Belle Pubs & Restaurants ops director Mike Reed recalls: “We’d been open about a year. One of our customers came in – I think he was having a Sunday roast – and asked the question ‘do you guys ever show any Brazilian football?’. We said, ‘we can show any sport that you like’. He was one of the members of Flamengo’s fan club – the president – so he arranged with the pub’s manager to come down the following Sunday with a group of five or six of them.”
After a successful debut at the Griffin Belle, Reed explains that word quickly spread, in part due to the group’s active presence on social media.
“Sure enough, the next week they brought down 20 and it slowly built from there. They have a good relationship with the staff and manager on-site, they always let us know in advance when their games are going to be, and they come in and spend well – they eat food, they buy beer and they behave themselves.”
Who are Flamengo?
Founded in 1895 as a rowing club – they played their first competitive game of football in 1912 – Brazilian side Flamengo are based in Rio de Janeiro where they play their home fixtures at the legendary 78,000-capacity Maracanã stadium.
Six-time winners of Brazil’s top flight, Flamengo are the country’s most popular club, boasting more than 30m supporters as of 2018. The club has retired its number 12 jersey in tribute to its colossal support.
In the 1981 Intercontinental Cup Final, Flamengo famously shut-out a Liverpool side boasting the likes of Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and managed by Bob Paisley, with Brazil legend Zico producing a man-of-the match performance in a 3-0 win.
Alongside Zico, notable former Flamengo players include Brazilian greats Romario and Ronaldinho, former QPR stopper Julio Cesar and Manchester United flop Kleberson.
Despite numbers increasing rapidly, the Griffin Belle – found within walking distance of the Oval cricket ground and a regular haunt for fans looking to watch everything from the NFL to the Premier League – has been able to accommodate Flamengo’s fixtures alongside a packed sporting schedule due to favourable kick-off times for the Rio de Janeiro-based club, according to Reed.
“They generally play on a Sunday at 7pm or 8pm,” he explains. “We’ve only had three events that have run late into the night but, generally, it’s a good time for us.
“There have been some nights where we’ve had English football on yet we book our Flamengo fan club upstairs. People can still go up and play pool there too. We also have Formula One fans, NFL fans, but [Flamengo fans] always communicate well in advance so we don’t just get suddenly a load turn up on the doorstep and they’re very active on social media, so for any events coming up they’ll post on social media.”
What is the Copa Libertadores?
South America’s equivalent of the Champions League – the Copa Libertadores – was founded in 1960 and is named after the leaders of the South American wars of independence. It literally translates as ‘The Liberators of America Cup’.
It comprises 37 teams from 10 South American nations’ football associations. After a series of qualifying rounds, 32 teams compete in a group stage – eight groups of four teams like its European counterpart. The top two from each group qualify for knockout stages.
This year’s final was held in Lima, Peru, where Brazilian Champions Flamengo beat current holders, River Plate of Argentina, to lift the trophy for the second time in their history.
Flamengo’s victory means that they advanced to the Club World Cup – also featuring Champions League winners Liverpool.
Soon after the 2019 season of Brazil’s top flight – Campeonato Brasileiro Série A – kicked off in April, and with strong early showings in South America’s continental competition, the Copa Libertadores, it became apparent that something special was in the offing for Flamengo’s huge fanbase.
“As the season progressed, Flamengo were doing very well in the league and were progressing through the Copa Libertadores,” Reed explained. “I think we had three late night events leading up to the Copa Liberatores final, which were the knockout stages. They were very well attended, very well managed, no issues at all, and then when they made it through to the final.
“Through the president of the Flamengo fan club and co-ordinating our sales team here, the pub was filled on the night of the final. They had a police-escorted march up from the centre of town, they had drums and all sorts going on. For those unlucky ones who couldn’t get in here, we were able to start filling up our sister pub in Battersea .”
Held thousands of miles away at the Estadio Monumental in Lima, Peru, the final of the Copa Liberatores did not disappoint despite the Brazilian side trailing Argentine holders River Plate as the game entered the 89th minute.
“You couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic final,” Reed explains. “It was probably even better than Manchester United beating Bayern Munich in 1999. Literally with five minutes to go they were losing the final and they turned it around and won – the celebrations were crazy. They all went back down into central London to celebrate.
“Then, the very next day, they weren’t actually playing but they clinched the league title because of other results that went their way so we had a few diehard fans come in – I think a few of them were, let’s say, a little bit tired from the previous night’s exertions. To win the Copa Libertadores and then the league title in the same weekend was amazing.”
A pleasure to deal with
“The timings are quite good, because if its at 7pm or 8pm on a Sunday night that’s traditionally not one of our busier times so its uplifted sales on those nights by between 20% and 25%,” according to Reed.
“They’re a big group of fans, they like to have a good sing-song, and to celebrate loudly but we’ve never had any incident of any nature – there’s always a consideration with large crowds watching football, but they thank the staff, they help clear up glasses, they’re a pleasure to deal with.”
But how does the atmosphere for Flamengo’s fixtures stack up against the noise from pubgoers on Premier League match days?
“It’s nothing like it,” Reed says. “From the minute they come in, before the game starts, they start singing. Throughout the game they sing. During that final, I was stood on the door with our security and I said ‘where else would you see anywhere with the whole place singing five minutes to go and they’re about to lose the final?’ They’re very passionate, they sing, they even brought some drums down, which was a little bit different but we let them dress the place, they can really get into the spirit of it and that’s what they like to do.”