I do not remember a single day in all of my life where I did not think about football. My love of the sport and now working with it means I have been in more than 100 stadiums around the world. I have been at Celtic Park, Nou Camp, Old Trafford, both Wembley Stadiums, Hampden Park, San Siro, Maracana but one place knocks them all out… Palestra Italia, or it did. Located in the west end of Sao Paulo it was a temple of football, open at one end if you stood with Mancha you would have an uninterrupted view of the city and palm trees as your backdrop to the game. As the fans jumped up in down to the chants of “GO PIGS” it felt like the stadium could stretch no more and would simply disintegrate but it was essentially a giant concrete trampoline.
The last competitive game at the ground was against Gremio, I went, Palmeiras won 4-2, Palmeiras spent 2 years in the municipal stadium, Pacaembu. When the new stadium opened I hated it, no trees, no decaying concrete instead giant screens and seats.. Allianz bought the naming rights, an insurance company could not compete with the greatest football stadium in the history of the world ever, we all called for the stadium to be Allianz Palestra but the men with the money said no and we settled for Allianz Parque.
I moved to Sao Paulo in 2010. A car crash in 2008 lead to a re-evaluation of priorities. 2009 was dominated by a murder trial I was working on, innocent guy, facing 30 years, I could not leave, I promised I wouldn’t, I resigned on the day “our chap” was found not guilty. I was on a plane to Sao Paulo the next week. On Day 1, my friend Pedro accompanied by his new girlfriend met me to see Palmeiras play Athletico Paranaense in Copa do Brasil. We won, 1-0 I think, no idea who scored but we celebrated with “Sub Zero” beers and pizza… the smell of the street in front of Palestra is unforgettable, stale beer mixed with barbecue smoke as a roaring trade of meat barbecued on skewers goes on.
Palmeiras were poor in 2010 steadily deteriorating until finally in 2012 the club was relegated much to the delight of the Prawns… We went to more games in 2013 than in 2012, part of being a fan is to be stoic in the face of disaster, I adopt the arms crossed, serious face pose when facing humiliation, when Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany I was outraged by the crying fans, these were not real fans, true actually, most were just part timers who only turn up for the big games. Crying is for winning, like when in relegation year 2012 Palmeiras won Copa do Brasil. Luis Felipe Scolari led Brazil to their World Cup victory in Japan 2002, I followed Brazil at that tournament. I met “Felipao” in the foyer of a Tokyo hotel and he was very rude, as such I know he would not answer my question but if he were less rude and did answer he would reply “Palmeiras 2012 Copa do Brasil” when I asked of his greatest football achievement. The team was simply the worst team ever to win anything in the history of football. Betinho our number 9 looked more like an accountant than a centre forward, I doubt he played 20 games and his winner against Coritiba in the final was the only goal I saw him score, but we love to remember that goal!