On Feb 10th, a crowd of over 60,000 gathered at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium to observe Flamengo combat Madureira within the local State Championship – and only a few of them were coming there to cheer on Madureira.
This is remarkable. Madureira are a standard team, founded in 1914. The neighborhood, only a few of miles from the Maracana, may be a hub of traditional labor Rio. It’s a part of the town where might be expected to deal with a serious football club. Much an equivalent is true of Bangu, a touch further out of the town center with a club having been founded in 1904. It is an excellent past; the good Zizinho, idol of the young Pele, played there soon after being chosen because the outstanding player of the 1950 World Cup. Twelve years later the club supplied center back Zozimo to the planet Cup winning team. Bangu, the primary Brazilian football club to field a black player, won the Rio title in 1933 and 66 (Madureira’s best is second place in 1935). On Saturday, Bangu played reception ahead of a small crowd.
In other footballing cities – London or Buenos Aires, for instance – the likes of Bangu and Madureira would surely be much, much bigger. They have identity, history, and catchment basin. So why not in Brazil?
Much of the reason has got to do with the success of Flamengo. Started as a club, Flamengo turned to football at the first of the 20th century. The leading clubs within the new sport were Fluminense, Botafogo and Flamengo, all from the richer South Zone of the town.
In the previous couple of years, belatedly, the club have learned the way to monetarize this power. Getting the finances straight was the event that underpinned the success of last year, when Flamengo cruised to the Brazilian title, won the Copa Libertadores and gave Liverpool a game within the final of the Club World Cup.
It was indeed a magical year. Flamengo won a succession of trendy victories, ahead of packed stadiums singing happily of a “party within the favela.”