Bombs, rocks and pitch invasions: Brazilian football's shameful weekend

Bahia bus

While violent episodes among fans are far from unknown in Brazilian football, or indeed across South America, the attack suffered by Bahia prior to the club's Copa Nordeste clash with Sampaio Correa last week was shocking for its severity and potential for serious injury or even worse.

The team bus was ambushed on its way to their Fonte Nova home and explosive devices were hurled at the vehicle a short distance from the stadium.

Miraculously, the explosion, which left a gaping hole in the coach's side and blew out the windows of another car that happened to be passing by at the time of the assault, left the players and staff inside with just minor injuries, with goalkeeper Danilo Fernandes the only individual needing hospital attention for superficial cuts to his face caused by shattered glass.

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Incredibly, and minus the hospitalised Fernandes, Bahia were even able to take the field that same night, and took down Sampaio to keep their defence of the Copa Nordeste alive and well after a tough start to the season.

“Due to dignity, professionalism and to honour Bahia's colours,” coach Guto Ferreira signalled when asked why they played following the attack – which, perhaps most troubling of all, was carried out by members of Bahia's very own organised 'Torcida' ultra group.

Bahia's ordeal was one of four serious incidents that occurred in Brazil across the space of just three days. That same evening, Nautico's team bus was pelted by rocks by disgruntled fans as the club returned to Recife airport following their elimination from the Copa do Brasil, again smashing several windows on the vehicle.

On Saturday, meanwhile, it was the Gremio coach that was targeted on its approach to Beira Rio in Porto Alegre ahead of the Tricolor's derby visit to Internacional. Paraguay international Mathias Villasanti suffered multiple injuries after being struck by a rock, including a concussion, and like Danilo was hospitalised; while on this occasion Gremio refused to play, slamming the attack as a “cowardly and absurd aggression” and forcing postponement to March 9.

If that were not enough, the same Saturday saw fans of Parana literally come to blows with players in the middle of the pitch as the Curitiba side faced relegation from the state championship top flight. Military riot police were forced into action to protect both sides and the officiating team from supporters wielding clubs and iron pipes, another nightmarish scene which thankfully did not end in tragedy.

Which one of these episodes, if any, will prompt those in charge – and, no less importantly, those fans responsible for the incidents, ultras or otherwise – to admit there is a problem and give players the protection they need and deserve?

It is clear at least that players' patience is running thin. “Enough! How long are we going to have to put up with this,” Danilo Fernandes and Bahia team-mates Matheus Bahia and Marcelo Cirino asked in a scathing Instagram message highlighting the wave of violence. "To more safety for us and the end of violence in football."

Former Chelsea and Arsenal star Willian, now with Corinthians, also lent his voice to the campaign.

“Nothing is happening here. [The Torcidas] will keep doing this, over and again,” he fired. “The authorities tolerate this. I have learned one thing, that we cannot complain against the things that we tolerate.

“I am here that we do have to show our indignation with the situation. We all have to join to combat violence in football.”

More effective police protection of team vehicles and in the stands is an obvious first step that must be taken, but it is not a magic solution.

Studies such as sociologist Mauricio Murad's Practices of fan violence and death in Brazilian football point the finger at a tiny minority of supporters: “between 5 and 10 percent, in the organised groups. Minorities, but dangerous and concerning, because they are armed, trained and organised for violent confrontation.”

Such groups, such as Bahia's Bamor – accused of responsibility in the recent ambush - and the Mancha Alviverde of Palmeiras often wield huge power and pressure on their clubs.

Even as Palmeiras lifted the Recopa Sudamericana on Wednesday, the Mancha held up banners and signs berating president Leila Pereira's administration and calling for the club chief – the first female to hold that post in their history – to step aside. The very next day communications head Oliverio Junior was forced to leave his role in a partial victory for the ultras.

Just two weeks earlier, a 40-year-old Palmeiras fan was shot to death in a confused incident just outside the club's Allianz Parque home, where a crowd had gathered to watch the Verdao's Club World Cup final against Chelsea. The man accused of his murder claims he was set upon by members of the Mancha Alviverde and fired in self-defence.

Palmeiras declined to release a statement over the fatality, and almost simultaneously the Mancha were honoured by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council for their “outstanding support” at the Club World Cup.

As in neighbouring nations such as Argentina and Uruguay, the organised groups are often treated as cult heroes for their fervent, colourful and supposedly unconditional support, but behind the drums, chants and flares is a sinister sense of impunity and entitlement which allows them to act without consequence, knowing that few club officials have the power to stand up to them and remove them from the stands.

It is that culture of looking the other way that permits attacks on one's own players in order to 'punish' a poor run of form to be tolerated in this fashion, but it cannot go on in this manner.

If clubs do not take steps to rein in their own fans and make it clear that violence of any kind is unacceptable, the ambushes and invasions will continue to take place, otherwise it can only be a matter of time before a player is left seriously hurt or perhaps even worse for merely doing his job.