For Brazilians, football is not so much the national game, more the stuff of life itself. A national obsession, football is lived in excess, to extremes. It is a celebration of life and death. From collective jubilation to despair, it's a game that taps into the psyche and the mood of an entire nation, perhaps more then anywhere else on earth.
It's its spiritual home played everywhere, from stadiums, to oil rigs; beaches to monasteries, bedrooms to the most dangerous alleyways of the country's toughest slums. The Brazilian instinct for hybridization has produced a swathe of variations on standard soccer. One of them involves an endurance contest where solo contenders kick the ball repeatedly in the air for as long as possible. There is also futevolei, volleyball for feet, a beach game popular with professionals such as Romário; futsal, a five-a-side game that uses a ball without any bounce; and autoball, played by men in cars using a ball 7ft in diameter. And there is écoball, played on a pitch with trees: if you hit a tree you are sent off and made to suck a lime. In Amazonia there is futelama - mud football - played on the slithery mudflats the run along the banks of the river. In life football will be played pretty much anywhere, in death a diehard fanatic will be buried in a coffin painted in the colours of his team and draped in its flag, such is the passion for the game.
No Brazilian to date has ever won a Nobel prize, but they have won the World Cup a record 5 times, but in 1950 when Brazil hosted the Cup for the first time it was expected of them to win on home soil. In Brazil the maximum jail term is 30 years for murder. "I", said an embittered Moacir Barbosa Nascimento in an interview he gave to Brazilian TV in 1993, "I have paid 43 years for a crime I didn't commit" He was referring to the crucial goal he didn't save in the most mythical of all World Cup finals allowing the Uruguayan national team to walk away with the 1950 World Cup inside the temple of Brazilian football, the packed Maracanã stadium with an attendance of 200,000 despairing fans. He lived with that despair till his death in 2000, almost penniless. "That's football religion in Brazil", says Juninho Pernambucano a former World Cup star, now back in Brazil playing for Rio's Vasco da Gama football club after an eight year European hiatus. He has mixed feelings about the game in Brazil, "here if the team wins you can do no wrong, if you lose however, you can expect to mercy. Lose two or three games in a row and the coach will be forced to jump. No pity or mercy. When the Brazilian national championship gets underway only winning counts, coming second could be as good as last", laments Juninho, "you can go from being a messiah to being a pariah in a few easy steps".
This project aims to reflect how football is a unifying cultural and quasi-religious force that brings rich and poor, young and old to share in this national obsession. Originally commissioned be Stern Magazine this project was developed over a 15-year period, culminating in its book publication (Prestel Publishers) for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, held in Brazil.