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The dark side of Brazilian football: Corinthians' fan army turns violent

11. June 2024
(foto: Getty Images)
Football in Brazil is unfortunately often associated with crime and violence. In this Nostalgia piece, we delve into the infamous fan group "Gaviões da Fiel" (Loyal Hawks).

Corinthians from São Paulo, along with Flamengo, is the biggest Brazilian club, boasting over 30 million fans across the country. Considering that the fan bases of European giants from England, Spain, Italy, and Germany are largely international and 'plastic', Corinthians can be considered one of the largest clubs in the world in terms of domestic supporters. However, such popularity brings its own set of problems, especially when results don't meet expectations.

Brazilian society is one of the most violent in the world, and football, as a faithful mirror of society, is not immune to this. Fan violence is widespread, akin to violent crime and police brutality. Massive social inequalities and the hopelessness of living in abject poverty contribute to the reputation of Brazilian ultras as some of the most notorious in the world.

Corinthians has many independent fan groups, the most famous and largest being Gaviões da Fiel, established in 1969 with 140,000 members. Their vocal support can lift the players in black and white, with their flares and enormous banners being quite impressive. However, when things on the field don't go their way, Gaviões can become highly unpredictable and dangerous.

One of the most notorious episodes from their rich history of fan riots dates back to 1997. Corinthians was performing poorly in the Brazilian league and had also been knocked out of the Libertadores Cup early. On Tuesday, October 14, 1997, the black-and-whites visited rivals Santos at the Vila Belmiro stadium in a derby known in Brazil as the Classico Alvinegro. The match attracted 20,618 spectators, including a significant number of visiting fans.

The match was tense and rough, with the only goal scored by home defender Jean in the 74th minute. The intensity of the match is further highlighted by the fact that two Corinthians players, Wilson Mineiro and Mirandinha, were sent off. At the final whistle, the guests expected boos and insults from their fans, but to their surprise, most had already left the stadium. Typically, the fans stayed until the end to express their discontent with a poor performance. This time, they had simply vanished.

Around 12:30 AM, the Corinthians team bus left the stadium for the 65 km journey back to São Paulo. Military police escorted them through Santos to avoid attacks from local fans, but they continued unescorted once they left the city. The road from Santos to São Paulo dramatically ascends from the coast to an altitude of 1,000 meters, winding through many tunnels and along a forested mountain ridge.

During the drive, the team's security guard noticed a black car following the bus. The car suddenly pulled alongside the bus, almost colliding with it, while four men inside made threatening gestures. Then the car disappeared. Shortly thereafter, a truck in front of the bus abruptly stopped, forcing the bus driver to swerve into the opposite lane to avoid a crash.

But then the bus had to stop again. The road was blocked by an old white bus positioned to prevent passage. Some Corinthians fans stood on the asphalt, initially giving the impression of a traffic accident. However, it soon became clear that it was an ambush as the fans charged at the bus. One of the security guards pulled the curtains over the windows, and the players and staff ducked to the floor.

The fans pelted the bus with stones and clubs. Amidst the deafening noise of shattering glass and metal, the Gaviões surrounded the bus and began rocking it as if trying to tip it over. The team inside feared for their lives. The driver was injured, having been struck in the head by debris. One of the fans tried to pry the doors open with a crowbar, but a security guard managed to push him away.

Some members of the Corinthians contingent recognized the leader of the Gaviões da Fiel, Douglas Deúngara, better known as Metaleiro. They loudly pleaded with him to stop the madness. And Metaleiro showed mercy. As swiftly as the attack began, it ended. The Hawks returned to their white bus and disappeared into the night.

A few hours later, when the unfortunate group arrived at the club's headquarters in São Paulo, Metaleiro also appeared and inquired if anyone had been injured.

The intimidation tactics did not yield the desired results. The 1997 Campeonato Brasileiro ended with Corinthians in a modest 17th place (in a league of 26 clubs), just three points above the relegation zone.

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