What was the Itaquera neighbourhood in Sao Paulo like 100 years ago? Was football played there? Were there any pitches near the site where the new Arena de Sao Paulo is going to be located? In order to find the answers to thiese and other questions, the Sao Paulo Museum of Football has set up an investigation centre to learn more about Itaquera.

What is known at this point is that Itaquera has always been a hotbed for futebol de várzea, a term typically used in the Sao Paulo state to refer to organised matches played between teams of football aficionados. Its popularity was easy to explain, given the neighbourhood’s relative distance from the centre of Sao Paulo at the time, while there remain a number of várzea pitches in Itaquera.

Futebol de várzea is a phenomenon that has experienced a gradual decline in Brazil’s major cities but, in the early 20th century, pitches abounded on unused pieces of land across the nation. Indeed, that was where many of the legends of Brazilian football first got to grips with the beautiful game. In Sao Paulo in particular, factory teams had a fundamental role to play in the growth of futebol de várzea, given that many workers got together to form sides with their colleagues.

Parallels with the Pacaembu
Similarities have been drawn with the construction of the new Arena de Sao Paulo and that of the Pacaembu stadium – a venue which hosted matches at the 1950 FIFA World Cup™. According to the Museum of Football’s director Clara Azevedo, there were fears during the Pacaembu’s construction back in the late 1930s that the stadium was too far from the centre of Sao Paulo when in fact it is much closer than Itaquera.

"Nowadays, the Pacaembu is seen as being in a central location but, in the era when it was being built, the [Irmandade da] Santa Casa [de Misericórdia] was around there, and that was considered to be in an out-of-the-way place,” Azevedo explained.

“Photos taken during the Pacaembu’s construction show that the surrounding area was sparsely populated. The stadium was very important for local development during that era, just as I think the Arena de Sao Paulo will be for the eastern zone of the city which is gigantic. It’s a zone which is growing very fast, but there are still a lot of people in the city that have never set foot there,” she added.

According to the studies which have been carried out, the Pacaembu neighbourhood was very different back then, to the point that there were even two waterfalls very close to the stadium. A photo from 1945 shows a large piece of open ground – without any houses on it – right next to the football venue. Within a few short years the scene had changed radically, to the extent that several apartment buildings had sprung up there. 

Nowadays, aside from the fact that the notion of distance has changed significantly and the neighbourhood is now considered to be central, the district enjoys an excellent infrastructure. Featuring tower blocks and shops catering to those with plenty of spending power, Pacaembu has become one of the finest residential areas in Sao Paulo.

Building the Pacaembu helped bring Sao Paulo state football to another level. Prior to 1940, when the stadium was unveiled, the city did not have a large sporting arena. The Morumbi, which has since taken the mantle of the metropolis’ biggest stadium, was not built until the 1960s.