The name ‘Juventus’ resonates as a synonym for strength and greatness in the football world. With a fantastic new stadium, the team has been dominating Italian football with ease for years. The dream to once again achieve glory in Europe also seems to be just a few inches away, being runners-up in recent Champions League finals. However, in Brazil, and especially in São Paulo, the name ‘Juventus’ can mean a totally different type of football, a football of those more romantic days, when stadiums looked much simpler and were far away from the glamour and financial power of the international tournaments. We’re talking about a different kind of Juve.
Founded in 1924, Juventus is a club from Mooca, a neighbourhood historically connected to the Italian colony in the city. Nicknamed Moleque Travesso (the Prankster Boy), the team has generally competed regionally but achieved its greatest moment in 1983, when it won the Second Division of the National Championship. Nevertheless, that wider Brazilian adventure didn’t last long and nowadays the club plays in the lower ranks of the Paulista state championship.
Watching a game at Rua Javari, home of Juventus, is a totally different experience compared to a matchday at of one of the big clubs in the sprawling Brazilian metropolis. To supporters of Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo, 40,000+ capacity stadiums are the norm, but Javari caters for around 4,000. It doesn’t have floodlights, so the games cannot take place at night. Almost every section of the stadium, with the exception of a few covered seats on the main tribune, are made up of terraces, so the majority of fans watch the game standing.
The local gastronomy also hasn’t left its Italian roots behind. The main highlight among the food options is the cannolis of Mr. Antônio, a must-have at half-time. The queue to get your hands on these sweets snakes round to the main entrance of Javari and those who leave it too late it to join run the risk of leaving the stadium without tasting the famous pastry.
Back from the cannoli line, the football action takes place just a few inches from the barrier that separates the field from the terraces. Linesmen and referees suffer with constant verbal abuse from supporters, who also take advantage of their proximity to the pitch to ask reporters about the Juventus line-up in case they missed it pre-match. Players from rival teams taking throw-ins or those who come off the bench for a warm-up also gain special attention from the hosts. It’s football in its purest form.
And maybe the biggest story involving Juventus involves the best player of all time. It was at Rua Javari that Pelé scored what is considered, even by himself, his most beautiful goal among more than a thousand he recorded over the course of his career.
There’s no footage of it, not even seconds of video, just a photo that shows ‘The King of Football’ heading the ball to the back of the net. In the biopic Pelé Eterno (Eternal Pelé), the film crew managed to digitally recreate the goal (since to be found on YouTube), showing the number 10 receiving the ball at the edge of the area, lobbing three defenders and then, face to face with goalkeeper ‘Mão de Onça (Jaguar’s Hands)’, producing another chip over Juve’s number 1 before finishing with a more or less free header.
There are so many people who claim to have witnessed this particular goal that if we counted all of those fans, Rua Javari would have a capacity it could never accommodate – room enough for around 60,000. That would have almost made it a Maracanã, a ground where years later ‘O Rei’ achieved another historical landmark, scoring the thousandth goal of his career, in 1969.
On that day too, even the biggest stadium in Brazil was too small to house everybody who said they were watching the penalty, and witnessing history, from the terraces. It was the day that put little Rua Juvari on the same page as the mighty Maracanã in the legend of Pele, the king.
Bruno Rodrigues is a Brazilian journalist.
Main image: santosfc.com.br