After emerging from behind the haze of red flare smoke and making their way through the crowd gathered on the concrete futsal court, Geraldão and Basílio slip up the stairs and onto the stage. They are handed embroidered black t-shirts to pull over what they are already wearing and plaques to commemorate their achievement. A huge cheer from their several hundred admirers greets the announcement of their names over the deafening PA. The gratitude and reverence for what they have done is palpable. The adulation that the pair and their teammates enjoy is now even clearer than it already was from the huge banner that adorns one side of the stage, bearing their names and faces.

This intensity of emotion is usually reserved for recent triumphs, the blissful few days that fans enjoy after their club has lifted a cup and the inebriated delirium of the open-top bus parade. But for Geraldão and Basílio, it is an age since they have even laced up a pair of boots. The achievement being celebrated – winning the 1977 Campeonato Paulista – took place over four decades ago. A substantial portion of the audience in the rustic-looking, corrugated-metal warehouse that acts as the headquarters of Gaviões da Fiel were not even born when they were playing. 

The Gaviões, the biggest torcida organizada, or organised fan group, of Corinthians – São Paulo state’s most popular team – boasts over 100,000 members and are renowned for their fanaticism and boisterous displays on the terraces. Since that state championship win 42 years ago, they have seen their club go on to become one of the most decorated in Brazil, winning seven league titles, three Copas do Brasil, a Copa Libertadores, two Club World Cups, a Recopa Sul-Americana, a Torneio Rio-São Paulo and 13 further Campeonato Paulistas. But ask anyone old enough to remember, and they will tell with unwavering surety that none of those conquests has topped seeing their side lift that fabled trophy on the 13 October 1977 in São Paulo FC’s Morumbi stadium.

After their heroes’ reception has died down and a few words have been said on the stage, the drumming, singing and pyrotechnics resume and Geraldão and Basílio make their way down again, stopping every few yards for a selfie or a handshake. Realising that this is neither the time nor the place, we ask for Geraldão’s phone number, hoping to hear his stories on another day, in slightly less exuberant surroundings. 

A few weeks later, a smiling Geraldão greets us at the gates of Parque São Jorge, Corinthians’ administrative headquarters and centre of their sport and social club. Again, he is flanked by Basílio, the man who scored the winning goal in the 1977 final against Ponte Preta. Friendships forged in victory clearly stand the test of time.

Still tall, slim and imposing, even as he nears his seventieth birthday, it is easy to see why he was a feared penalty area presence in his playing days. Leading us to sit on the terraces of the compound’s Alfredo Schürig stadium, known as the Fazendinha, or Little Farm, he informs us that he has called in to the club to get trials for a young relative, who if successful will be embarking on a far easier path into the professional ranks than Geraldão encountered in the late 60s.

From humble beginnings in Álvares Machado, a sleepy countryside town some 600km from the São Paulo state capital, Geraldão started his working life as a boia fria – “a lad who worked in the fields” – and had to fight to find his way in football. His first attempt was in the city of Rio Preto, at local powerhouse América, but, he tells us, it was fruitless: “Football at that time was difficult… players formed little cliques amongst themselves and it was difficult for a guy who arrived from outside to come and play. I was a guy who knew nothing, a guy from the farm. I did the trial and they didn’t even give me the result. They didn’t tell me a thing, so I got my bus fare and went back to my town, never to return.”

As the eldest son, Geraldão’s family depended on him to get by, so, after another unsuccessful trial, he returned to work the land. The next year an acquaintance came to him with another opportunity and he even signed his first professional contract at São Bento de Marília in 1969. But after a pay dispute that saw him and other players go weeks without a wage, Geraldão was forced back to Álvares Machado once more and came close to giving up on the game entirely.     

For the vast majority of players, football is still a precarious occupation in Brazil. In 2016, the newspaper Folha de S Paulo reported that 72 per cent of registered professional footballers earned less than 3,000 Brazilian Reals per month, around £570 at current exchange rates. In late-60s, dictatorship-era rural São Paulo, then, one can easily imagine the uncertainties players faced. 

So, when one last chance came knocking with another minnow by the name of Epitaciana, Geraldão wanted assurances. “Knowing that with small clubs it’s difficult to get paid, I asked them, ‘Who is going to pay me?’ They said, ‘The club.’ I said, ‘I don’t want it, then. I don’t want [the contract]. I’ll only stay here with you if you get me another job. [I’ll play] if the money I receive is from the [other] job.’” Epitaciana’s top brass agreed, and off Geraldão went to work for the mayor’s office, receiving his salary for his efforts in the printing office during the week and attracting the attention of bigger outfits while he banged in the goals at the weekends. 

The first club to make a concrete offer were Botafogo de Ribeirão Preto. “When I arrived at Botafogo,” he remembers, “they were a big team but had problems. I arrived there and they were four months late [paying the players]. It wasn’t easy. My start there was difficult. But I told myself that I would search [for an opportunity] and I would succeed. In ‘71, we had a lot of difficulties. A lot of players arrived and when there’s a lot of players arriving to form the team, it’s not easy.” 

Despite the initial challenges presented by the financial issues, being at a more traditional, more powerful club allowed him to focus on his career as a player, competing at the top tier of São Paulo state football and lining up against the likes of Pelé, Rivellino, Gérson and Carlos Alberto. 

The team would struggle in his first couple of seasons, but, he recalls, “In 1974 Botafogo put together an excellent campaign and it was the year that Sócrates rose [to prominence].” Spending two “marvellous” years together at Botafogo, Sócrates and Geraldão would form one of futebol paulista’s greatest strike partnerships, having quickly adapted to one another’s style of play. 

“Sócrates didn’t like to train,” the big centre-forward remembers, “but he was lucky in that he already came with his gift. We played up front together, just the two of us. In this scheme that we had, we got on well. We developed something that meant we could score a lot of goals. He was very skilled and very intelligent. You had to follow his thought process, and I managed to pick it up really quickly. After a short time I knew everything that he did. Where I had to run, where I had to pick up his passes, how I had to play the ball to him.”

Geraldão was the Paulistão’s top scorer in ‘74 and it was also in this year, in the very ground where we were talking, that he and Sócrates had their first run-in with the Fiel, or faithful, as Corinthians’ fanatic supporters are known – prior to making their own separate journeys to play for the São Paulo giants. 

“We came to play here and beat Corinthians 1-0, but there was a bit of a confusão [literally ‘confusion’, confusão is a Brazilian euphemism that can mean anything from a minor verbal disagreement to a full-blown riot]. I scored a goal here at this end of the pitch and Corinthians at that time had gone 20-something years without a championship. They were playing at home, but weren’t able to beat us. It was 0-0. Parque São Jorge was full. Packed. And on the counter attack, I scored a goal and there was a terrible confusão. One official said it was a goal. The other said it wasn’t. They were calling for it to be disallowed, but the goal was legitimate.”

“At that time,” he continued, “the nets weren’t like they are today. The ball went in along the floor past the goalkeeper and came back out. The linesman saw it. But the goalkeeper, Ado, got the ball when it came back.” The linesman, Geraldão says, immediately ran towards the halfway line but the referee was unsure. 

The situation infuriated the Corinthians players, who came under asphyxiating pressure to win every game having gone so long without a trophy. Rivellino assaulted the linesman who had given the goal, the fans revolted in the stands and the ref finally decided to call the game off with ten minutes still to play. “It was fucked,” Geraldão said. “It took about 20 minutes for us to even get in the changing rooms. And when we managed to get there, we stayed there, imprisoned. The game finished at midday and we left at four in the afternoon. The fans didn’t let us out.”

Corinthians would end up reaching the final that year but would fall at the last hurdle against their eternal city rivals Palmeiras, who boasted a wonderful side led by the legendary number 10 Ademir Da Guia. As Da Guia told the Blizzard1, he and his Palmeiras team-mates relished having made Corinthians wait at least another year for a trophy, extending the drought to two full decades. It would also spell the end for Rivellino at Corinthians, whose fans turned on and ostracised their star player, blaming him for the defeat.

After joining them the following season, Geraldão would eventually suffer his own misery in alvinegro colours in 1976 as Corinthians again came up short in the Campeonato Brasileiro, losing the final to Internacional. At the time, the competition consisted of three convoluted group phases which whittled down a pack of 54 teams to a quartet of semi-finalists and Corinthians managed to battle their way through, unwittingly setting the scene for another chapter in the club’s rich folklore. The Invasão Corinthiana – Corinthians Invasion – saw a reported 70,000 Timão fans descend on Rio de Janeiro for their game with Fluminense, the club to which Rivellino had fled at the start of 1975. Some still claim it’s the biggest movement of Brazilians from one city to another on a single day. “The invasion had already started when we arrived at out hotel,” recalls the 70-year-old with the astonishment still perceptible in his voice. “When we arrived, it was already full of people. We could barely get out of our rooms, we had to stay in our rooms the whole time. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

At the game, there were almost 150,000 people present – “loads and loads,” Geraldão said rather understatedly – and, playing against “one of the best teams that year in Brazil. Corinthians needed a result, really needed a result.” With the support of half the stadium, they got it and pushed through to a one-off final in Porto Alegre against Inter. 

“Until this day, I can’t understand how we lost that game in Porto Alegre,” he said, before explaining in detail exactly how they did just that. “We had lots of problems in Porto Alegre with the fans, to get into the stadium, to get changed before the game. We had to get changed in the corridor, we didn’t get changed in the dressing room, we stayed in the tunnel, because inside the dressing room they had put poison, they’d thrown it all over the place. There was a really strong smell of poison and we had to get changed in the entranceway to the pitch. To get onto the pitch, we had problems too. At night it was complicated just to go to sleep. If somebody slept for half an hour that night, it was a lot. It was terrible. We went onto the pitch conscious of the fact that we had a tough battle ahead.” 

In the game, he said, “We didn’t let Internacional play, we didn’t let them play. And I still, to this day, don’t understand why we lost that game. There were two goals from set pieces. There was one that hit the wall and if you pay attention… Sometimes I watch that video [of the game] and the ball goes up and up and up and disappears from the screen. It hit the wall and disappeared, disappeared from the image. You only see it when it’s coming back down. It was stupid, a silly mistake, it was careless from all of us. One stood there waiting for the other, looking at the ball, and nobody went to it. Danilo got there first, headed it into the floor and it ended up going in. It was careless. 

“The second goal was another from a dead ball. It hit the bar, hit the floor and Tobias picked it up and then the linesman ran to the halfway line. And there was no video [VAR] in that era, so we didn’t know if it had gone in or not. And another thing, we missed a lot of chances in that game. We were all over them and missed chances.”

Despite Geraldão’s bewilderment, Inter were champions and Corinthians would traipse on into 1977 without any new silverware in the cabinet. The following season, he said, “We started with the Brazilian championship, it started earlier that year, and then after that it was the São Paulo state championship, half way through the year.” 

These days Brazil’s state championships are little more than glorified pre-season cups, yet until the 1990s they were considered more important than the national league title. “We had to win,” he continued. “Corinthians had gone 20, 21, 22 years and then it went to 23 [without a trophy]. We put everything into it, we started with that desire, with that will to win.” 

“But there was Ponte Preta [a mid-sized club from the city of Campinas], who at that time had a great team. They went head-to-head with the big teams from the [state] capital [São Paulo FC, Palmeiras and Corinthians]. They had excellent players and it wasn’t easy to play against them. We played three or four games against them in their stadium and we didn’t win one. We had to battle, we used to talk between the players and when we went into the home stretch, we had four games that we couldn’t lose, to get into the final. In front of us, we had Guarani, the other team from Campinas. We had Botafogo de Ribeirão Preto, another difficult place to go. We had Portuguesa in the Pacaembu and São Paulo in the Morumbi. And we couldn’t lose to any of them.” 

“We went to Campinas and lost [to Guarani], a really bloody difficult game,” Geraldão remembers. “I don’t know what happened, but some other results [went our way]. We lost there and it turned into this massive scene in the dressing room. The [club] president said all sorts, throwing insults at everybody. He’d given up hope because we had loads of hard games ahead. Botafogo were good, Portuguesa were good at that time, and São Paulo. It wasn’t easy.

“The president had thrown in the towel but we had a team meeting and we talked a lot and went onto the pitch with that desire in Ribeirão Preto, that disposition. ‘This is it, lads. Vamos, vamos. It’s all or nothing.’ We went up there and won 1-0. In the next game, against Portuguesa, it was tough again, we were all over them but the ball wouldn’t go in. In the 37th minute of the second half, I scored a goal. It was a long, high ball and I went up with the keeper and headed it and it went over him, but he caught me with a punch, right here under my mouth. And I fell, I couldn’t speak, I was in pain and stayed down until our coach came running onto the pitch. I’d just scored a goal, but he comes running on, ‘Come on, get up. If you can’t hack it I’ll take you off.’ That’s all I heard. So I tried and tried until I managed to get up. He said ‘I’ll take you off.’ I said, ‘No, I can continue.’  We won 1-0.

“And then it was São Paulo, the last game, another hard game. Caramba. Caramba. In every game against São Paulo, I’d scored. We’d played them five times, and I scored five, one in each game. The game started, I scored, São Paulo went and equalised but then we attacked and managed to score the second. We won 2-1.“Then it was Ponte Preta in the finals, another task that wasn’t easy. Ponte Preta had got through easily. They were a young team, younger than us, well organised. We knew that we’d have problems ahead. We went in with confidence as well, though. With desire and confidence. And we won the first game. In the second game, we scored first but then we had a problem, we were careless and they turned the game 2-1.” 

That second leg at São Paulo’s Morumbi stadium was attended by 138,000 paying fans as well as thousands more not counted in the official attendance figures, far more than can safely be housed in the ground. “They are two matches that will go down in history. The game in the Maracanã [against Fluminense] was like the one we lost 2-1 in ’77 [in the final against Ponte Preta], there were a lot of people in the ground. The game that we lost in ’77, I think it was good that we lost because if we’d won, a lot of people would have died that day. There were so many people, they didn’t fit, there was one on top of the other. We arrived at the stadium and went outside to see what it was like and they were on top of each other. It was a difficult situation.”

As a result of the defeat in the second leg, they would go on to play a third and deciding match. “We lost that [second] game but we kept our heads,” he said, “we had a team that knew how to play together. We knew how to battle. For Corinthians to win a title, it’s just like today, it’s never easy for Corinthians to win a title. But by fighting together we managed to do it. 

“In the third game we had that desire. You see that even before Ruy Rey [Ponte Preta’s centre-forward] got sent off, it was all Corinthians. We had played 20-something minutes and it was already going our way. After the sending off, it seemed to get more difficult for us. Ponte fell back a bit, set up at the back, like football is today. Just look before the goal went in, one guy hit the woodwork, then it bounced off a Ponte player, but it wouldn’t go in.”

At the third time of asking, the ball sat up nicely for Basílio who then had to do nothing more than smash home with his laces nine minutes from time and seal a legacy for himself and his teammates. 

“We deserved to be champions in that year because we battled. It was glorious. Me, as a Corinthiano, to become a champion with Corinthians; it was the greatest joy of my life. So many people were waiting so long for it to happen, just like I was. It was only parties after that. Pure joy.” 

A few months later, after a falling out with Corinthians’ tempestuous president Vicente Matheus, Geraldão was loaned out to the minnows CA Juventus, but he would return in 1979 to be reunited with his old partner Sócrates and play a part in another São Paulo state crown. Further down the line he would also go on to clinch back-to-back Rio Grande do Sul titles with Internacional, but nothing would ever match up to that first trophy he lifted, breaking Corinthians’ drought in the Morumbi.

“Even today we are recognised,” he says, conjuring memories of the raucous reception he got at the Gaviões da Fiel barbecue two weeks before. “Sometimes I go to play with the Corinthians Masters team and people still praise us for it, people thank us for it. It’s very gratifying. It was the biggest moment of joy in my life.”