I cut work short and head for the Juscelino Kubitschek airport to embark on the 3 p.m. flight to Congonhas. Twitching with anticipation. I’ll spend the afternoon and evening in the surroundings of the Allianz Parque, take in every aspect of it. Introduce my visiting cousin from Sweden – already a palmeirense – to the magic. Meet up with virtual acquaintances come virtual friends come real-life friends, brothers and sisters in the flesh, La Famiglia. The one we chose.
There are other Palmeiras supporters on the plane; a handful, like me, wearing our colours and others, I deduct, from their conversation. Nods and discrete smiles, tightly mumbled “é hoje”, determination in the air.
Approaching São Paulo, we start doing circles, the pilot awaiting an authorisation to land. Clouds heavier by the minute, rain, turbulence. After about 40 minutes, we get the green light, but while descending the plane suddenly drops like an elevator, screams of panic as smartphones, magazines and laptops go airborne, seatbelts pressing hard against our waists. The pilot takes us out of the storm, climbs back to safer altitude.
50 minutes later, we’re on the ground… But at the Galeão airport, Rio de Janeiro. I’m ready to sprint as soon as the doors open, try to find me another flight to São Paulo, but the cabin crew holds me back: “we’re refueling, Congonhas is still the destination”. Better luck this time: 8:30 p.m. the tires make contact with the concrete at Congonhas. 1 hour 15 minutes to kick-off.
I share a taxi with three other palmeirenses: a mother and son (I admit I thought they were a couple, the lady is in great shape) and a fellow from Bahia who received the green light to travel from his missus, nine months pregnant. Everyone swapping stories, glancing nervously at the clock, urging our excellent driver to keep the speed up. We all have entry tickets to collect, and carry small backpacks unsure where to unload, as chances are slim security will let these inside the stadium premises.
We arrive at the Allianz Parque at 9:25 p.m., our little party splitting up. I find the entry to Palmeiras’ clubhouse and ride the elevator to the second floor, where the receptionist hands me the tickets a friend has left for me. I talk to the staff at the café, who generously permits me to leave my backpack under their counter for pick-up the next morning. I head back to street level to find my cousin somewhere in the crowd: this boy turned man whom I have not seen for ages. There he is! A quick embrace and we’re off, long strides, turning corners, entering then crossing the Bourbon Shopping Mall, the fastest route to Gate A of the Allianz Parque.
As we draw close, loud explosions and a hint of fire in the sky; too bad we’re missing the pre-game pyrotechnics. We cross an advanced checkpoint, pass two mean-looking riot police vehicles and enter the Allianz Parque. As we’re seated in different sections my cousin and I, another quick embrace before I rush to face another line – this time to actually show my ticket – and then up a flight of stairs to finally behold the eye of the tornado: Palmeiras vs Boca Juniors, the game just underway, the Allianz Parque completely packed and the chanting never-ending.
What followed is old news: euphoria at the early goal; disbelief as the goal is annulled by VAR; resignation as Boca open the scorecard; hope transformed into confidence as Palmeiras in the second half quickly score twice; curtains as maladetto Benedetto finds the equaliser.
Our players, exhausted. They gave it all, and received our reverence as they left the pitch. We did our part, for the full 90 minutes, except for a few, I learnt, that left in halftime and were received in quite an unfriendly manner by the large number of palmeirenses who did not get tickets or couldn’t afford them, thus following the game from the outside. In my humble opinion, anyone leaving in halftime deserves the heat.
Knocked out in the semis, and yet a feeling of excitement in the crowd. The Brazil League title is within reach and Santos await in a few days’ time. Another sold-out venue at the Allianz Parque. No time to mourn, no time to waste. Reload, finger on the trigger, game on!
I leave the battle ground chin up, reuniting with my cousin for a pork sandwich and a few cold beers. Don’t think I’ve ever felt so good after an elimination. I won’t be at the Allianz Parque against Santos. But Axel, my cousin, surely will. Welcome to La Famiglia!
— ooo —
by Kristian Bengtson