BBC Culture

Brazilian football in unexpected places

  • Boys and the hood

    Football first arrived in Brazil in 1894, and now the world is watching as the game’s biggest tournament is played across the nation. Yet, as photographer Christopher Pillitz reveals, it is not limited to stadiums and municipal pitches. His new book Brazil: The Beautiful Game collects images taken over the past two decades that show Brazilians playing in a scrap yard, an oil rig – and even on a flyover. In the foreword to The Beautiful Game, journalist Eduardo Bueno defines the ‘pelada’, a word that translates as ‘naked’. Although the origins of the word are disputed, he says “the suggestion is that these ‘kickabouts’ were originally played on plots of land bare of all grass”. This shot – taken at the São Mateus scrap yard in São Paulo – shows how the game is stripped back, with tyres as goal posts. “This scrapyard was piled high with the remnants or ghosts of cars and trucks, but there was a small space which the yard workers used to enjoy their daily kickabout, their pelada,” says Pillitz. “I perched myself precariously on top of a number of cars for this vantage point.”

  • Don’t look down

    In the foreword, Bueno writes: “It’s about street football: football’s soul; football without rules, without reins, without restrictions or referees’ whistles.” Sometimes, even, without a ball: “Many a game has been played with a bundle of socks or a rolled-up newspaper, even, in desperation, an orange.” Pillitz was attempting to get a shot of the São Paulo skyline when he spotted this rooftop game – on a tower block more than 30 storeys high. “I was on a building not far away as I watched this being played out before my eyes,” he says. “In the heart of the city, a group of guys defying gravity and possibly common sense, challenging their footballing skills. Another dream moment showing the lengths Brazilians will go to play the game.”

  • Going through the drills

    Pillitz grew up in Argentina, and started his project as a way of documenting the cultural significance of football to Brazilian identity. Perching on rooftops in favelas and peering through bars in a prison, he was able to take photographs because of his focus on the game. “I always mentioned that I was in search of football,” he tells BBC Culture. “This was the magic word for the access I received pretty much unhindered.” This photo was taken from a helicopter. “I discovered that football is played on the Brazilian State oil rigs in the Atlantic Ocean and asked for permission to travel out to the rigs,” says Pillitz. “The oil workers break the monotony of their long shift and stints on the rigs with regular matches in their down time.”

  • Crowded house

    Eduardo Bueno describes the pelada as “a passion that’s stamped on walls in graffiti; that permeates through favelas, back alleys and tower blocks; that’s tattooed on bodies”. This photo was taken in Rio’s largest and oldest favela, Rocinha. It is also the most populous: “Around 150,000 people live in a horseshoe that wraps around the mountain, where every green space has been overtaken by brick and cement,” says Pillitz. There are only a few spaces where people can play football. “I went in search of them to give a sense of how the game can take place pretty much everywhere. I jumped onto the roof of a house to get the right angle.”

  • A winger and a prayer

    The robed priests of Santo Tomás de Vilanova monastery, 400km west of São Paulo, are seen here playing with a group of fellow seminarians – who, according to Pillitz, “they beat hands down”. He says: “Over the years the priests have won numerous local trophies and play the game with the same passion as they dedicate to serving God.”

  • Tarmac as turf

    On Sundays, the São Paulo authorities order the closure of the Minhocão, an elevated section of a major trunk road that bisects the city, because there aren’t enough green spaces. Some jog, others ride bikes: while a few use the deserted asphalt as their pitch. “In order for me to get this vantage point I needed to knock on stranger’s doors until someone not too suspicious kindly let me onto their balcony,” says Pillitz. “The apartments that give onto the Minhocão are mostly lived in by poor immigrants from neighbouring countries.”

  • Eyes on the goal

    This picture shows Miroca, one of Brazil's most revered talent scouts, next to young players wanting to become future football stars. “I had heard of his skills and his reputation, so I went in search of him,” says Pillitz. He found him “surrounded by many dozens of boys hoping to be blessed by him for further development in the junior sides of the bigger teams”.

  • Amazonian beauty

    One of the world’s largest amateur football tournaments has been held in Maneus annually since 1973. Over 600 local teams take part in the ‘Peladão’, or ‘big kickabout’, which has a twist. Each team has its own beauty queen, who competes in a pageant alongside the sporting competition; an eliminated team can be brought back if their beauty queen is successful. According to Pillitz: “The year that this photograph was taken, 1997, Maciele Gomes won the top price and is seen here celebrating with her team’s fans at a roadside street bar.”

  • Grain of truth

    According to Pillitz, after 25 years of pacing up and down Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblón beaches, it was only a matter of time before he came across a scene like this – “a supremely emblematic – one could argue iconic, others might say clichéd – symbol of Rio de Janeiro: a group of friends playing a pelada on Copacabana beach.” He relished the chance to combine so many elements in a single frame: “The Sugar Loaf mountain, a replica Christ the Redeemer, Carioca women in the shape of an artist's sand sculptures and a kickabout with girlfriends looking on... The essence of beach life and football.”

  • Between the bars

    Pillitz gained access to the maximum security Adriano Marrey penitentiary on the outskirts of São Paulo to take this shot. He had to get permission from the judiciary to enter, and met security requirements including showing authorities all the material he had shot before he left. Many of the inmates have been convicted for drug trafficking, while some are in for murder. “Football is the most important part of these prisoners’ lives. If they break the rules, football is the first thing that is removed from their privileges,” says Pillitz. “What really struck me about this photograph was being able to get an elevated view from one of the cells ... and visible on the far left corner of the frame, the advertising hoarding with ‘Hope’ written across the lingerie model's abdomen.”