"We have more than eleven thousand tickets, come to São Paulo and spend enjoyable moments, everything will end up good for your supporters."
The words came from António Carlos Corcione, a spokesperson for Palmeiras football directory. The year was 2010, and his aim was to lure those who supported Fluminense, the tricolor, the colourful sibling from Rio de Janeiro's host of clubs, who back then was fighting to win its third Brasileirão. Most importantly, it provided one tip of the irony that took three years to find its counterpart.
Flu's struggle stretched further than anyone would have predicted. The match against the Verdão, the Brazilian for big green, as Palmeiras is known and called around the country, came in the penultimate round of a lengthily competition, where consistency comes as an obvious appreciation. The palmeirenses had little to praise for: thanks to a quiet mid-table presence, their last show on the pitch would be nothing more than a see-you-next-year-wave towards their supporters. It should have been the case, but the torcida made sure it came down to much more than that.
A victory was vital for Flu. Coming back with a pocket full of three points from its travel to the most populous Brazilian city made sure that, in the following week, they only relied on themselves to end the season in glory. Curious enough, it seemed that even the Palmeiras fans hoped, in fact, wanted their team to be defeated. Why? Simply put, because a loss would keep the club that trailed Fluminense away in the standings. And that club was Corinthians, their neighbouring enemies, their arch-rivals, the sole name whose disgrace would rejoice the torcida alviverde. Hence the welcoming words spoken by Corcione.
Palmeiras had the chance to ruin their biggest rival’s aspirations to conquer the title. All they had to do was give the three points away to Fluminense.
"If it came down to me, we wouldn’t even enter the pitch, we would lose due to no-show."
It reached a point where Vlademir Pescarmona, the club’s football director, suggested Palmeiras could simply hand the defeat on a silver platter, only to withdraw from its stance days later, admitting it had been too much to say. In words perhaps, but it showed that his mind shared the torcida’s mentality. Even Luiz Felipe Scolari, their coach at the time, joked about not even knowing which team was he going to face.
One only had to throw a glance towards the stands on that match day, two Novembers back, to witness a stadium that seemed to cheer only for the visitor’s side: Palmeiras fans waving signs, asking their team to lose, while many others hugged the Flu’s supporters that had travelled all the way to the Arena Barueri, in São Paulo. In the end, everyone hailed the 2-1 tricolor victory. But throughout the match, the home crowd vigorously booed Dinei, when the Palmeiras forward opened the score, and insulted Deola, the alviverde goalkeeper, each time he stopped a Flu ball from going in. A week later, Fluminese would take the title, and most importantly (for the palmeirenses), it meant that Corinthians ended up second.
This was the middle sheet of a three-page story. The first one was written the year before, also in November, and by then it was Palmeiras who was fighting for the title and had to travel to Rio de Janeiro, to visit a Fluminense side who had spent 27 weeks within the relegation zone. The tricolor desperately sought to recover and rescue points that could let them stay among the 20 top teams of Brazilian football. This time around, each torcida managed to stick with its own team, as the controversy only came with a disallowed goal that prevented Palmeiras from equalizing. Luiz Gonzaga Belluzo, the then Verdão’s president, considered the match was “the realization of all the bad stuff there is in football, a fixed match”. For Fluminense, it came as part of a 11-game invincible streak that saw the club stay in the top flight and avoid relegation, when they had only 2% chance of doing so.
The last page of this story started writing itself on the 11th of November, one that also brought the other tip in of an ironic string that laced together another tricolor title. With Palmeiras mixed along in the process, of course.
Flu battled its way through the Brasileirão and managed to show up on top in the final rounds of the league, chased by the newly strong Atlético de Mineiro, pushed by a rejuvenated touch of brilliance in Ronaldinho Gaúcho's feet. Three Sundays ago, a win was enough to secure the title, and once again in a duel with Palmeiras, which now played the role of the struggling side that desperately was trying to avoid relegation.
This 3-2 defeat was not greeted with the same cheers that, three years back, echoed through thousands of voices in the stadium. Now, the supporters tasted the sour part of the same result, which they had covered with sweetness in 2009, and once again, the torcida alviverde turned against its team. There was no São Paulo rivalry behind this one, but rather an increasing frustration raised by the danger of being drawn along with Palmeiras to the Série B – if they failed to avoid going under, it would be the second relegation in a decade. Instead of supporting a team that only four months back had won the Copa, the Brazilian cup, the fans instead started to threat the players, ravage some of the club’s shops in the city and spray graffiti messages throughout São Paulo, asking for Arnaldo Tirone, the Palmeiras president, to resign.
The last words wrote themselves a week after on the pitch - an hour and a half throughout a bus drive pressed the full stop. Palmeiras was coming back from yet another trip to Rio Janeiro, from which they were left with only a point to carry within their luggage. This sole point, hand in hand with another one that fell on Portuguesa’s lap – a team which also fought against relegation – made the return trip to São Paulo look, and feel like, a ride back to the pit they had fallen in ten years ago.
It truly was. Irony, surely, was there until the end: the alviverdes only got that point after barely drawing against Flamego, Flu’s bittersweet rivals from Rio de Janeiro, same city where Portuguesa took the other dark point away, from their battle with Grémio, one that assured their survival in the Brasileirão.
Most of all, irony taught the Verdão how to hate Flu. Once again.
Diogo is a journalist from Portugal. You can read more of his work here.