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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Estádio Vila Belmiro, Santos

October 1996

Ayrton Senna

Back in 1996 Sao Paulo and the port town of Santos 70 kilometres away on the Paulista coast were linked by a single highway - there are now two - the Rodovia Achieta (state route 150) a road which dates back to the 1920’s. As the main truck route between Brazil’s largest metropolitan area, Sao Paulo, and its largest port, Santos, it carries a huge amount of traffic, even at weekends, and it was on one of these that a work colleague, Jaime, kindly took me on a trip to enjoy Brazil’s Atlantic coastline.

This is one challenging road particularly on the approach to Santos as the highway winds and weaves its way steeply down from the Sao Paulo plateaux through a series of switchbacks, tunnels and viaducts. It’s a bit scary to say the least but what a view you get of the coastline as you descend through lush forest.

As the highway merges with smaller local roads there’s an interesting twist awaiting unsuspecting drivers. Unsuspecting drivers exceeding the speed limit that is in the shape of a succession of unmarked sleeping policeman! Jaime had two steel plates welded to the underside of his car to protect the transmission, exhaust system, etc., from an unexpected strike.

This proved to be ideal place to slow down, sleeping policeman or not, as you pass a plinth on top of which is mounted a distinctive yellow formula one motor racing helmet, a replica of that worn by the late Ayrton Senna. Another example of the way his country just oozes sport. There are reminders of its heroes – past and current - everywhere.

Praia Grande

Santos is one of the oldest cities in South America and, as I’ve mentioned, Brazil’s biggest and busiest port. Half of the country’s exports, including much of the world’s coffee, pass through Santos. Jaime has a summer apartment a hundred metres or so from the beach between Mongagua and Praia Grande, directly to the west of Santos proper.

Between the two is a very impressive stretch of beach front – some twenty kilometres long - with what seemed like thousands upon thousands of variously shaped and sized apartment blocks and a similar number of variously shaped and scantily clad bronzed women. The area is said to rival the beaches of Rio and by all accounts is much much safer.

We were able to swing by the Estádio Vila Belmiro (aka Estadio Urbano Caldeira) home of Santos, perhaps one of the most famous club sides in the world, due in most part to one Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, aka Pele. It has the look and feel of a traditional English football ground, very compact, with stands close-to-the-action on the inside and hemmed in on the outside by residential streets. First opened in 1916 Vila Belmiro has a capacity of 20,120 although the record attendance stands at 32,989. Interestingly it had a floodlighting system installed in 1931 a good twenty-five years before the majority of Football League clubs even began thinking about such things.

Estádio Vila Belmiro

It reminded me – oddly perhaps - of Derby County’s old Baseball Ground. The main stand is a bit of an oddity, wedged shaped to fit between touchline and street, while most of the exterior is covered in white stucco and bathed in sun year round which is were the comparison with it’s Derbyshire counterpart ends. For more pictures of the ground click here and for a more complete description (I would imagine as it’s in Portuguese) click here.

Pele was literally kicked out of the first World Cup I watched on TV, the 1966 one. I have little recollection of any of the games, apart from one, but not the Final itself (“some people are on the pitch” and all that) but the quarter final game between the North Koreans and Portugal at Everton’s Goodison Park. Rank outsiders, the North Koreans remarkably went 3-0 up in the first half hour before a Eusebio inspired comeback gave the Portuguese a 5-3 win.

Pele and Brazil had lost two of their three group games and failed to make it to the knock-out stage – a rare failure by them. Pele was kicked, tripped and generally maltreated throughout and in their third and final game – against Portugal – was carried from the field, and didn’t return, after a particularly vicious tackle by defender Morais (a match entitled the ‘Most Violent Game Ever’ on YouTube). Pele of course came back with a vengeance four years later in Mexico where, along with the likes of Rivelino, Tostao & Jairzinho, Brazil won their third World Cup Finals and the Jules Rimet trophy outright.

Pele had begun his career at Santos in 1956, at the age of fifteen, and remained with them for seventeen years, scoring well in excess of 1,000 goals during that time, before a move to the USA and the New York Cosmos in 1975.

Pictures from here, here and here.

posted by chevblue at 3:06 pm

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extreme groundhopping

a (mainly) pictorial account of one man's obsession with football stadia, floodlight pylon's and ipswich town football club

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