In the southern reaches of Brazil lays Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande De Sol, the derby match of two of Brazil’s biggest teams has captured everything that is special about football in Brazil.
Football derbies around the world are games that all fans look out for when the early season fixtures are released (especially for the locals). Every league around the world has a derby, each littered with a concoction of ingredients that make each one unmissable viewing.
The South American continent is no stranger to fierce local derbies and Brazil is a country well renowned for explosive Derbies. From the Fla-Flu Rio clash between Flamengo and Fluminense) to the Derby Paulista – the game between Palmeiras and Corinthians in Brazil’s ever expanding metropolis of Sao Paulo. Brazilian derbies draw vast passionate crowds with the unique ability of shutting whole cities down and the Gre-Nal might just be the biggest in the country that the average football fan would rarely hear of..
The two clubs at the heart of this clash are Gremio, or Los Tricolor and Internacional, known as Los Colorados.
Porto Alegre has a population of roughly 1.5 million, an ideal city size to host two of the country’s top clubs. Here you are either a red or a blue, white and black and most families house fans of both sides, meaning that come derby day there is no real escape from the raw feelings and emotions entangled amongst the two. The games between the two are something to behold, something to admire and something that deserves more universal attention. The two sides have a fierce history, two exceptional stadiums and some of Brazilian football’s finest have donned their shirts, giving it all the ingredients for an enthralling local derby.
Gremio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrenese were founded in 1903 and since their inception have gone on to be one of Brazil’s most successful clubs, holding the Brazilian record for most Copa Libertadores titles with three, with their most recent being in 2017 after overcoming Argentine side Lanús.
Many famous faces have passed through the doors of this club from Ronaldinho to Everaldo. More recent younger stars have made their name playing for Los Tricolor, Barcelona’s Arthur starred in the club’s Copa Libertadores victory and Luan is currently the darling of the fans and is being watched closely by a number of European clubs.
Sport Club Internacional followed Gremio in becoming Porto Alrgre’s second major side in 1909, created by three brothers of Italian descent, Henrique, Jose and Luis Poppe, who took umbrage with what was deemed the arrogant exclusivity of Gremio and its German influenced founders.
The club name was decided during a meeting of the Poppe’s and other local students who wanted a club that would be open to all, settling on the name Internacional.
Inter have found great success in fostering young talented stars and can count Oscar, Nilmar, Cláudio Taffarel and Dunga among these, whilst also drawing in other stars from the continent such as Diego Forlán and current club captain and Argentinean maverick, Andre D’Alessandro.
Success has been no stranger to this club either, and like its city neighbour, they too have triumphed in the Copa Libertadores on multiple occasions, earning two titles in 2006 and 2010 and three league titles in the glory years of the ’70s. Since then, domestic trophies have evaded the clubs grasp but they are firmly in contention this year for the Serie A title, currently sitting in second, behind leaders Palmeiras.
The first derby game took place in June 1909, just 2 months after the inception of Internacional. At the time Gremio and Fuss-Ball were the two clubs that called the city home. Inter wanted their first game to be against Gremio.
Los Tricolor though that day had previously committed to a fixture with the other side in Porto Alegre, but agreed to play Inter with their reserve team. This did nothing to foster a healthy early relationship and much to the delight of Gremio, they triumphed 10-0, a chastening defeat and a powerful statement to Internacional’s founders.
Since then the clubs have had near mirror images of success with Gremio earning 13 titles along with 37 state championships. Internacional have 11 titles and 45 state championships, slightly edging their fierce rivals in derby wins also having won 25 more.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF A RIVALRY
Originally, Internacional were founded as a club for the people and Gremio represented the wealthier side of society in Porto Alegre. Football in Brazil in the early 1900s was as you can imagine a very different place and many clubs were formed for the wealthier, more privileged members of society. Nowadays, Brazil has seen a reversal, with the wealthier residents of the city turning to Inter and the working class locals favouring the cross-town rivals Gremio.
Porto Alegre is one of the wealthiest cities in Brazil and the two clubs see outstanding turnouts for their games and not just on derby day. This only helps fuel the combustible atmosphere between these two sides. As there is usually something at stake more than just local pride, whether that be on the domestic stage in the Gaucho Championship or competing for the lucrative Copa Libertadores place.
Rio Grande Sol is Brazil’s southernmost state and borders with Uruguay and Argentina. As a result, the culture of this city is closer in resemblance to its neighbours than that of it’s own country. Football in Brazil is a part of the fabric of life, but the way it is supported and followed is different to that of other major South American countries. Argentina and Uruguay see their fans chant and support the team for the full 90 minutes, creating that traditional Latin party atmosphere.
It is often felt that in Brazil, while it is unquestioned that supporters follow their teams, they are more focused on pestering the players and critiquing the performance, whereas down south, nothing less than complete backing of the team will suffice. A Gremio and Internacional match represents an experience awash with colour and noise. The Geral de Gremio are the group of Ultras belonging to Gremio. This set of fans though are unique, a blend of European devoutism to their team bringing with them the life and soul of Latin America with drums, percussion and chanting to the beat of Gremio’s play.
This set of fans were named after the area of the stand where the poorer fans would largely be situated. But since 2001, the group has begun to grow in numbers and notoriety and during their home games. This is the place to be. This stand at the old stadium, the Estadio Olimpico Monumental, was also the site of the famous Avalanche celebration. The celebration is so named due to the nature of the fans rushing the fence at the bottom of the stand after their side would score a goal.
If you have been lucky enough to view a game across Europe in Italy or Germany for example you would have seen this celebration by the club’s ultras. As you can imagine this can be quite a dangerous affair. The extremes of this celebration were there for the world to see and in 2013, the club’s President, Fabio Koff, was made his move and banned the celebration completely. This came after a Copa Libertadores clash, where eight fans were injured after Gremio had scored.
Though it has been banned, it takes nothing away from the fantastic atmosphere created at the Arena De Gremio, the stadium constructed to push Gremio onto the global stage and compete for the right to host World Cup games alongside their rivals. The stadium construction began in 2010 and was completed in 2012, holding up to 60,000, which is packed to the rafters on derby day.
MIXING IT UP
The redeveloped Estádio Beira-Rio is home to Internacional. Set on the banks of the Guaiaba River, it holds 50,000 fans and was Inter’s home through regeneration and development in 2012 as it was getting itself ready to host the World Cup. The club and venue did have international pride as they were Porto Alegre’s choice, and they beat their rivals’ stadium to host five matches.
With the development of the Estadio Beira Rio, one of the stands was set-aside as a mixed fan zone. The Torcida Mista was seen as a way of pacifying some of the views that the derby was a fearsome affair known for violence and aggression not only by the players, but the fans as well. The first time the idea was used was during the 2015 season and went off without a problem. The stand was strewn with a mixture of colour and fans all deeply focused on the game but without the implied animosity and violence that’s often thought of when the two sides meet.
Since it’s inception, the Toricda Mista has been incorporated by Gremio and has seen a good return in numbers of around 2,000 fans turning up together to watch their heroes.
This tranquillity does not always translate onto the pitch, however, and even the derby this year saw a heated exchange before the game had begun. During the coin toss, Inter captain Andres D’Alessandro and Gremio captain Maicon Souzauring had a heated exchange in a charged atmosphere and the two players had to be separated by officials before the Inter captain tore into his counterpart.
This was not the first time D’Alessandro has been involved in an altercation. There have been significant times where he has been seen to take on great swathes of Gremio players -including those seated on the bench – while Inter were winning 4-1 no less.
Derby day in 2016 saw another fracas in a 0-0 draw that was all but called off due to a brawl between the players after a particularly late challenge.
Football for all its passion is life and death for some people and that was especially the case for Eurico Lara. He was the goalkeeper for Gremio during the 1935 season and would play a key role in what would turn out to be one of his last moments on the pitch for his beloved club.
Bestowed with the nickname Imortal, Lara got as close as you can to giving your own life for the club and sport. During the derby (of the Campeonato Gaucho finals no less), which Gremio would go on to win 2-0, Inter were awarded a penalty. As the story goes, before the penalty was taken Lara’s brother, who happened to play for Inter and was taking the spot kick, stopped the game to remind Eurico about over exerting himself on the doctor’s orders. Eurico saved the penalty, but it took its toll and he suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away in hospital shortly after.
There are varying stories on the timeline of this but to Gremio he is one of the most important players in their history and has been immortalised in the club’s anthem.
Football is a sport that for all ages inspires a whole range of feelings and emotions and derby games encapsulate what is so great about this game.
During HBO’s slick ’60s drama, Mad Men, there was one scene with a quote that described the most precious thing about a derby for it’s fans: “Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”
What better to sum up the feeling of a loss or victory in a match to your closest rival? The tension and atmosphere on these days are electric and the build up can go on for a week or more and dependent on the result can leave the fans with either joy or anguish in their heart for some time afterwards. As with all things in life, these feelings pass with time – that is until the next encounter. So if you ever find yourself down south of the border in down Brazil way, put this game at the top of you’re to do list and it will not leave you disappointed.