An absolute wall of noise greeted fans as they approached Yokohama Stadium for the Club World Cup final, as tens-of-thousands of Corinthians supporters took over the main plaza. Their team went on to emulate theme on the pitch, too…
Last week I wrote in praise of Auckland City, whose participation in the Club World Cup provided something of a link to the grassroots of the game – a little unusually seeing as the competition is intended to pit the world’s elite against each other.
The semi-professionals from New Zealand undoubtedly gave football fans something to identify with but their impact on the tournament and everyone who took part in it was a drop in the ocean compared to the waves made by the sensational fans of Corinthians.
A few days before Auckland and Sanfrecce Hiroshima got the ball rolling in Yokohama images started filtering through of what lay in store for Japan from the fiel (faithful), when 15,000 fanatical supporters caused gridlock at Guarulhos Airport as the Copa Libertadores champions set off for Japan.
Over 20,000 followed swiftly behind their team and, upon arrival, were boosted by around 8,000 Japan-based Corinthians fans, leading to Toyota and Yokohama Stadiums being besieged by black-tracksuited hordes of suporters, the likes of which even seasoned football fans and journalists had rarely, if ever, encountered before.
The tracksuits weren’t only a common sight at the venues, and pockets of Corinthians fans – always in uniform – were spotted around the country taking in the sights and endearing themselves to the locals with their enthusiasm and good humour.
The day of the final against Chelsea was when they really came into their own, and the entire journey from the ticket-barrier at Shin Yokohama station to the stadium provided entertainment.
Whether it was spontaneously breaking into song, shouting good-naturedly but incomprehensibly in Portuguese to baffled security guards en route, or heckling the street-vendors selling dodgy Chelsea shirts the Brazilians were making themselves at home.
Their passion was infectious and despite the fact that the European champions were in town Chelsea were essentially playing an away game.
Even though they were vastly outnumbered off the pitch they were expected to have too much for Corinthians once the sides crossed the white line though, and few expected anything other than a victory for the English side.
Of course, that wasn’t how things turned out and the visceral, flare-lit and animated support from the tens-of-thousands who’d travelled halfway around the world – in some cases reportedly selling their cars and spending life-savings to fund the trip – was surely in some way responsible.
The Corinthians players and coach certainly thought so.
“They are the players, part of us, too,” head coach Tite observed after the match. “I don’t know how the supporters are getting the energy but when the team don’t have enough energy sometimes [they] inject [it] into the team. Sometimes the matches are very rough and the supporters expect us to play rough. The supporters are very passionate. Sometimes maybe too passionate!”
Defender Paulo Andre – a fascinating character who also paints (he is working on a piece now to commemorate the world championship) and was off to Miami and Las Vegas the next day, “I will have fun. I like to play poker!” – agreed, and explained how the players now come to expect their 12th men (and women, and children) to have their backs.
“We are not surprised anymore because we know they will travel all over the world to be with us, to be with our team. We were playing for them and that’s what they asked for. So we are happy and having fun on the pitch because we know that we have 30 million people cheering for us.”
He also gave an indication as to what motivated everyone at the club to overcome their more famous, glamorous and wealthy opponents.
“It’s football and most of the time it’s a team, it’s not one player or two players but 11 players who work together to achieve our goal,” he said.
“I think it’s a real battle between the third world and the first world. For our people, for our fans who have a difficult life and everything else, it’s very important to show the world that we can beat them and be the best in the world.”
Officially now that is exactly what they are. No such title exists for supporters but the Corinthians fans would take some beating.