Joe Vira-Lata: The Only Dog With A Front Row Seat At Palmeiras

by Mark Hillary

— ooo —

When I arrived in Brazil a decade ago, my first home was in the Sumaré neighborhood of São Paulo. I was living a few blocks from the old Palestra Itália and so I adopted Palmeiras as my team in Brazil, even though most of my friends advised me that Brits in Brazil should automatically adopt Corinthians because of the connections to Charles Miller and the original Corinthian FC. That didn’t happen.

I never saw a game at the old stadium because it closed in 2010 and became a construction site. Allianz Parque opened in 2014 and I started watching occasional home matches – just down the road from home.

However, in 2018 I decided to get a season ticket. It was still unusual in Brazil at the time – most fans would book a ticket within a few days of the game, or just arrive at the stadium and buy a ticket on the day of a match. Paying in advance for an entire year of football, when you don’t even know which games you are going to get, was something that happened in the Premier League – not here.

Palmeiras had reserved a few sections for their ‘passaporte’ season ticket holders. The holder gets a reserved seat for any home game. The club even puts your name on the seat. It worked out at about the cost of one match per month so I figured that as I was likely to see more than one match a month, it would be good value. Allianz Parque is no longer cheap, not like the old stadium, but if you are a regular then the season ticket makes sense.

I found two front row seats right by the pitch in sector 138 – seats 10 and 11. Not only could I get a great view of the pitch, but I could watch the Palmeiras bench warming up during games. Why two season tickets? Nobody wants to go to the football alone, so I bought two. This meant that one seat features my name, but the other has the name of my dog ‘Joe Vira-Lata.’

In Portuguese, vira-lata literally means a ‘bin-tipper.’ It’s a mutt, a street dog that searches the trash for food. I adopted Joe soon after I arrived in Brazil. He had been living on the street near the Interlagos F1 track, but then he ended up living with me.

I wasn’t aware of any other seat in the stadium featuring a dog’s name. I always looked around at the names on the seats when I was at a game and I never saw any other vira-latas.

A couple of years ago I was alone in a bar near Avenida Paulista and a random guy said hello to me at the bar – he recognized that I was not Brazilian so he was curious about where I was from. He soon asked if I like any local football teams and I said that I follow Palmeiras – even my dog has his own private seat there!

It turned out that this guy was a sports photographer. He said that if I really know Palmeiras then I should be able to name the current number 20 without checking Google. I immediately replied that it’s Lucas Lima. He laughed and then called Lucas Lima on WhatsApp right there in the pub. We had a quick chat and even the player couldn’t believe that a vira-lata has a front row seat in the stadium.

2021 was a fantastic year for Palmeiras and even though I have not managed to visit a game in person since early 2020, Joe’s seat is still there – right in the front row of sector 138.

Joe died in November. His very first and last photos are on YouTube, including his seat in Allianz Parque. My wife is a fan of Corinthians, so our other dog Ruby has always been black and white, not green, but now I have a new puppy called Oscar and he loves Palmeiras.

One day, Oscar will take Joe’s place in sector 138 so Allianz Parque always has a seat for a dog in the front row.

Mark Hillary

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