Where do I begin? That is the question. How do you summarise the best month in your life?
16 August 2008 seems like a good place to start. As this was the day I attended a friendly between FC Barcelona and Boca Juniors as a 13 year old kid.
I arrived at the stadium desperate to see the big names like Iniesta, Xavi, Henry and Rafael Márquez. But I left completely overwhelmed by the Boca Juniors fans.
My love for South American supporters was born. And little by little, what happened in the stands started to become just as important to me as the game itself.
While other youngsters listened to Drake or David Guetta, I downloaded the fan chants of San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors. And a little later, I started visiting matches outside my home country.
At this time, I also made a promise to myself: once I got my master’s degree, I’d travel to South America and experience the home of football culture for myself.
Truth be told, I was about 7 days from breaking that promise. But at the last minute, I decided to get in touch with Homefans and see what was possible. My dream had always been to go to Buenos Aires – but the fixture list sent me a powerful message:
It was time to chase my dreams and head to Brazil instead. As I could see all the country’s biggest derbies in a single month!
In the end, I saw twelve games in ten different stadiums. Including the Fla-Flu Derby, the Clássicos of both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the Paulista Derby, and much more.
But first, it was time to get accustomed to life in Brazil.
A not-so-gentle introduction to Brazilian football
The journey kicked off with several guided tours of the most important stadiums of Rio de Janeiro – including the Olympic Stadium and the mythical Maracana.
This proved to be the perfect way to meet fellow travellers Mikołaj and Krzysztof, as well as our local host Matheus.
Matheus then took us to our first match – a Rio derby between Vasco da Gama and Botafogo. Initially, I thought this would be a chill first game. But it didn’t take me long to realise I was wrong.
The fans of Vasco da Gama fully complied with my image of South American football fans. Regardless of the score, the supporters kept chanting and jumping. In particular, I can guarantee you the teenager beside me didn’t stop jumping for a second!
A completely different matchday experience
Everything about Vasco was pure madness. And it’s a miracle nobody got crushed by the large crowd at the way too narrow entrances. Scenes like this definitely wouldn’t be tolerated in Europe, and going to the toilets at half-time is not recommended!
Even prior to the match, I was stunned by everything around me.
The streets were crowded with street vendors who seized every opportunity to sell beer and churrascos. Eventually I’d see these scenes are typical at every Brazilian game. And “três por dez” (three beers for ten Reais) and “ingressos, ingressos!” (tickets, tickets!) must have been the sentences I heard most during my stay.
The next day we took a private tour of Vasco’s stadium to learn more about their amazing history.
we then saw two more games (Fluminense vs Paranaense, and Botafogo vs CSA) as appetizers before the main course of our trip to Rio – the famous Fla-Flu derby at the Maracana.
The most insane football party of my life
The atmosphere at Fla-Flu was brilliant, but the big ‘Flamengo highlight’ of my trip actually came a couple of days later.
Because for the first time since 1981, Flamengo had reached the Copa Libertadores semi-finals. And somehow, Mattheus and Homefans managed to get me a ticket. I still don’t know how they managed it. But I’m so thankful they did – because the match and the day as a whole were absolutely unforgettable.
As a proud fan of Royal Antwerp FC, I always brag about the authentic football experience at our home matches. But Flamengo – Grêmio was off the chain, and definitely ranks as the craziest football party of my life.
It began hours before the match. You could sense the tension and see that the security services were on high alert.
In the days leading up to the event, the media reported that people would try to enter the stadium without tickets. And there was pushing and shoving at the turnstiles, the stench of tear gas in the air, and complete madness everywhere you looked!
Flamengo won 5-0 and with every goal, the atmosphere got crazier and crazier.
The party continued in the subway and the celebrations lasted the entire night in the streets around my hotel. A truly unbelievable experience!
Out of Rio and into the unknown
Rio is an incredible city – but it was time to leave. and take the bus to São Paulo. Because there was a serious amount of football to see! The plan was to see Corinthians – Santos, São Paulo FC – Atlético Mineiro and Palmeiras – São Paulo FC all in one week. So three huge clubs and two derbies.
Not bad at all.
My experience in Sao Paulo turned out to be a little different from in Rio. Firstly I was on my own and it was hard to organise everything. Especially when it came to arranging tickets. Second, there are no away fans at the derbies because of problems they’d had in the past. So the atmospheres definitely missed the derby day edge we all love.
I had a great time in Sao Paulo but was happy to be back under the care of a Homefans guide in Porto Alegre – where I’d see Brazil’s fiercest and loudest derby first hand.
Porto Alegre breathes football. Despite the fact that Porto Alegre is only the tenth largest city in Brazil, the two major teams have together won the Copa Libertadores five times.
Those clubs, Grêmio and Internacional compete for the honour of the city and the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the ‘Grenal’, the most fierce rivalry in Brazil.
The derby is so enormous that the most popular radio station of Porto Alegre is called Grenal – and it covers non-stop news about both clubs.
I was the first traveller of Homefans to visit the Grenal, and it was clear the locals weren’t used to having tourists around.
People looked truly amazed to hear someone speak English and everyone wanted to hear my story and offer me something.
I felt like a king. But the match itself was only part of the experience. The pregame is at least as important for fans from Porto Alegre, and everyone meets to have a barbecue and tonnes of beer before the game.
It was here I finally felt the intense rivalries I’d missed elsewhere in Brazil.
The police did everything they could to prevent that both groups of fans would mix and perhaps rightly so. And Grêmio fans tried to intimidate Internacional all day with mocking chants and all sorts of banter.
The atmosphere inside the Arena do Grêmio was everything I dreamed it would be, and one thing is for sure: Gremio were the loudest fans I saw in Brazil.
3000 Kilometres for an away game?!
My last destination was Salvador, which is located in the north of Brazil.
On the one hand, it would be the gate for me to visit the breath-taking Chapada Diamantina. On the other hand, Salvador was a great end to my football trip.
Bahia vs Chapecoense was a nice treat in a World Cup stadium. But Vitoria – Brasil de Pelotas, in the Serie B was even better.
Mostly because it had everything an off the beaten track game should have. An old-school stadium. Men and children climbing on the fences. Referees who needed protection of the police – oh, and and about fifty away fans who travelled more than 3000 kilometres to be there.
In short, it was the perfect finale to the trip of a lifetime.
A word on my local hosts
I would like to say a few words about the local hosts I met thanks to Homefans. I consider Matheus as a friend for the rest of my life. We hit it off right away and he shared his passion for Flamengo with me.
Until my last day in Brazil, Matheus helped me with translations was the sole reason I could attend the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores. Until now, we have been in touch nearly every day since.
Right from the day I arrived in Porto Alegre, Fabio made me feel so welcome. As well as taking the day off work to take me to the Grenal, he got me a free ticket for Internacional – Paranaense and pretty much treated me as family in Brazil.
He introduced me to his group of friends and we went to several bars together and even invited to a birthday party where we partied till dawn with his friends. It’s honestly unbelievable how welcome he made me feel. Thank you Fabio!
Why Homefans is the best choice
Finally, I want to share something about my experiences with Homefans.
Personally I see two unique assets no other football travel agency has to offer. Firstly Homefans is able to get you into the biggest matches on earth. I can say with absolute confidence that it would be impossible to attend the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores and the Grenal without the help of Homefans.
Secondly, and what turned out to be the main selling point of Homefans, is that the organisation brings together travellers and hosts who share the same passion.
I will always remember people like Mikołaj, Krzysztof, Pieter and Gerrit Jan who I shared trips with. And of course, the local hosts and their friends you meet as well. Sharing the experiences you have on the road with these people makes it even more amazing.
Moreover, the local hosts show you hidden gems you’d never discover if you did it all on your own.
Just go for it!
As you can see, a trip to Brazil with Homefans is absolutely incredible. And for those of you who are interested, don’t let any worries about safety or criminality in Brazil stop you from going.
I didn’t witness anything worth mentioning in my month there. Just use your common sense and enjoy every second in this amazing country. Obrigado, Brasil. Until next time!
This is a guest blog by our traveller Inaki (Instagram: @inakidauwe)
Have you traveled with us and would like to write about your experience? Please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.