The new soulless Maracana
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
By Sergio Moraes
Last Sunday, June 2, I returned to Maracana to cover Brazil and England playing a friendly soccer match that was also the re-inauguration of this iconic stadium. The first sensation I felt when entering the building was nostalgia for the old Maracana. The new one is beautiful and modern with fantastic lighting, but it didn’t move me. The truth is, it’s no longer Maracana, but rather a different stadium built for the 2014 World Cup. Even the acoustics are different.
It is no longer, as legendary player Nilton Santos called it in the 50’s, “an enormous pressure cooker.”
My first experience with Maracana was when I was 6 years old. That was in 1968, a magic year for a boy who just began to become passionate about soccer and with the Botafogo club, known in Rio as “O Glorioso,” or The Glorious One. That year I witnessed Botafogo being crowned champion of the state championship, and winning the Brazil Cup the following year.
I was guided through that initiation by my father, who was also a photographer, from the stadium’s cement bleachers. Maracana was divided into bleachers, special seats on the same level as the bleachers, seats at the field level, and general admission. When I was old enough to go with my friends we went to the general admission section, the most popular. That section was standing room only, and we used to run from one side to the other to follow the players on the field.
There was no live TV transmission then. We would stand on the side opposite the cameras, and when there was a corner kick we would race behind the kicker to appear on the video, which we could watch later at home when it was finally transmitted to viewers.
During those past 45 years of Maracana, I experienced moments that were marvelous and others that were sad. But looking back today, even the sad times were marvelous. There were spectacular matches, such as the 6-0 in 1972 by Botafogo against Flamengo, our greatest rival. The year before that I experienced my worst disappointment inside a stadium – a tournament final against Fluminense. Botafogo only needed to tie to become champion, and in the last minute Fluminense’s left-back Marco Antonio pushed Botafogo’s goalkeeper Ubirajara to help striker Lula score a goal. Botafogo lost in that final I watched with my Dad and some friends from our neighborhood who were fans of Fluminense.
When we arrived at the match my Dad told my buddies that whatever the final score was, we would take them home after the match. But when the match ended and he rushed to the car, I asked him if we weren’t supposed to take my friends with us. He answered, “Of course not! I thought Botafogo was going to win!”
Of course, I immediately agreed with him.
During that time Botafogo experienced a championship drought of 21 years with no titles that finally ended in 1989 against Flamengo. How sweet it was to beat them!
By then I watched the match as a photographer from the field. I had begun to photograph matches in Maracana at the beginning of the 1980’s, and I always found it a great stadium to photograph in. It had a position we called the “Maracana moat,” a ditch which allowed us to photograph from the level of the grass, a spectacular angle with a 400mm lens. Unfortunately that position has disappeared in the new Maracana.
As a soccer fan I remember everything with great affection, from the Genial brand of hot dogs to the CCPL milk pouches and the Globo cookies. As a photographer there were so many emotional derby matches and championship finals that will certainly become stories to tell to my future grandchildren. The old Maracana was a stadium that had soul, the new Maracana doesn’t.
The fans with their giant banners and their creative theme songs, the hugs between strangers after a goal by their shared team, the general admission section with its folkloric personalities and the matches with more than 150,000 spectators, all began disappearing in the year 2000, when the stadium was modified. The cruelest modification was the elimination of the general admission, standing room only, section. That was Maracana’s most democratic sector.
Overall capacity was reduced from well over 150,000 to some 80,000, effectively stripping it of its status as the world’s largest stadium. The largest official attendance was 199,854 when Brazil lost to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final. That is still the world record attendance.
But even in the year 2000 it still seemed to be the Maracana of my childhood and youth, when fans would leave the beach early to join the vibrating crowds watching great matches with great players.
I find it hard to imagine a match between local rivals in this new Maracana. How will they separate the blocks of rival fans, or will they all be mixed together? And what about the bands playing team songs, and the fans stretching giant flags? I think the new Maracana looks a lot like a tennis stadium.
I get the impression that when someone from my generation screams the next time a goal is scored, the others will ask him to keep quiet.