November 8, 2009. The Brazilian championship is on its 34th round out of 38. The previous round ended with Palmeiras in a narrow lead, two points ahead of São Paulo FC and Atlético Mineiro. The season has obviously been good for Palmeiras, but also challenging and now, toward the end of it, the absence of a couple of key players due to injury and internal issues involving members of the squad are taking their toll. Still, the title is within reach and there’s only a couple more weeks to go.
Maracanã stadium, Rio de Janeiro, against seriously relegation-threatened Fluminense. In the 29th minute, Palmeiras are awarded a corner and forward Obina opens the scorecard for the Verdão with a clean header. The referee, Carlos Eugênio Simon, quickly invalidates the goal, signalling Obina pushed the defender, positioned behind him, in order to get to the ball. Fruitless protests from Palmeiras players and the bench: the ruling stands. In the second half, Fluminense scores the winner, bagging the three points that will prove crucial in their final sprint, escaping relegation.
Palmeiras never recover. The feeling is one of utter disbelief, that of a rigged championship. Palmeiras’ final sequence computes one victory, one draw and two defeats, leaving Palmeiras in fifth place overall. Flamengo are crowned champions, followed by Internacional.
In absolute defiance of the video footage, referee Simon sticks to his story. Palmeiras president at the time, Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo, calls Simon shameless and then some, in addition to promising to slap him around should they come face to face. Simon takes Belluzzo to court and pockets a fair amount.
Simon is the Brazilian Football Federation’s pick to represent Brazil in the 2010 World Cup. Soon after, he retires from refereeing, initiating a new career as expert commentator at a sports TV network. In 2012, when challenged on air about the 2009 incident, he claims Obina, in private, confessed to having committed the foul. Obina immediately refutes the statement.
Last Monday, on live television, and in the presence of Obina, Simon apologizes to the former Palmeiras striker. Out of the blue, a confession, nine years after the original incident. Simon says he made a mistake, seeking to compensate for a previous error by the linesman, having awarded a corner where it should, he claims, have been a throw-in. “Sorry”, he says with a smile, shaking Obina’s hand.
For Palmeiras supporters, news hit like a bomb, a singular confirmation of something we have always known: that afternoon, at the Maracanã, we were robbed. Deliberately. With consequences that went well past those 90 minutes, those three points.
Obina might have shaken hands with Simon, but palmeirenses certainly will not. His actions on that afternoon in November of 2009 were abominable, and his posture throughout the years the clearest evidence of his lack of character. A lack, no doubt, crucial in the development of his successful refereeing career.
Football is the passion of millions, followed by billions. Men like Carlos Eugênio Simon, the shameless individuals that shatter dreams while removing the magic of honest competition. Burn in hell, Simon. Burn in hell.