Covering roughly 20% of Brazil, the cerrado is a vast tropical savanna ecoregion in the central parts of the country. These wooded grasslands compose a biodiversity hotspot the size of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined. Brasília, the federal capital, is located in the heart of this arid plain – a LEGO of grey concrete amid the shrubbery and low, twisted trees. No abundance of palmeiras here, although you find native versions, like the buriti, close to brooks.
But then there are human palmeiras, tall-standing, like Aurélio. Not that you would have seen or heard of him before – he is on the quiet side, almost invisible – but residents of Brasília have seen his doing all around the city lately: seven massive billboards, celebrating Palmeiras’ tenth Brazilian League title. Nobody knew who had ordered the billboards, but within a few weeks, the secret was out and Aurélio was featured in the news.
Anything Palmeiras got hold of Aurélio to learn more about the initiative and his love for the Verdão, the “Big Green”. Turns out this shy supporter has a heart the size of the cerrado itself, with Palmeiras playing a central role in it. Luckily, his wife shares his passion and also understands his need to watch the games in solitude, concentrated, not wearing any Palmeiras gear – a ritual he took up in 1993 as Palmeiras broke a 16-year-long dry spell, bagging the São Paulo state championship.
Aurélio has a crystal-clear memory of how and when he became a palmeirense. He was five or maybe six years old, watching football on the black and white TV set at home, with his older brother, a Botafogo supporter like the rest of the family. The Rio de Janeiro club were being hammered by the other side, which sported a midfielder with an elegant stride, easily recognisable due to his fair, almost white hair.
–Who is that? Aurélio asked his brother.
–Ademir da Guia, the answer came. –He plays for Palmeiras.
–Then, I shall be Palmeiras! Aurélio proclaimed. “O Divino” had made a divine impression on the young boy.
Aurélio’s country house is unmistakably palmeirense: the garage doors feature the club crest and there are Palmeiras items everywhere. The football pitch deserves a special mentioning: the grass originates from the Palestra Italia, Palmeiras’ old stadium, now at rest underneath the Allianz Parque. Who would have thought such a sanctuary existed here, in Brasília, just around the corner?
An avid traveller, Aurélio always takes a few jerseys from his vast collection with him, contributing to the international branding of Palmeiras. A billboard in the flesh, interacting with the people he meets, spreading knowledge about and love for the football club in his heart. Doing so much, expecting nothing in return. Anonymous. At least, until a few weeks back…
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!