The Pinheirão: a forgotten sanctuary of Brazilian football

Stadiums are one of the most magical, mystical and philosophical things in football. They create an identity, a place where fans can forget about every issue in their personal lives to focus on their team playing the beautiful game. Stadiums are a part of the folklore that involves football, a place where fans can call home.

In Brazil, many stadiums are part of an identity of the domestic game and helped create memories and stories that are still told today. The Maracanã, the place where Uruguay defeated Brazil in the 1950 World Cup finals to create the biggest tragedy in Brazil’s football history. The Vila Belmiro – also known as Estádio Urbano Caldeira – was the place where Pelé set the world alight, showing the magic and brilliance of football’s king.

However, it’s very likely that you’ve never heard about a stadium in the city of Curitiba, called the Pinheirão. Curitiba is currently the biggest city in South Brazil and is the home of three major clubs: Atlético Paranaense, Coritiba and Paraná Clube. The city also hosted the 1950 World Cup in the Estádio Dorival de Britto e Silva. When Curitiba was starting appear on Brazil’s football radar after the 1950 World Cup, construction of the Pinheirão was an attempt by the city to cement their place as one of Brazil’s football capitals.

Three years after the World Cup in Brazil, an architect called Ayrton Lolô Cornelsen created the first design of the Pinheirão. Lolô was a known name in Curitiba, having won the Paraná state championship for Atlético Paranaense in 1943, 1944 and 1945. Lolô was one of the men responsible for the rebuild of the Couto Pereira – Coritiba’s stadium – and also designed the Mineirão, one of the most iconic stadiums in Brazil.

Lolô was a football player and had an influence on the project of two iconic stadiums in Brazilian football. It was a perfect match for Lolô to design the Pinheirão. The initial name of the stadium was Olympic Stadium of Paraná and the area called Tarumã was the chosen location. The neighbourhood of Tarumã had plenty of sporting venues, like the Paraná Jockey Club and the Ginásio of Tarumã, even though the area wasn’t as popular as it is today.

Lolô’s initial project was ambitious and quite modernist considering the time. The original Pinheirão was supposed to accommodate 100,000 supporters and had plenty of facilities, such as commercial premises around the stadium. The man responsible for city wide development, Jaime Lerner, was also an architect and seemed interested in the construction of the stadium. A construction location was made available and workers started the landscaping, but the project was later abandoned.

With Brazilian football getting more exposure, the national team having won two of the three most recent World Cups, the president of Paraná’s football association decided to restart the construction of the Pinheirão in 1968. The mayor of Curitiba, Omar Sabag, gave his endorsement and the construction finally started to take place in 1972. The first stands were starting the be given life and it seemed the football sanctuary in the state of Paraná was finally taking place.

However, just like it always was with the Pinheirão, the construction took a step back due to the lack of funding. This was a recurring story with the stadium: it was never built and conducted in the way it was planned. After more than 10 years, the construction restarted and the stadium was finally opened in 1985. The project wasn’t the same as designed by Lolô, who latter declared the final result of the Pinheirão as a disaster, lacking the shape and style he’d originally envisaged.

Although the stadium was ready to host football matches, it was missing one key ingredient: a team. However, for Atlético Paranaense, who left their ground in the neighbourhood of Água Verde, near downtown, the Pinheirão became home for seven years, between 1985 and 1992.

The Pinheirão was a modern stadium that represented a new era for Atlético, a team that saw an opportunity to increase revenue and the visibility of the club. Even though the Pinheirão became their home, it never felt like it. In 1994, Atlético returned to their spiritual home in the Arena da Baixada and ended their lacklustre spell in the Pinheirão.

While Atlético were experiencing arguably the worst period in their history, near their original home in Água Verde, a new club was starting to arise. In the Rua Engenheiro Rebouças, the same street of the Arena da Baixada, the Dorival de Britto and Silva stadium received a new club: Paraná Clube. In 1989, Paraná was founded thanks to a merger between Colorado and Pinheiros, two clubs with a successful recent history in regional football.

After the merger, Paraná Clube took the state football scene by storm. In the club’s first ten years, Paraná won six state championships, while winning promotion to the Brasileirão in 1992. Towards the end of 90’s, after Atlético left the Pinheirão, the stadium became home for the emerging Paraná Clube, in a controversial contractual agreement with the state’s football association. The stadium started to be given an identity, after the Paraná Football Association painted the seats in the colours of Paraná.

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Paraná Clube’s most successful period was when they were playing in the Pinheirão. Between 1993 and 1997, the club managed to win five consecutive state championships and created a fierce rivalry with both Atlético and Coritiba. During this period, Paraná also became a consistent team in the Brasileirão and at one point were the only team from the state to play in the top tier of Brazilian football.

The better days of the Pinheirão were when they were home to Paraná Clube. However, Paraná had their own stadium in the Vila Capanema, and the Pinheirão – as was the case with Atlético – never felt like home. In 2005, Paraná started a campaign to return to the Dorival de Britto and Silva which, in 2006, came to fruition.

Unfortunately, the Pinheirão became something it wasn’t supposed to be. The original project by Lolô Cornelsen was forgotten and altered, and the delay in the stadium’s construction was another reason for its sad ending.

The Pinheirão was always unwanted and disliked. When the stadium was finished, the city of Curitiba wasn’t as developed as it is today. Curitiba is seen as one of the most modern cities in Brazil, in terms of technology and transport. But, at that time, the neighbourhood of Tarumã – where the Pinheirão is located – was too far away from downtown, too far away from where people used to watch football. I remember my father telling me that the area was too distant, it wasn’t a place made for football.

The place where the stadium was built is an argument against it, but the Pinheirão itself wasn’t fit for football. A running track around the pitch made the stands look too far from the pitch and even after the stands got closer to the pitch, the complaints didn’t stop.

And, even though it was an unwanted place, the stadium gave fans some memorable moments. The Brazil national team played there four times. In 1986, a star-studded Brazil  – featuring Zico, Sócrates, Casagrande, Falcão and legendary manager Telê Santana – faced Chile. More recently, the Canarinho played against Uruguay in a qualification match for the 2006 World Cup. The World Champions had a team featuring Ronaldo, Kaká, Rivaldo and Cafú. The Pinheirão had the pleasure to see Ronaldo scoring a brilliant goal, and also saw glimpses of a future star named Kaká. Brazil didn’t win the match, drawing 3-3, but it was a watershed moment for a lacklustre stadium.

In club football, the 1998 Paraná state championship final between Atlético and Coritiba is the most iconic game played at the stadium. The Furacão – Atlético’s nickname – hadn’t won a state championship in eight years and the chance to end the drought against their biggest rivals was something they couldn’t miss. After a 1-1 draw in the first match and a 4-1 demolition by Atlético in the second, all that was needed was a draw. In front of a record 44,475 supporters, Atlético defeated Coritiba, extending Coritiba’s drought to 10 years without a state championship.

This was a meaningful game in the history of Atlético. My father went to that game and he tells me the story of the match every now and then. This is quite a paradoxical thought about the Pinheirão: while it was unwanted, it still meant something for a lot of people. The Pinheirão was supposed to be a football sanctuary, the place to pop into your mind when thinking about the city of Curitiba. But it had no identity, empathy or love.

Pinheirão closed its doors in May 2007, thanks to a request by creditors from the Paraná Football Association, which had debts of more than £9m, owing money to the Curitiba Prefecture and the INSS – an autarchy in Brazilian government responsible for social security. After a failed auction in 2007, the ground was sold in 2012 for £10.6m to João Destro, a successful businessman from Paraná. After getting sold, it’s likely that the Pinheirão will never host a football match again.

Before the city of Curitiba was selected as a host for the 2014 World Cup, the Pinheirão became one of the options to host the matches, with redevelopment plan consisting of a mall, together with hotels, as a viable option. The Paraná Football Association managed to find a construction company for the building, but the Arena da Baixada was chosen to host the games instead. The ifs and what it could’ve been is a drama that always existed around the Pinheirão.

The Pinheirão is forgotten, it doesn’t look like a place that was supposed to be a place of celebration and happiness. It’s sad to see its ending, even more considering what is was supposed to be.

It is just a matter of time until the Pinheirão drowns into complete forgetness. And, despite how unwanted and disliked it was, the stadium was a part of the football folklore in the city of Curitiba. It has memories that fans will carry on forever. But, the ending is inevitable and the Pinheirão is one of the lost and forgotten sanctuaries in Brazilian football.

By Gabriel Coelho for the SOUTH AMERICA series

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