Soccer City: Brasília – an idea that hasn’t captured football

NATION capitals are very often not the seat of power in football – London, for example, has enjoyed periods of domination, but over the course of the past 50 years, Manchester and Liverpool have been England’s dominant cities as far as the beautiful game is concerned.

Across Europe, a similar tale is told – Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Austria, to name but a few, have seen their capitals challenged and usurped by other cities.

Brasília, the capital of Brazil since April 1960, is different to so many other principal cities, chiefly because it was a purpose-built metropolis for administering a somewhat fragmented country. There are no long-established football clubs in the way both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have the game firmly embedded in their psyche, culture and history.


Today, Brasília has no representatives in the top levels of Brazilian football. It has a notable stadium that hosted games during the 2014 World Cup, but the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha remains a somewhat ghostly place that has been used for a number of different events, but rarely major football.

Tattoo conventions and culinary events have been held at the stadium and it is also used as a bus depot by the local authority, but it sits in a barren landscape and has become shabby. The general consensus tells us there is not a strong appetite to bring top football back to Brasília even though like all Brazilian cities, there are thousands and thousands of passionate fans.

The original stadium dated back to 1974 but the rebuild was designed to make a grand statement for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. With a total cost of US$ 900 million, three times the envisaged bill, It is the third most expensive stadium ever built. As white elephants go, it’s one of the biggest. State officials have hinted it was a mistake to build such a structure in a city like Brasília and have calculated that it will take 100 years to recoup just 12% of the overall cost.

Brasília, of course, is a city renowned for its ambitious and striking architecture. When the city was built in the late 1950s – it took just four years – Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, along with structural engineer Joaquim Cardozo created a number of breathtaking buildings which kick-started the Brazilian modernism movement. Brasília, which was seen at an attempt at creating a utopian city, sat at the heart of the Distrito Federal, a new capital for the nation in an area that was largely undeveloped. In 1960, the population was around 136,000 but today, Brasília has over 2.5 million people. It is regarded as a relatively affluent place, notably around the Plano Pilato, the centre of the city, but elsewhere there are slums and poverty.

In 1960, Brazil was considered one of the homes of the modern game, their national team won the 1958 World Cup and retained it in 1962, and their football was admired the world over.

It takes time to establish a football team, but in a country with legendary names like Flamengo, Corinthians, Santos, Botafogo and Fluminense, all from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, it’s not just about creating something attractive, it’s also a lot to do with changing mindsets. The top clubs from Rio and São Paulo have bigger fanbases in Brasília than any local team has ever had. The people moving to the new capital, largely civil servants and construction workers, brought their club allegiances with them.

These cities have dominated a Brazilian football culture that incorporates beaches, favelas and street football. Brasília’s problem is that many have seen it as being “unBrazilian” in that it has lacked the dynamic of the rich living alongside the poor. While this includes extreme suffering and high crime rates, it also cultivates a form of creative tension and aspiration among young people hell-bent on escaping the deprivation through football. But it could be changing as Brasília confronts classic Brazilian problems of inequality, congestion and urban sprawl.

Many footballers have come from poor and deprived neighbourhoods but the Federal District has produced some excellent players, such as Kaká, who was born in Gama, close to Brasília, and Felipe Anderson of West Ham United.


Creating new, local clubs with a credible following has always been difficult, some have been formed by entrepreneurs that have fallen by the wayside. The oldest professional club in the city is Brasília Futebol Clube, founded in June 1975. Playing in a kit that resembles Arsenal’s famous red and white, their home ground is the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, but it is simply too expensive for small clubs to host games there. Although they have won the state league (one of the weakest) eight times, they are not even in the Campeonato Brasilense’s top division.

Brasília played in Série A in 2000 when an expanded league (116 clubs) paid tribute to former FIFA President João Havelange. In 2014, they won the inaugural Copa Verde, a regional competition designed to promote football outside of the main hubs, gaining entry to the Copa Sudamericana.

Legião are another club that are supposed to play their games at the Estádio Nacional. They were founded in 2006. They have played in Série C, albeit very briefly. Real Brasília were formed in 1994 and play out at Vila Planalto. They are simply known as Real Football Club today. Teams like Gama and Brasilense have tried to make play at representing Brasília, but the distance from the city to the club is 30km and 20km respectively.

If there can be any comparison with the struggle to make Brasília a footballing stronghold, it is in the new towns of Britain, where migration of people has been accompanied by their clubs, in other words, in locations like Milton Keynes, Stevenage, Basildon and Harlow, establishing a local club has had to overcome numerous hurdles.

It’s unlikely this will change, the best hope for the unloved national stadium is a commercial development that will circle the structure. It might pay, although it’s not what was envisaged. But if a World Cup cannot inspire a city, what hope is there? The old saying is, “build it and they will come”. That hasn’t really happened, has it?


Photo: PA



Soccer City: Why Munich is Germany’s football capital

WHAT chance has any club got when you have Bayern Munich on your doorstep? TSV 1860 Munich, the Bavarian capital’s oldest club, has an unenviable task in trying to get air time when the behemoth that is FC Bayern pervades every side street, kiosk and newspaper.

As a city, Munich has much to offer as well as three professional clubs – SpVgg Unterhaching, formed in 1925, is the other team – it is a stylish and comfortable metropolis. We know it for a number of clichés, beer halls, foaming lager, lederhosen, oompah bands and hearty food that relies heavily on meat, potatoes and bread. It’s the home of BMW and insurance giant Allianz and it has played its part in European history in many ways. Munich’s GDP per person is around € 101,000 which is 40% higher than the national average in Germany. In short, it’s a very prosperous place.

FC Bayern are at the top of the tree – no other German club has won the Bundesliga since 2012 and every aspect of this huge footballing institution is dissected by the public – in Germany as well as in Bavaria. Bayern are loved and hated, admired, resented and envied.

Bayern are one of the world’s top football club brands and form part of the European elite. They are watched by 75,000 people at every home game at their impressive Allianz Arena, making them one of the top clubs by average attendance. TSV 1860 Munich, who are now in 3.Liga, draw an average of less than 15,000 to the Grünwalder Stadium. As for Unterhaching, also in 3.Liga, they attract barely 5,000 loyal fans.

TSV and Unterhaching are like all clubs that reside in a city dominated by a European giant. They are in the shadows. Aside from a TSV club shop in the centre of the city, there’s little trace of Munich’s “other” clubs, which is a pity. TSV were members of the Bundesliga before Bayern and were champions in 1966, three years before their soon-to-be far noisier neighbours. TSV also reached a European final before Franz Beckenbauer and his pals, losing to West Ham United in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup at Wembley.

TSV’s recent history has been disastrous, though, and that’s why they fell as low as the Regionalliga Bayern in 2017 after failing to secure a license to play in 3.Liga following relegation from 2.Bundesliga. The club had been co-owners of the Allianz but they soon realised that the stadium was too big and too expensive for their own purposes. They sold their stake to Bayern Munich for € 11 million and eventually moved back to their beloved Grünwalder. In staving off bankruptcy, the club effectively gamed the 50+1 system that characterises Germany club ownership, allowing Abu Dhabi-based millionaire Hasan Ismaik to buy 60%, although Ismaik’s stake only carried 49% voting rights.

If TSV were more prominent in the 1960s, the 1970s really belonged to Bayern as Munich became, arguably, the top football city in Europe. Bayern assumed the crown won by Ajax Amsterdam in 1974, winning three consecutive European Cups. Despite the Dutch dominance between 1970 and 1973, Germany was the centre of European sport – Munich hosted the 1972 Olympic Games and 1974 World Cup as well as Bayern and their three European Cups and three Bundesliga titles. Sadly, the shooting of Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village cast a dark shadow over events, but it could not erase the efforts made by West Germany to create a modern Olympics with some remarkable architecture, highlighted by the revolutionary stadium that set out to imitate the Alps.

Another reason why Munich has been so important to sport is the work of Otl Aicher, a graphic designer and typographer. Aicher, not a Bavarian by birth, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. His work included the logo for Germany’s airline, Lufthansa and he was commissioned to be the lead designer for the 1972 Olympics. This included the creation of a series of pictograms that illustrated the various sports of the games. His designs lived on and arguably changed public signage – even today, you will walk past a signpost somewhere that bears his influence.

While Adidas was not based in Munich, the sportswear company became the brand that everyone wanted to see on their football shirt and boots in the 1970s. It was “continental” and associated with the most successful and “cool” clubs and players of the period.

SpVgg Unterhaching vs. 1.FC Kaiserslautern 3. Liga

The majority of the faces of 1970s European football, in addition to the Netherlands’ Johan Cruyff, were undoubtedly German – Maier, Breitner, Beckenbauer, Hoeneß and Müller, to name but a few. Uli Hesse, in his book on Bayern (Bayern: Creating a global super club), explained that Bayern’s European success of the period was vital in order to keep these legendary players at the club. Hesse also revealed that their rivalry with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1970s was something of a “Beatles or Stones” situation, although Bayern’s ability to carve-out victory, versus Gladbach’s status as heroic losers, made them unpopular with a lot of people.

Bayern are part of Bavarian culture, their crest features the state colours and it’s a routine for the team to visit the Oktoberfest, dressed in traditional costume. A few years ago, the club launched a lederhosen-inspired strip, comprising a white shirt, brown shorts and white socks with a “calf-warmer” design. The team also wore Alpine jackets and hats to complete the look. Brave as well as respectful to tradition.

Beer, of course, is everywhere in Munich and a visit to the Hofbräuhaus, if you can get a table, is a significant box to tick. There are more accessible venues around the city that also capture the spirit and ambience of the beer hall. There’s no doubt that Munich is steinful of great liquid refreshment!

Aside from the cellars and beer gardens of the city, nowhere is the tradition of beer, sausage and brezel better represented than at a football match. The game and beer have long been bedfellows, although not always for the greater good. But at the Allianz Arena, to name but one footballing venue, the marriage of the people’s game and the people’s elixir appears to create the right sort of vibe. Munich may be a city of beer, but it is also one of the world’s great homes of football.


Photos: PA

Soccer City: Bogotá – do you know the way to Santa Fe?

INTERNATIONAL perception of Colombia, its capital city and its football was, for many years, negative and the very mention of the country would conjure up images of guerrilla warfare, drug cartels and the Bobby Moore bracelet affair of 1970. Thankfully, they are in a better place than they were, and crime is at a 40-year low, although according to Transparency International’s index, Colombia is still one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

From a football perspective, Colombia remains a passionate nation although their golden “narco-induced” period and the more recent upturn have now passed. Even so, Colombia are currently number 10 in FIFA’s rankings and they are among the top 10 player exporters in the world – almost 400 Colombians are currently playing abroad in professional football.

Bogotá, which was one of the world’s most violent cities in the 1990s, is a colourful place with a temperamental climate. It is now a tourist destination and a city rich in diversity and has a cosmopolitan history. Like many Latin American metropolitan centres, Bogotá has significant imbalances around the distribution of wealth, but its poverty rate, at 12.4%, is around half the national average.

Coffee not football

Millonarios fans. Photo: Juan Carlos Pachón. CC BY 2.0

Bogotá, despite being home to two of the country’s big footballing names, Independiente Santa Fe and Millonarios, was not where Colombian football took root, that came in the sea port of Barranquilla (the birthplace of pop singer Shakira) in the early 20th century and was influenced by visiting sailors. Right up until the second world war, Colombia was better known for its coffee than its football, the beverage forming an astonishing 80% of national exports.

After the war, Colombian football became embroiled in an international sporting controversy. Colombian clubs broke away from the national association and therefore, were no longer part of FIFA. The new body, free of FIFA’s restrictions, set out to create an attractive, international league of all-star players, offering huge sums of money to lure top stars. Alfredo di Stefano, who later became the kingpin in Real Madrid’s European Cup successes, and a number of fellow Argentinians, as well as players from England, were acquired, including Stoke City’s international centre half Neil Franklin.

Clubs like Santa Fe and Millonarios sounded glamorous to Europeans, but the reality was far from the sun-drenched utopia that was sold to them. Regardless, the new league was popular, drawing big crowds and the football was fast, attacking and full of goals. Nevertheless, it didn’t work out for the English players, who found the extreme poverty startling and also felt unsafe owing to the civil war that was underway.

Millonarios had an outstanding team known as El Ballet Azul (the blue ballet), which included Di Stefano, Adolfo Pedernera, Nestor Rossi and Julio Cozzi. Eventually, the team’s success and a global tour that took them to Spain, turned Di Stefano’s head and he left for Madrid and more conventional triumphs. The duration of El Dorado was brief and for a long while, Colombia were off the international radar.

Bogotá’s top teams, Santa Fe and Millonarios, were both formed in the 1940s and established by academics. Today, they share the Estadio El Campin, a 36,000-capacity stadium inaugurated in 1938 and sitting in the El Chapinero district, now a trendy neighbourhood popular with hipsters and media types.

Capital classic

Diego Valdes of Santa Fe.

It’s the stadium where Colombia won their solitary Copa America in 2001 and if the country had hosted the 1986 World Cup, as originally planned, doubtless where the final would have been held. Although Colombia withdrew in late-1982 due to economic reasons, they were the only major South American country not to default on its debt in the 1980s.

The clashes between Santa Fe and Millonarios are known as El Clásico Capitalino, the capital classic. Attendances vary, depending on whether the derby is in the first-stage Apertura or the second-phase Clausura, but the atmosphere is always intense. In the 2019 Clausura, both clubs averaged 13,000 for their home games, but in the Apertura, Millonarios averaged 16,000 and Santa Fe 10,000.

The Bogotá clubs are not the best supported in Colombia, the highest average gates are seen at Atlético Nacional and Independiente, both from Medellin, Colombia’s second city. These two clubs, allegedly, benefitted from investments by the infamous Pablo Escobar, the drug baron that amassed personal wealth of US$ 25 billion from smuggling Cocaine. At one point, 80% of the world’s Cocaine came from Colombia and the crime rate soared, which included the tragic and shocking death of Colombian defender Andres Escobar, who was murdered in 1994 after scoring in his own goal in a World Cup game that a drug gang had placed a gambled on.

Furthermore, the editor of El Tiempo, after writing that football in Colombia was plagued by drug money, was kidnapped and held for eight months. This was the so-called Narco Fútbol era which also included referees being threatened and even killed and corruption among officials.

Millonarios had their own connection to the Escobar world in their owner during the 1980s, José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, commonly known as “The Mexican”. This period, which resulted in two league titles, is now an embarrassment to the club and its fans. After an assistant referee was murdered in 1989, the league programme was cancelled and Millonarios’ owner killed himself following a battle with police. The drug cartels were controlled to a certain degree, although drugs themselves were not.

Millonarios lurched from financial crisis to financial crisis and by 2010, they were bankrupt. This culminated in the club being acquired by a supporter group known as Azul & Blanco SA.

Their rivals, Santa Fe, have also had their image tarnished by involvement with a drugs cartel. In 2010, they were accused of money laundering after police intercepted two large cash amounts, totalling the equivalent of around US$ 40 million, which had been sent by drug trafficker Daniel “El Loco” Barres.

While Millonarios and, to a lesser extent, Santa Fe, were the dominant forces in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, since the 1990s, the Medellin clubs have been more successful, including Atlético’s two Copa Libertadores triumphs in 1989 and 2016. The closest a Bogotá club has come to lifting South America’s premier club competition was in 2013 when Santa Fe reached the semi-final, narrowly losing to Paraguay’s Olimpia.


The recent local derby.

League titles have been rare for both clubs in the 21st century, Millonarios winning two Clausuras in 2012 and 2017 and Santa Fee finishing top in the Apertura in 2012 and Clausura in 2014 and 2016.

Before football was suspended earlier this year, Santa Fe were faring better than their rivals, losing just one of their eight league games, while Millonarios had won just one of their seven fixtures. The two sides met in March at El Campina in front of 25,000 people, drawing 0-0. Santa Fe have benefitted from the the goals of new signing Diego Valdes, a 29 year-old striker who was signed from Deportes Tolima in the close season.

Bogotá has a number of other clubs, not least another Primera A team in La Equidad, who play at the 8,000-capacity Metropolitano de Techo stadium. Their nickname is the Aseguradores – the insurers, which explains the club’s roots, which date back to 1982 when the club was formed by La Equidad Seguros, an insurance cooperative.

La Equidad are watched by around 3,500 people and struggle to compete on many levels, but they did win the Copa Colombia in 2008. They share their stadium with two other Bogotá clubs, Tigres and Bogotá FC.

These clubs are relatively young clubs and have gone through a number of name changes and have both threatened to leave the city because of lack of support. They are both currently in Primera B and Tigres were propping up the rest at the time of suspension.

When we can we expect to see Colombian football return? This is a million peso question but there has been talk of it coming back in July, although President Ivan Duque doesn’t want the country to be the first in South America to resume.

When it does happen, Bogotá will also welcome back the tourists, for pre-virus visitors to Colombia were at an all-time high, some 4.5 million per year, of which around 60% came from the US and central America. People still have to be careful, but the country has come a considerable distance since a dark period in its history.



Photos: PA