It looms on the horizon as our car heads south, passing residential neighborhoods, growing ever larger as we approach. Even from afar, there is no mistaking who owns this sacred ground, so steeped in Brazilian football (soccer) history, the red, black, and white of São Paulo Football Club standing out brightly from the freshly painted walls.
The stadium is officially known as the “Cícero Pompeu de Toledo Stadium” – though if you ask residents of the booming metropolis of São Paulo about the ground by this name, you will likely be met with blank stares. It is better known by its informal name, which is taken from the relatively upscale neighborhood where it is located. It is breathtaking to behold, and enormous both from the outside and from within. It is the Morumbi (moh-room-BEE).
Inaugurated on October 2, 1960, it is one of the most famous stadiums in football history, having seen some of the sport’s greatest teams make the victory lap throughout its over half a century of existence. It is also, remarkably, not one of the stadiums that will host matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Excluded by FIFA for dissatisfaction with proposed reforms (with some claiming political intervention – former Brazilian President Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva, who guaranteed Brazil’s right to host the international football tournament, is an avid supporter of São Paulo FC’s archrivals Corinthians), the stadium nevertheless remains an essential landmark for those hoping to acquaint themselves with the game here in South America – be it on Match Day or any day of the week.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Morumbi has a bar inside the main structure of the stadium, the Santo Paulo Bar, to whet one's whistle prior to the match or on non-Match Days (it is illegal in Brazil to sell alcohol during matches) or to grab sandwiches or finger foods ("petiscos" in Portuguese).
Another option is the Japanese restaurant Koji, which offers sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese dishes. Inside the stadium there are snack stands with tables selling soft drinks and fast food, generally hamburgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, and Arab kibes (KEE-bees) and esfirras (ess-FEE-has), which are staples of Brazilian fast food, as well as soft drinks and water.
Snacks are also available from any one of the mobile vendors working the stands on Match Day. As elsewhere, stadium food can be more expensive than food elsewhere, so you may want to wait until after the match to visit one of the many malls near the stadium for a bite to eat, or eat at one of the kiosks outside the stadium. Brazilian street food can be a bit dodgy at times, but a good tip is to observe which kiosks the locals are visiting and buy your food there.
Brazil may be famous for its wild street parties and parades during "Carnaval," and for the intense passion its fans have for the Beautiful Game; however, unless you are lucky enough to watch a match against local rivals Corinthians, Palmeiras, or Santos (called "clássicos" in Portuguese) or one in the South American continental tournaments, the Libertadores Cup or the Sulamericana Cup, the sheer size of the Morumbi may at first make the atmosphere appear somewhat less intense than one might expect (though infinitely more appealing to visitors with small children).
However, that is not to say that the crowd atmosphere is not worth the price of your ticket, particularly if you make your way down into the concentration of fans in the lower-priced seats, and you can easily see where Brazil's fanatical reputation arises. Crowds of anywhere over 30,000 are recommended for the true fan experience. The official capacity stands at just over 67,000, though the stadium rarely sees crowds that large apart from the aforementioned "clássicos" or South American tournaments.
The seats are comfortable, but don't plan on remaining seated for long, particularly in important matches, as Brazilians prefer to stand. The São Paulo State Tournament runs from January to April, with the Brazilian Série A season running from May to early December. The Libertadores Cup and Sulamericana Cup are in the first and second semesters, respectively.
The Morumbi neighborhood around the stadium is largely residential; however, the stadium is a quick taxi ride from important shopping centers and malls in the relatively upscale part of the city, offering a broad range of restaurants, stores, and services. In addition, the neighborhood is relatively safe, as it is distant from the notorious favelas (slums) in São Paulo.
There are improvised kiosks and tables selling food outside the stadium, as well as unauthorized souvenir vendors peddling cheaply-made flags and knock-off jerseys. Though illegal, the police seldom bother them or their customers; however, the products are of generally low quality compared to the officially licensed products available at the official shop inside the stadium.
If you do desire the more intense experience of a "classico" or a cup match, a bit of caution is advisable; though the "São-Paulinos" (as the São Paulo supporters are called) have traditionally had a reputation for being more upscale than their crosstown rivals Corinthians or Palmeiras, they are very passionate about their club.
A trip to the São Paulo FC Team Shop inside the stadium, or any of the sport stores in malls in the city, to purchase a team jersey or t-shirt is strongly recommended. Failing that, wear either white or red. Avoid wearing all black or any green items, as these colors are identified with Corinthians and Palmeiras, respectively, and will likely draw an adverse reaction.
Once properly attired, the experience is something without parallel in most parts of the world. The São Paulo fans are as passionate and intense as any in Brazil. Use your cell phone to record videos or take photographs - particularly of the lower-priced sections where the ultras ("torcidas organizadas" in Portuguese) gather. Unlike games in many parts of North America, South American stadiums have special sections reserved for visiting teams' fans, with special access points to and from the stadium. Try to identify these areas (outside the stadium a police cordon is usually one indication; inside the stadium there is an actual wall isolating the visitors' section, located in the upper deck) and avoid them if possible. The passions involved can quickly become violent, with projectiles being thrown by both sides and police entering the fray with batons swinging and few questions asked.
The one drawback of going to the Morumbi is getting there. The easiest way is to take the efficient São Paulo Metro along the Number 4 Yellow Line ("Linha Amarela" in Portuguese) to Butantã Station, currently the final stop on the line. There, it is a good idea to grab a taxi (white cars with red plates in São Paulo) with other fans to get to the stadium, thus splitting the cost of the R$20.00-30.00 real fare (=US$ 10.00-15.00 dollars). The more adventurous can opt for trying the bus, taking one of the following lines: Terminal Campo Limpo (8700, 809P, 857A, 857P e 857R), Jd. Guarau (775P), or Jd. Jaqueline (6250-10). An easy bet is to follow the white- and red-clad supporters on their way to the match.
Construction of a metro station nearer the stadium along the Yellow Line is underway and is expected to be up and running by 2014.
Watching football in South America is a must for any fan of stadium atmospheres, and a visit to the Morumbi on Match Day can easily be considered one of the top venues on this continent from which to do so. Temperatures in São Paulo never drop to uncomfortably cold levels, even during the winter months (June, July, and August), and the rainy season in that part of the country corresponds to the off-season for the Brazilian football calendar. However, it is still a good idea to pay attention to the weather forecast for chances of rain and purchase a cheap plastic raincoat or poncho (sold by vendors on the streets), as the upper deck is uncovered.
Rain or shine, the Morumbi offers one of the safest and most comfortable stadium atmospheres in the Southern Hemisphere, while providing all the excitement one expects from football in South America.
Even if you are unable to attend a match in the Morumbi, you can visit the stadium during the week and take in the guided tour, which runs R$30.00 reals (=US$15.00), and takes visitors through all areas of the stadium. Of particular note is the São Paulo FC Museum ("Memorial" in Portuguese), which is a veritable tribute to the history of the game in Brazil.
São Paulo FC club members have access to their state-of-the-art gym, as well as important discounts in the numerous shops and restaurants connected to the club both at the stadium and in the city. Those not wishing to become members can still enjoy the facilities by paying the posted fees. However, it goes without saying that the experience is only truly complete when you take in a game in this hallowed ground.
I´ve been attending matches at the Morumbi Stadium since I was a boy, in the early 80s, and although there have been significant improvements, fan experience is still a challenge in Brazil, especially in regards to parking, restrooms and food.
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