As a French Urban designer and a regular attendee at games of ASSE, attending a football game in Brazil at Estádio Palestra Itália (Palmeiras, Saõ Paulo), gives the opportunity to verify if the atmosphere of “fans” and ultras in French stadia can match their distant models the “torcidas organizadas” from Brazil.
In Stade Geoffroy-Guichard (St-Etienne) as in Estádio Palestra Itália (Palmeiras), stadia are getting old and more or less decrepit. Often patched up since their construction in the 1930s, the popular stands have rare privileges nowadays. You still can watch the game standing in the terraces (gradins or arquibancadas) and they are even close enough to the pitch to smell the wet grass.
In contrast to the modern sports arenas so often located on the outer fringes of cities, they are situated in their city and also afford a view on it. At Saõ Paulo, the Estádio Palestra Itália is constructed in the Greek style of the Olympic Games, a horseshoe shaped bowl. The stadium stages the city landscape: in the foreground there are palm trees symbolising the club and in the background the vista is the skyline made of favelas and skyscrapers.
In France the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard is an English-style stadium with four grandstands staring at each other across the pitch. Between the stands the vista comprises the city factories, bars and towers and affords panoramas of the surrounding hills. In both cases, there is the same coupling of verticality and horizontality.
In both stadia, heterogeneous groups of fans are the main factors of atmosphere. They are massed in the popular stands and are gathered in torcidas organizadas or ultras sections. Their singing is powerful and polyphonic and carries a national reputation. The rhythm of their bands (drums, choirs) can be monotonous or hectic according to match scenario and they continue regardless of the opposing teams’ goals. The same rhythms are to be found in both stadia (sambas, macarena, Manu Chao, etc.) even if musical references are rarely common.
There is on the other hand a difference between the areas allocated to visitors. While in St-Etienne the away stand is situated in the grandstand, physically closed and in visually contact with the home fans in the main kop, the visitors of the Palestra Itália are placed at the end of the horseshoe, far from eyes and from the hearts of paulistes’ torcidas. Plastic covers and advertisements prevent any hope of opposing fans locking glances or making physical contact.
In both stadia emblems and flags of the supporters make similar references to the bad boys of comics such as Bart Simpson, Satanas and Diabolo or Mancha negra (Phantom Blot). More surprising is the flag of the house of Savoy which flies in both stadia. This similarity has arisen because of the Savoyard origins of certain fans of the AS St-Etienne and the Italian background of the club of Palmeiras called back by the flag of the house of Savoy.
From a simple view of this comparison, we can advance the idea that the atmosphere of the big French stadiums show a “high fidelity” with their distant Brazilian models. With the new ultramodern and secure arenas promised by France and Brazil for their future international competitions, could these remarkable atmospheres be exploited to enrich the new models of stadia design? The projects of current stadia almost never take into account the notion of atmosphere. They are mainly interested in the constructed dimension and in the exploitation of spectators as consumers. This attitude results in a double phenomenon in new stadia design: an improvement of the architectural quality but with the progressive impoverishment of the qualities of uses and emotions.
N.B. This article has been written in 2010 for www.ambiances.net, March 2010. It refers to Geoffroy-Guichard before the Euro 2016’s modifications. The Estádio Palestra Itália has been demolished in November 2010…
 Also called Parque Antártica.
 Mancha verde, one of Palmeiras torcidas, is also a school of samba.
 Mancha negra is an enemy of Mickey, more active in Brazil than the ‘French’ Pat Hibulaire.
 The club was established by Italian immigrants and is called Palestra Itália up to the Second World War.