For Brazilian soccer fans like Delneri Martins Viana, the love of the sport goes more than skin deep.
Retired soldier Delneri describes himself as Rio de Janeiro side Botafogo’s “most fanatical” supporter and he certainly looks the part, with his body covered in no less than 83 tattoos depicting the sporting love of his life.
Brazilians live and breathe soccer — men, women, children; everyone has a view on a subject that fascinates everyone.
The passion for the sport is everywhere, as can be seen in the case of the trader who years ago made a solemn promise to wear his club’s colors every day, or the families who rush to have their children registered as club members almost immediately after they are born.
Club often comes before country, although team loyalties will be put aside when Brazil bid to land their fifth FIFA World Cup on home soil in June.
Delneri, 69, said he likes the national team too, but that their games “just don’t have the same emotion” as when he is watching Botafogo.
“I was born botafoguense,” Delneri said.
Born in a small southern town, Delneri never imagined that he would one day live in Rio, the home of his sporting passion.
When he was 23, he joined the Brazilian army and came to the “Marvelous City.” Since then, his allegiance has been black-and-white, the colors of Botafogo, once the team of soccer legend Garrincha.
“There’s nothing else in my wardrobe,” said Delneri, who does all he can to attend all of Botafogo’s games, at home or away.
Once at the stadium, he made his way with purpose up to the terraces clad in black-and-white shorts — of course — and matching flip-flops. There is no need for a shirt, as his tattoos make his loyalties plain.
Many of those gathered come over to greet Delneri and have their photograph taken with “the tattooed one,” who has become something of a local celebrity.
Delneri’s dedication does not stop at the ink either; he also paints fingers and toes black with the club’s white star logo on top.
“Getting a tattoo done is painful, but if you do it because you want to then it’s a pleasure,” he said, adding he may have more done to cover his few remaining bits of bare skin.
Brazilians refer to such fanatics as “torcedor doente” (a sick fan), a claim to which Delneri retorts: “The ones who don’t support Botafogo are the sick ones.”
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 former club chairman who would take the animal to games in the belief he brought the team luck.
Botafoguense are superstitious and Delneri’s daughter, Glaucia, is no exception — she will not 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” 10 — and both accompany their father to matches whenever they can.
“I went to the [Estadio do] Maracana from the age of six. I learned to love the club as my father does and now it’s my passion,” said Glaucia, whose Botafogo page on Facebook has 2,800 followers.
Brazilian women tend to take their soccer very seriously and more than hold their own when idebating performances and tactics.