Milton Souza Correia stadium
The stadium – Milton Souza Correia stadium
Name: Estadio Milton Souza Correia
Max. standing fans: 5,000
No. of seats: None
Total capacity: 5,000
Home teams: Amapa Clube, Esporte Clube Macapa, Trem Desportivo Clube, Ypiranga Clube
Zerao – a half in each hemisphere
The scheduled kick-off time of 3.30 pm is now ten minutes ago and the players in the red and blue jerseys of Trem Desportivo Clubes, perched on the hard benches in the dressing room, are beginning to get bored. A small fan blows hot air around the bare room while grey clouds block out the sun outside. “Can we go onto the pitch yet?” asks one of the youngsters, pulling his socks up over his knees and tugging back his afro curls like Barcelona superstar Ronaldinho. The young Trem players are very keen. They play for one of the oldest clubs in Macapa, a 300,000-population town at the mouth of Amazon. In a few weeks, they will make the 3,500-kilometre trip south to Sao Paulo to play in an important U-20 cup tournament.
On the touchline, the referee is standing with his two assistants. They cut dashing figures in their black shorts and jerseys, resplendent with the blue emblem of the CBF, the Brazilian football association. The strapping man in the middle consults his watch with a little concern before dodging a huge flying beetle as big as a swallow. As the time nears four in the afternoon, there is till no sign of the visiting team. They are coming from Mazagao, a small town situated alongside the Amazon, twenty kilometers south-west of Macapa. “They have to take two riverboats to get here,” sighs Carlos Brito, “but don’t worry, they always come. They have strong support.” Brito is a strong, burly man whose square jaw sits almost seamlessly on his broad neck. He is the custodian of one of the world’s most curious stadiums and an endearing character to boot.
Kicking off in the south
At the Zerao (“the big zero”) stadium, the equator divides the two halves of the pitch, with one lying in the northern hemisphere, the other in the southern. “Most teams choose the southern end for the first half. It’s lucky,” explains Brito. Perhaps this is because the wind gets up in the afternoon, blowing in from the north-east and the mouth of the Amazon and thus imparting more spin on the ball. Back in 1990, just after the Milton Souza Correia stadium – to use its official name – had opened, strong winds tore the roof off the stands. Now the floodlight pylons emerge between the pitch like flimsy sticks poking up into in the air. The grass is sprouting up wildly, the paintwork flaking away from the walls and only part of the lighting is functioning.
Macapa is the capital of the Brazilian federal state of Amapa. Founded only in 1988, more than half of Amapa’s surface area is a protected nature reserve. This state in the north of the Amazon has only two roads, and both are only half-covered with tarmac. Otherwise, there is just a sandy track to Oiapoque, a 30-hour bus ride away on the French Guyana border. Or there is the boat. Ships, canoes, cutters, ferries – life in the Amazon is unthinkable without taking to the water. From cars to refrigerators, the great majority of goods are transported to the region by ferry from Belem on the other side of the mouth of the Amazon. The journey time? 30 hours.
Finally, the coach carrying the team from Mazagao pulls into the car park alongside the main stand. “We had engine problems and had to find another bus, then there was a queue for the ferry,” explains the coach with a smile.
The players quickly warm up and do some light stretchers. Here on the equator, it is always hot and humid with an average annual temperature of 27 degrees. There are only two seasons: the rainy season from January until June, then the summer. And the peculiarities do not stop there either: in the north of the town, the water drains clockwise down the plughole, in the south it gurgles away in the opposite direction just like in the rest of Brazil.
When the ball is on the halfway line, literally in the middle of the world, the game for the “Countdown” cup begins with a shrill blow of the referee’s whistle – it may be a friendly, but a match is a match. Leading 1-0 at half-time, Mazagao make their greater experience pay in the second half and finally run out 2-0 winners.
After the game, team manager da Silva, a serious-looking man of medium build, accepts the trophy. A 26-year-old midfielder, he has played professionally for several other teams across the nation during his career and soon plans to hang up his boots. He hopes to open a football school to take poor children off the streets, for the moment though, he simply grins, fleshing his gleaming white teeth. In Brazil there are few more successful means of achieving social integration than through football. Whether in Rio de Janeiro, on the beaches of Bahia or in the Amazon jungle, the beautiful game is a national passion.