamengo."

    One can only assume these vendors are being cleared as they will not be selling FIFA sponsored beer/food.....

  • Comment number 13.

    Tim just wondering if you know anything about three brazilian players ive heard a lot about and whether they would be ready for europe yet, Alex Teixeira from vasco, Marquinhos and Rafael Carioca. Liverpool seem to get linked a lot with players from south america but never tend to pick them up eg Keirrison and Aguero. Another one theyve been linked with is Matias de Federico, is he the kind of player who would be able to adapt physically to the premiership or is he more of a Piatti/ Buonanotte 'midget gem' who would thrive more in spain?

  • Comment number 14.

    For the last 2 to 3 years I have lived in both Rio de Janeiro and Windsor, having the pleasure of continuing to support Flamengo and Arsenal, and share in the delight in watching games at the Maracana and the Emirates respectively.

    From these experiences, I can say the following - watching a game at the Maracana is an experience that I have really enjoyed, especially watching the vibrant crowd. And now even the unpredictability of the Urubu is starting to become part of the thrill for me. Yes, one gets the impression that one is witnessing the negative side of globalization - for most parts, second rate players and some has beens trying to rediscover their way. And for this reason, I have found myself in swearing at a certain player (e.g. Adriano, o imperador) and the next moment chanting his name for displaying flashes of the quality that made him ever so popular in the Serie A. In my opinion, the price which is equivalent to about £10 is fair enough for the quality on display.

    As for the Emirates, need I say no more about the quality of the football or the general comfort, which I believe is what we pay more for - although the atmosphere is just not the same.

    Nevertheless, the fact that I have not taken my 5-year old daughter to the Maracana during her current visit, having taken her to the Emirates a year or so ago suggests that I do have safety concerns that I am not willing to expose her to.

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi Tim,

    Post 4 made me think, what do the players have to say about playing at 10pm? Over here in England I've heard a lot of players in interviews complaining about the early kick offs on Saturdays for the televised matches. Apparently it affects preparation (e.g. they have to eat pasta for breakfast and so on). How does a 10pm kick off affect preparation? What do they do all day?!

  • Comment number 16.

    "But it was the organisational aspects that struck her most - modern, clean, compact stadiums with the fans close to the pitch, numbered seating where the numbering is respected, toilets in excellent condition."

    Tim, the plural of stadium is 'stadia'.

  • Comment number 17.

    Perhaps the thing that will change attending football in Brazil is the fact they will soon be hosting a World Cup.

    The World Cup in South Africa next year will sadly be full of problems, if my South African friends are right:- adequate infrastructure not in place, lack of transport, lack of decent accommodation, local crime and muggings affecting fans trying to travel, etc.

    Following this, there will be a lot of scrutiny on stadia for 2014 and this could lead to things being revamped and upgraded throughout Brazil in time for their hosting duties.

  • Comment number 18.

    16. At 2:17pm on 24 Aug 2009, blindedbyfear wrote:

    Tim, the plural of stadium is 'stadia'.

    And say hello to Mr Pedantic!

    Blindedbyfear, both the plural forms of stadium- stadia and stadiums- are valid in english.

    So Tim is correct and you will find the use of 'stadiums' is widespread. Thanks.

  • Comment number 19.

    Hi Tim;

    Maybe I am slightly old school but I hugely prefered the old days when growing up when going to Rangers games home and away where the stadia were poor, standards on the pitch so so but the atmosphere was 2nd to none. Now when I rarely go home I find myself sitting in the cold and the place can be like museum atmosphere....EPL has a fantastic standard on the park for the top half of teams but it is over hyped and really well merchandised to the world.

    Here in Brasil I like the product although it's seriously under hyped, badly organised and dropping standards but for blood, guts, effort and atmosphere I rate like it my school days, great. Any team can beat another in the top league and I think this is totally refreshing although I fear the title is slipping to one of the Paulista's again. :(

    Given Rio's terrible international bad reputation for violence I have only seen bits here and there at games, a big one at Fla v Vasco a few years ago but generally I would see alot more violence in Scotland, that also includes in an average weekend out too....

    For the world cup they are a million miles away from being able to receive the amounts expected to come, they have mind boggling works to do, I just don't think this country has the infrastructure to do it....even with 4 years in hand....I hope I am wrong though....I just dont don't see the changes coming....

    For me the 10pm KO's are great, finish work and travel comfortly, go to eat, go to game and most importantly who would want to miss an episode of Caminho das Índias!!

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm actually envious of the stadiums and lack of luxury is stadia in Brazil and South America. I'd love to go to a game in England where the seats arent shiny and you can do as you please (not violence) just general stand where you like etc. They might long for our luxury but give me a roughed up stadium and unreserved seating any day.

    The Argentine league in particular absolutely fascinates me, the noise, the colour the passion of supporters like Racing Club, Independiente, Boca, River, San Lorenzo etc in their old stadiums, I would love our football to be like that again, but we get treated to the same stadiums and the same boring methods ala the Madejski, Southampton, Sunderland, Leicester, Arsenal, Wembley. All these bowl stadiums are hideous.

    I know ive basically completely missed Tim's great point, im just living in the past for a bit. Ah the memories!

  • Comment number 21.


    I've just finished a 2 year secondment in Brazil and watched a lot of games while I was there. I was based in Curitiba so the big local teams were Coritiba and Atletico Paranaense. I too couldn't believe how quickly the fans turned on the team and coach as soon as things go bad.

    I was particularly amazed to watch an exciting draw between Coritiba and Atletico whereby the home team (Coritiba) equalised in the final minute of a state championship game, yet when the final whistle blew, not one person applauded the team. It seemed as though drawing was almost as bad as losing!!

    The farce with the midweek games taking place at 10pm also made sure that I rarely went to any midweek games. When I told my Brazilian friends that in the UK, the timing of the soap opera is changed they couldn't believe it!!!

    However, despite the problems, the game I watched at the Maracana between Fluminense and Sao Paulo in the Copa LIbertadores Quarter Final last year will live long in the memory. The atmosphere was truly incredible and the game was a credit to Brazilian football.

  • Comment number 22.

    wow, cant believe there are matches kicking off at 10pm. so those late night matches would finished by midnight? well, south americans are quite into their soap operas but would have thought football trumps soaps in brazil.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Tim,
    Big fan of yours here.

    Speaking of improvements, you've probably heard of a new form of stadium seating in Brazil, which is sponsored by a well-known brand of credit cards. You purchase the tickets over the internet and use your credit card (from the well-known brand) as an access card to the stadium.

    I am a São Paulo fan and my father-in-law, from Porto Alegre, supports Internacional. He came over to visit and wanted to watch a game, and on that day there was my rival (Palmeiras) against his (Grêmio) at Parque Antarctica (other readers: think a Liverpool fan taking an Arsenal fan to Everton x Spurs at Goodison).

    Having heard wonders about this new form of seating, I decided to give it a try and wholly enjoyed. The seats, almost unbelievably, are marked!!!! There are stewards!!!! There is a clean bar, plasma TVs on the lounge, and even a shirt store!!!
    The price was heavy (R$ 80, or 40 USD, plus R$ 10 for parking), but it was packed. Price also has restricted the people there to more well-off families (many children) and therefore the danger level was near zero (though the Italian-blood Palmeiras fans are incredibly foul-mouthed).

    It goes to show that there is an incredible repressed demand for high quality live football experiences in Brazil, especially in São Paulo, Rio and the South. Also shows that it can be done for the World Cup.

    Anyway, the game was a (very entertaining) 1-1 draw, so both myself and my father-in-law left satisfied!

  • Comment number 24.


    I too went to a game in Uruguay, and only cost the equivalent of £5 It happened to be the 2nd legg of the playoff final between Nacional and Defensor. The atmosphere was unbelievable, with fireworks, flairs etc being set off all over the place, and the 2 ends of the stadium bouncing and singing for the whole game. I felt safe, perhaps because we payed a little more for the ticket and were sat in the family area. However, it just makes English football seem so subdued, and expensive, when i can watch it on TV for free


    And as for the the Chilean national team, having spent alot of time there and watching the national team games on TV, it seems all the width comes from Sanchez (arguably their best player) and from Gonzalez in the first half. They're a good side, i was quite suprised about the fluidity and pace of the team

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi Tim excellent article as always!

    I live in Buenos Aires and recently as you know the Government is buying out the clubs debt. I think you could make a good point here when comparing the differences in english football and south american football. Our beloved presidenta Cristina somehow managed to compare the closure of football to the dictatorship?! "She said "the theft of goals on the weekend is like the disappearing of people in the military dictatorship" of course this is ridiculous but it goes to show how football here can be used to pull the wool over peoples eyes, one would have thought 600 million could have gone to better use but like the romans say, "when there is no bread, give them a circus" (or something like that)

    Any thought on this?

  • Comment number 26.

    Guys, there are plenty of grounds in League 1 and League 2 where you can come and go as you please on the terraces. And I'm sure your local club would welcome the support.

    I'm not one of these that look back at the 1980s as the 'good old days' when it comes to stadiums. I was only young then, but I remember being scared witless as the crowd surged forward after a goal at Ashton Gate and having somebody take a pee down the back of my leg at St Andrews.

  • Comment number 27.

    In addition to the failure to attract middle class fans, don't you also think Tim that since the Copa Liberatoradores does not offer such wealth to the clubs, this in turn prevents the clubs from developing their stadiums?

    For the Big 4 in particular, or even more in particular Manchester United and Arsenal, continued participation in the Champions League has enable these clubs to invest in their facilities, as well as being able to tap into the markets in Asia and North America. Brazilian, and other South American clubs, can not hope to even begin to get near the Europeans without an internationally popular continental competition. Would not giving permanent automatic group stages spots for the Copa to the MLS help to address this?

  • Comment number 28.

    Great point! Stadiums do not improve because the income from tickets are not as important as TV revenue. So we have an weird situation in Brazil where the big clubs stadiums have the same top class grass from the European pitches but the same comfort from 50 years ago.

    As a Grêmio fan, I pay 60 Reais a month (about 20 Pounds) for a full membership. But there's no place to park, no numbered seats, no adequate public transport, filthy toilets etc... For the same 60 Reais I could get the pay per view package with all games broadcast live into the comfort of my living room. But passion speaks louder and I choose to go to the stadium.

    So clubs just lay on their fans passion and do not invest a dime on their facilities and often their directors prefer to blame TV and the time schedule.

    Not that 10pm isn't an absurd but many people go to cinema sessions at 11pm on shopping malls and some would probably go to football if they had were to park their cars safely.

    Congrats for the article and for bringing this topic to discussion, since Brazil will be hosting WC in 2014.


  • Comment number 29.

    27 - you're pointing your gun at the wrong target.
    The Libertadores pays out little compared to the Champions League, but a lot compared to the state championships, where Brazil's giant clubs, potentially huge, waste months playing against clubs that barely exist.

  • Comment number 30.

    27 - hard_to_beat - while cash flow certainly is an issue, I have little faith in the directors of Brazilian football clubs to invest any extra income in facilities. More money to the club = more money to the directors. Sorry to be so negative, but I just don't think that the fans and consumers are given much thought or respect here. The elite clubs make millions from selling their star players to Europe every year, but where does all the money go?

  • Comment number 31.

    Tim, if the state championships do not give a lot back to the clubs financially (as you mention in 29.) and if they do not attract enough fans to make gate intake attractive or even television rights - Is there any reason (financial or otherwise) to continue these (somewhat pointless) state championships in the name of tradition other than to give the state FA chiefs something to do/some local influence and bragging rights for the clubs, whilst eating into valuable rest/holiday time for the footballers!
    I know this is not the topic of discussion at the moment - but please can you share your views re this?

  • Comment number 32.

    About Maracana, where I'm more used to go, it improved considerably from a few years ago; violence decreased considerably around the stadium and big fights are relatively rare (though it happens sometimes, in more isolated train stations specially), the toilets are not as dirty as before, and every place has seats (though it doesn't make much difference since everyone stands up when one of the teams has a good scoring chance).

  • Comment number 33.

    31 - it's the power structure of the Brazilian game.
    Who has the balance of power in the choice of president of Brazil's FA? The presidents of the various state federations - who are unlikely to be turkeys voting for christmas (take away their championship, what else do they have to do?).
    The fact that the big clubs are willing to go along with this makes their directors at best feckless.

  • Comment number 34.

    Great blog again. Bbc must be proud that they have you as a blogger.hope i'm not flattering.
    It took me to threshold to write something in reaction to this superb article. In my home,Nepal,theres a league for that takes place for two months,rarely three.since we do not have a rich footballing history and our league and teams are too weak to have own grounds and too poor to press emotion on a'll not believe theres only one stadium we do everything in,in the whole country.
    But,i'll tell you a story. Nepal vs Bangladesh,south asian association football competition.nepal,the home team behind by one goal.the stadium overflooded.i was in worst of the situation,driving on the highway,listening to the commentary. Nepal makes a excellent move pulling the defence to the wings,space created in the mid,a cheeky pass and a lay up.the attacking midfield strikes,almost 20 yards out,straight. The ball hits the horizontal bar and falls into the ground.....inside the line or out,we never knew.the stadium roared and the players ran for celebration.i had never felt that thing in myself ever before.oh,how football unites,how it communicates,how it lurches the man in the swing of emotions to and fro.... Then,theres confusion,with in 3seconds the everything has just happened..the goal disallowed and nepal loses 0-1.the most amazing thing was for me,not the play,the support or the drama. But the roads. and i swear i felt the most loneliest while driving across silent roads of kathmandu and even in the checkpoint the wasn't a single police.
    The heart was broken and from then everything went away. Wars,revolutions,a broken is in the rear gear. For something inside tell me,despite class in football,class in society and classes in everything,football has an appeal even the religions don't have. One more showdown with that intensity will bring element of the grief against what was lost in football,wars and revolution,thats unity. Sorry for being too much off topic but memories and ur beautiful article compelled me to write.thank you.

  • Comment number 35.

    I think the importance of comfortable stadiums (or stadia) to attract the attendance is beeing overrated here, as well as other factors. People don't understand why Brazil, which is supposed to be "the country of football", have attendances lower than in Europe, so they try to find explanations for it. But are there things in life which just happen, without explanation.

    There are many empiric envidences that the stadium conditions are not the cause of Brazil's relatively low attendances.

    1. In Brazil's first division there are 2 new stadium that are relatively modern compared to the others (though not close to the European ones): Arena da Baixada of Atlético Paranaense and Olimpico Joao Havelange of Botafogo. The attendance of both clubs did not rise as a result.

    2. Clubs in the Northeast and North of Brazil have better attendances than the Southeast and South, if you take in consideration the relative importance of them, of course. But the conditions of the stadiums there are even worse.

    3. In the recent year there was some improvements in most stadiums indeed. The concrete stands were replaced by seats. No impact on attendances, again.

    4. Attendances in England used to very high much before the modernization of the stadiums.

    5. Most people that go to football matches go to it to watch football, not to be in a comfortable place. Indeed, when the tension is in a high (like when the home team is pushing for a draw or playing very well) most people just stand, ignoring the seats.

    Other reasons mentioned as posible causes for the smaller attendances in Brazil, and the rest of South America as well, were the lack of quality on display, violence and bad public transport. Again I disagree with them all. In the 90's and 80's, when the emmigration of Brazilian footballers to Europe was tiny compared to today, the attendance was the same or worst than the attendance today:
    Violence could cause an impact, but I don't think it is the case. There is violence, but in 99% of the cases it is people seeking violence against people seeking violence. Clashes between the "organized supporters". Very rarely an inocent is caught between. If violence and public transport were really the cause, than the attendance on the smaller non-capital cities, where football-related violence is rare and the distances smaller, would be higher (relatively, of course). But again it is not the case as it is well known.

    What I do think that causes an impact is the time of the match. 22:00 wednesday matches clearly have smaller atendances compared to saturday and sunday, but that doesn't explain the small atendances at saturday and sunday.

    So why Europe has higher attendances? Maybe it's just a cultural thing. We don't have to have an explanation for everything. Can anyone explain why the average attendance in Germany is 42,000 while in Spain, which has a league clearly superior, is 28,000? What about Argentina having 21,000 of average attendance, more than the 17,000 of Brazil? Isn't the Argentinian league clearly in a worst situation than Brazil considering quality, violence and stadia? No, no one can. It's just cultural. Maybe Germans just like to go the stadium more than Spanish. Maybe English people just like to go the stadium more than Brazilians. Can anyone explain why such a boring sport such as golf is so popular in Britain and the US? Impossible.

  • Comment number 36.

    I used to go regularly to the Arena da Baixada of Atletico Paranaense and although it is indeed a very nice and modern stadium, there are still problems, mainly due to the stewarding and policing.

    I remember one game whereby the stadium was full to capacity and yet, when I got to the numbered seat as shown on my ticket, I saw that there was already someone sat there. When I asked the steward to move the person they just said that it was free seating!! Needless to say, this ensured that the aisles were full of people sat down as they couldn't find seats next to their friends etc. I was shaking my head in disbelief that their could be free seating for a capacity crowd. Imagine that in the World Cup!!!

    Another problem was when I arrived for a game against Sao Paulo 30 minutes early and found that the police were only letting a few fans through at a time. This meant that a large amount of people missed the kick off and tempers were starting to get frayed. I've also experienced this before watching England in Denmark and it had the same result. People got agitated and angry and a riot almost ensued.

    The infrastructure in Brazil certainly needs to be improved in time for the World Cup as due to the huge distances between cities, air travel is a necessity and this is both unreliable and expensive in Brazil. I've almost missed several planes due to the gate being changed either at the last minute or without even advising people and so for tourists that don't speak Portuguese, this will be a huge problem.

  • Comment number 37.

    #35 GustavoCL - great post, totally agree

  • Comment number 38.

    One of the reasons Football does so well in England is that 50,000,000 people are packed together into a tiny island. And even the poorest of them can usuually afford to see one or two games a season.

    Brazil, by contrast, is vast, desperately poor and relatively empty. So I think some allowances have to be made.

    Having said that, I live in Sweden - vast, relatively empty but by no means poor - and football here sounds more like the Brazil version; small crowds and old stadiums. (True, we dont have the violence and people do sit in the proper seat - where there are seats. And all the stewards speak fluent English!)


    Wherever you go, it's still football.

  • Comment number 39.

    This leaves South American football with an awkward question. In a model of administration where, compared with player sales and TV rights, the money paid by the fan at the gate is relatively unimportant, why bother investing in supporter comfort?


    You can't apply the same logic in the UK and Brazil, the societies there are very different.

    People did not stay away from old stadia in the UK for lack of comfort, they stayed away because football was seen as a game for louts. The investment in new stadia (I have seen this with the Liberty in Swansea by the way) went a long way to improving the image of the club and it was this (plus the novelty factor) that attracted a different type of fan to the games.

    Comfort wise yes it is nice to have a decent refreshment bar and nicer toilets but I know no one who ever stayed away from a match because of either of those not being there. The seating and stewarding are also not really anything new as half the old stadium was fully seated exactly the same as now, and that is the section that was always the emptiest in the past!

    No it was not the facilities that were the problem for our new general fans (corporates are different of course), it was purely image. The new stadium was seen as a new beginning for the club, a sign of hope for better things in the future and leaving behind our crumbling past.

    One last proof for you, our attendances began climbing significantly from the time that the new stadium was announced, indeed between 02/03 and 04/05 (stadium was announced in late 03 and completed ready for 05/06) our average attendance went up from 5,159 to 8,457 (a 63% increase). There was then a big jump to 14,111 in the frist season in the new stadium but that was also accompanied by a promotion to league 1.

  • Comment number 40.

    Another gem of a blog Tim.
    Good work

  • Comment number 41.

    I also think some hard facts should be mentioned about the average persons salary to be able to go to the stadia. The government minium wage is something like R$480 per month on todays rate that is £160 per month, my girlfriend is a bank manager in Rio she gets about R$2500 before a whopping 30% is taken by the said government.

    1022 favelas are in Rio and are growing and growing.....I drive to the old home land of Ronaldo Bento Riberio every Sunday and every time I get angry with the government for just closing their eyes to the zona norte in Rio for what must be atleast 25 years, zero road maintenance, zero street lighting, zero road signs.....I could go on on on...why oh why I always ask myself....but there are some of the nicest people I have ever met in all life reside here....

    The point is that the Football club directors are exactly the same as the government senadors, they just take take take, there is no investment for the people, club or infrastructure, this comes from education from the word go....even Stevie Wonder can see how criminal this corruption is....its plain to starts at the top and goes all the way down...

    To introduce 37 new buses into central Rio with Wi Fi internet and tv is the cherry on top of the cake....please please fix the roads and install street lighting first.....World Cup and Oylmpics....I ask myself....ohhh dear !!

    But the really annoying thing is, with a good solid investment and organisation Flamengo could really be the super power team here, recent shirt sales of the new kit sold reportadly 250,000 in the first doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out if they had a team at the top of the league or even top 5 that the Maracana would be bursting at the seems.....its like the Pre Salt oil here....bursting at the seems of $$$$$$$ just needs the infrastructure !!!!!!!!!

    Marcio Braga, José Sarney and co hang your heads in shame......

  • Comment number 42.

    41 -mine earns less than the minimum wage despite working 6 days a week - call centre jobs don't accumulate enough hours to qualify.

    Remember the first time i stayed with her in the North Zone - Realengo, back in 1996. Had a meeting at 8 in the morning in a newspaper office - down a long road, but with no traffic 20 minutes on the bus.

    What time should I wake up?- i asked her. 5.30, she said. What? Don't think I slept. Was at the bus stop at 5.30, and couldn't get on a bus -they were so packed already. Made it in the end - another bus to the train station, train and then a wander.
    But, as I think i mentioned earlier on, there are millions doing this journey every day.

  • Comment number 43.

    Indeed comfort itself it's not enough to improve attendance immediately. But it helps to create a long term habit. Imagine how many parents do not bring their kids to the pitch because their afraid of violence. Or how many sports fans abandon the habit of going to the stadium because they're can't stand up for 2 hours nor to park their cars miles away because there's no available parking. Atletico's Arena da Baixada helped the club indeed and will bring even more in the future but problems like stewards that don't give a damn on the fans safety still will keep some of them away.

  • Comment number 44.

    It's a catch-22 that having read this blog and responses, will not be solved any time soon. We have fans here now in England that miss 'the good old days' and me as an adult male I wish things were a bit more like that now... I would rather pay £10 a ticket and stand at a dump with dreadful facilities.

    Obviously if I were a youngster, a pensioner, a family man, a lady then my view would probably be different.

    Maybe they'll need a tragedy like we did to get their stadia sorted but not everybody reacts to a tragedy like us though so maybe that wouldn't shake things up that much.

  • Comment number 45.

    Exceptional article Tim. I really enjoy reading your blog.
    I am leaving in UK now for 9 years (9 rocky Chelsea years...).
    I must say that I still follow form here Santos FC and always followed them when in Brazil since I was 4 years old.
    The thing that most captivated me was simply the differences between the football experience in Brazil and UK and also their curious similaritiies.
    Football in Brazil is mainly monopolized by Globo (which I hold a GBP 3.00) that has a real big say on the timing ofthe games.
    This is exactly what happens in UK with Sky actually. Even dates of games are swapped after fixture lists are produced and although some may moan about the "brazilian ladies first" (soap before footie - very useful for me there when my girlfriend or family would like to get the soap so I woul dnot need to trade in times or fetch an extra TV set) but what about the 15.00 and 17.00 kick off and Monday night game in UK?
    The only difference I actually find is TV access in which Brazil is more open to everyone and in UK the price of a Sky Package + TV License + Sky Sports Package may make you wonder why not go to the stadium after all.
    In Brazil, where there are no TV License, football is on open air TV on Globo, you may have potentially endure quite a journey form SP to RJ to watch a Corinthians x Flamengo, etc... People may definitelly feel more relaxed in getting themselves a new TV set rather than a season ticket (I am not sure this is available in Brazil anyway... shame on me...).
    The violence on stadiums can be a serious problme in Brazil unfortunatelly but nost of the games tend to be peaceful apart from the derbies ones. Just like watching West Ham x Millwall in the Cup or them against Tottenahm, Chelsea, etc. Suffice to say that as much as the British media prioritize Celebrities News and cult, the brazilian media (including TV) are absolutelly glued on criminality and violence and this may of course have an impact on football there.
    All in all, I think that, like the British game, the Brazilian one follows a similar pattern (although with different end) in regards to TV and also external influence to the game (society, reality of people).
    I only believe that, certainly with the advent of World Cup in 2014, Brazil will turn their football more comercialized and this may have an impact to take the game away from the masses.
    But, given the freedom of practicing the game and the fact that the masses actually, except in rare exceptions, produce what is best in talent, we may have just the same staus quo once the World Cup passes by regardless if Brazil win on not in home soil.

  • Comment number 46.

    Just a little amendment on my comment.
    When I mentioned that I hod a GBP 3.00 in regards to Globo, what I meant to say is that I pay monthly GBP 3.00 to Globo to be able to assist their programs (including full coverage of the Brazilian Championship) via net.
    A good internet connection and some patience not only with the time of the game but also the time difference really pays off. :-))

  • Comment number 47.

    35 GustavoCL - I think you'll find that the state of the economy and ticket prices are more important than any cultural differences. As has been mentioned above, loads of people in Brazil earn less than R$480. Consider then that a normal ticket price - at least at Marumbi for Sao Paulo FC's games - is about R$40 (and I've paid more than R$100 for some games for family stand seats). That's nearly (or more than) 10% of many people's monthly salary. It would be more or less the same as ticket prices being £200 in the UK; I don't think many stadia or stadiums would fill in with those prices!

  • Comment number 48.

    I'm not old enough to remember standing at matches in Britain, but I have just come back from Argentina and watching Racing beat Boca in the Juan Peron stadium, stood jumping up and down on the top tier as the whole stadium started to shake, is a million times better that sitting on a plastic seat in a comfortable stadium completely devoid of atmosphere.

    As for claims about now everyone being able to enjoy watching the game these days in Britain - I totally disagree. You're not allowed to show any real form of emotion, impulsive language is frowned upon and you're left cheering a bunch of mercenaries who have no ties whatsoever to your club. Where's the enjoyment in that for the real football supporters if grounds are now tailored towards the corporate hospitality sections? Give me the Argentine football experience any time!

  • Comment number 49.

    Hi Tim...
    I have just posted this afternoon my comment 45 (and 46 as a matter of fact) about the game in Brazil and UK and mentioned about the concerns about watching some derbies...
    Guess what: Trouble today at West Ham x Millwall game.
    I do mention only as a show of how similar sometimes Brazilian and English football is since usual in Brazil the thing is the same: only big derbies (or classicos as they are called) in Brazil atract this risk.
    If someone cared to watch for example any other games in Brazil, like for example Atletico PR x Internacional RS or, let's say Barueri/SP x Goias, trouble is quite rare contrary to a Corinthians x Palmeiras for example

  • Comment number 50.

    Clacky1, you seem to have had advance warning of the trouble at West Ham-Millwall tonight. Anything you say may be taken and used in evidence... ;-)

  • Comment number 51.

    Interesting article on the cultural side, especially the bit about visiting a Russian football match. My own experience is similar. In a foreign country there are two places that are a must, the local supermarket / market (an immediate indicator of culinary and economic culture) and the local stadium. On the football field in Italy, in the eighties, I was educated towards my first unasked for swear words by opposition Italian teams and years later to the soured humour and frustration on the concrete seating of the Centenario in Monte where football pervades the air of a still proud footballing nation. Markets in Montevideo are interesting where medals and other such football paraphanalia can still be picked up from the 1930 World Cup. Football banter enables immediate casual intimacy in South America. My Englishness becoming secondary to the state of the global game. I suppose that's one definition of globalised citizenship.

  • Comment number 52.

    Ha, ha, firstmanonthe sun.

    I am a West Ham fan, but currently live in Argentina, and haven't been in England for a few years, but I even out here, I could sense something like that was going to happen tonight.

    But just from reading through comments on West Ham fan forums, a lot of people have observed another cultural shift tonight.

    I know that the average age of a West Ham season ticket holder is over 50 these days, and apparently a lot of the trouble tonight outside the ground, was caused by groups of fat, bald, middle-aged men.

    Is that a particualrly English footballing cultural phenomonen?

  • Comment number 53.

    Conducive composition of place is what makes Jogo Bonito a massive and exciting spectacle in England and in many other parts of Europe.

    Nature has been extremely kind to people in the Northern Hemisphere providing rain and even snow year after year. As a result there is plenty of fresh water for the upkeep of lush green lawns and for the maintenance of dressing rooms, sanitation and hygiene.

    By and large in England and in Europe kids are initiated in protecting and respecting public property throughout their formative years. In most instances vigilant supervisors prevent things from going out of control.

    In many developing countries water is still a scarce commodity. There are months when people and animals suffer due to lack of water to drink, leave alone to maintain grass on football fields.

    Tim's "Football's international language" is indeed a thought provoking article. It brings memories of my pilgrim days as a staunch devotee of India's mighty Dempo Sports Club from Goa.

    Having watched these Asian giants for years on Goan football grounds in Bicholim, Mapusa, Panjim, Margao, Vasco and as far as Mumbai, Delhi, Ludhiana, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and elsewhere, I begin to understand this concept of "football's international language" which you have so nicely put before us.


    Dr. Cajetan Coelho


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.