For Brazil fans, soccer passion is more than skin deep
People play football at Ipanema beach at sunset in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on January 29, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA)
Published Tuesday, February 11, 2014 8:33AM EST
(AFP) RIO DE JANEIRO -- For Brazilian football fans, love of the sport goes more than skin deep and Delneri Martins Viana wears his heart and a good deal more besides on his sleeve as a fanatical supporter of Rio side Botafogo.
Retired soldier Delneri describes himself as the club's "most fanatical" fan -- and he certainly looks the part, with his body covered in no less than 83 tattoos showing the sporting love of his life.
Brazilians live and breathe football -- from getting in a taxi to standing in the supermarket queue the conversation almost always comes round to it as a perfect way to break the social ice.
Men, women, children -- everyone has a view on a subject that fascinates everyone.
The passion is everywhere.
There's the trader who years ago made a solemn promise to wear his club's colours day after day.
And then there are the families who, almost as soon as their child is born, rush to have it registered as a club member.
Club often comes before country -- though team loyalties will be put aside in a year when Brazil's national team bid to land their fifth World Cup, and on home soil, in June.
Delneri, 69, says he likes the national team too but explains their games "just don't have the same emotion" as when he is watching his Botafogo.
Wear your heart on your skin
"I was born 'botafoguense'," says moustachioed Delneri.
Born in a small southern town he never imagined living one day in Rio de Janeiro, the home of his sporting passion.
But, aged 23, he joined the army and came to the "Marvelous City." Since then, his allegiance has been black and white -- the colors of Botafogo, once the team of the legendary Garrincha.
"There's nothing else in my wardrobe," grins Delneri, who does all he can to attend all of Botafogo's games, home or away.
Once at the stadium, he makes his way with purpose up to the terraces clad in black and white shorts -- of course -- and flipflops likewise in club colors.
No need for a shirt either -- his tattoos make his loyalties perfectly plain.
Many of those gathered come over to greet him and have their picture taken with "the tattooed one," who has become something of a celebrity.
Delneri doesn't stop at tattoos either, carefully painting fingers and toes black and applying the white star club logo on top.
"Getting a tattoo done is painful. But if you do it because you want to then it's a pleasure," he beams, indicating he may have some more done to cover the few bits of skin which remain bare.
Brazilians refer to such football fanatics as "torcedor doente" (a sick fan).
Delneri retorts: "The ones who don't support Botafogo are the sick ones."
Through the generations
Delneri had his first tattoo done 14 years ago and dedicated it to Garrincha.
Since then he has become a walking advert for the club, his works of body art ranging from badges to mottos and anthems.
He even has one in honor of Biriba, a dog belonging to a club former chairman who would take the animal to games in the belief he brought the team luck.
Botafoguense are superstitious like that -- and that goes for Delneri's daughter Glaucia, who won't take her place in the stands unless she is wearing an official team jersey.
Glaucia, 44, and younger sibling Marcela, 38, each have their own tattoos -- albeit 'only' ten. But they both accompany their father to matches whenever they can.
"I went to the Maracana from the age of six. I learned to love the club as my father does and now it's my passion," says Glaucia, whose Botafogo page on Facebook has 2,800 followers.
Brazilian women in general take their football very seriously, and more than hold their own when it comes to debating performances and tactics.
Delneri's wife Malvina Gonçalves herself only attends games occasionally. But she carefully maintains the home they have shared for 45 years as a shrine to their team.
Their house in the modest Rio suburb of Bangu bears a sign which reads: "Welcome -- but please don't speak ill of Botafogo."
Inside, the decor is black and white and several pictures of the team are on display with other club effects.
In addition, the family dogs are named after Garrincha and former Uruguayan favorite Loco Abreu.
"I think I love my club more than I do myself," chortles Malvina.
Her husband interjects she comes first for him -- but Botafogo are a close second.