Playing ‘naked’ soccer in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
By Sergio Moraes
Why do we Brazilians refer to our neighborhood soccer matches as ‘peladas’? A search on the web brings up many answers, but not one is really definitive. In English ‘pelada’ means ‘naked’ in the feminine gender, but none of the answers I found has to do with playing the sport with no clothes on.
One version talks of street soccer where everyone plays barefoot, or with ‘naked’ feet, running after the ball without a referee or any regard for rules.
The version that strikes me as most coherent is in reference to the fields where weekend matches are played – most of them are grassless, or ‘naked’, as the description fits.
While pro soccer fields are beautiful carpets of well-manicured grass, the peladas are usually played on just dirt and sand. The term has also been adopted to refer to a bad professional match. We often say, if a First Division match is boring, “What a pelada!”
One thing is certain – pelada has nothing to do with a naked woman.
When I was a kid peladas didn’t have to compete with video games for players. Streets didn’t have nearly the traffic they do nowadays and we turned them into a stage for peladas every afternoon after school. But Sundays were always, and still are today, the classic day of the peladas.
It was on the streets, on the dirt fields and on the beaches that we became the stars of own childhood dreams.
In the 1960’s I used to love going to watch the league tournaments on the beach, with teams that played 11 a side, unlike the normal beach soccer of just five. My neighborhood team was Columbia. My friends and I would go early to the beach to play our own pelada before Columbia’s matches. We all wanted to be pro soccer players, but on the beach we wanted to be Columbia players.
We would also organize matches on our streets against kids from other neighborhoods. In those peladas each of us became the pro player we considered idol, and for each goal scored we’d celebrate as if the sidewalk were a huge, packed grandstand. I still remember scoring a few goals and screaming, “GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL by Fisher.” Fisher was an Argentine player, idol on my favorite team, Botafogo.
Today when we walk by a pelada, either on the street or in some abandoned lot or on the beach, it’s impossible not to stop and watch for a few minutes. We usually cheer for the team that has a skilled player, or a team that’s wearing the jersey of one of our favorite clubs.
But better than just watching a pelada is to play one and pretend you’re on the field of Maracana stadium, like during the final of the World Cup that begins in one month here. You can pretend you’re the ace of your childhood dreams – the ace that doctors, engineers, lawyers, civil servants, butchers, bakers, businessmen, dentists and photographers always dreamed of being.