SAO PAULO – A Brazilian mother has made soccer come alive for her blind 12-year-old son, with her devotion to the boy and the sport being recognized by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, with the 2019 Best Fan award.
“With the award, I realized that disabled people are invisible,” Silvia Grecco told EFE.
The 57-year-old Grecco adopted Nickollas, who came into the world as a 5-month-old premature baby and suffers from slight autism.
People around the world now know about Grecco’s relationship with her son and the role soccer plays in bringing them together.
In late September, Grecco was presented with the FIFA award for describing every match played by Sao Paulo-based soccer club Palmeiras to Nickollas, a ritual that mother and son have followed every week since 2012.
Grecco’s story has moved fans, players and tens of thousands of people around the world.
“For seven years, I was in the same place in the stadium, providing narration, and up to now no one had paid attention to us,” Grecco, who works for the mayor’s office in the Sao Paulo suburb of Maua, said.
A team from EFE accompanied the soccer-loving mother and son over the weekend to the Brazilian league clash between Palmeiras and Atletico Mineiro, a match that ended in a 1-1 tie.
The mother and son, wearing Palmeiras jerseys, were greeted by dozens of fans as they made their way from the parking lot into Allianz Parque.
Fans took selfies with Silvia and Nickollas, and supporters of both teams, as well as passersby, shouted encouragement.
As soon as he enters the stadium, Nickollas gets pumped, absorbing the chants and festive atmosphere, and the boy smiles, starts jumping up and down, dancing and letting himself be carried away by the match-day energy.
“It’s hard, we have to slowly discover what makes children with disabilities happy. When I learned that the stadium was a place where he felt good, I decided to always come,” Grecco said.
The experience is much more than about a mother describing a match to her son, the 90 minutes of playing time provide the two with a unique opportunity to be together, laughing, sharing their frustration over certain plays and bemoaning the way a match might be going for their side.
As an autistic child, Nickollas has trouble speaking in complete sentences, but he has no problems replying to questions.
Nickollas predicted a 2-0 victory for his beloved Palmeiras, a result that did not materialize.
, a diehard Palmeiras fan who idolizes Dudu, also has other interests, including music and the theater, making mother and son regulars at concerts and music festivals, such as Rock in Rio in Rio de Janeiro and Lollapalooza in Sao Paulo.
The boy said his favorite group was Bon Jovi and Grecco added that he liked to sing along with the US rockers.
“Nickollas’s routine is based on three things – music, soccer and the theater. I do everything I can to be with him and see a smile on his face, jumping, dancing, shaking with emotion,” Grecco said.
The municipal official said her days were “pretty tiring,” but that “between one negotiation or another, an adjustment or other,” the two manage to do things.
When he is not attending concerts, plays and soccer matches, Nickollas goes to school, swims and receives therapy.
The boy’s story alone provides a lesson in survival.
Born prematurely and weighing just 500 grams, Nickollas was rejected by 12 sets of potential adoptive parents.
He spent four months in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Maua and, in addition to being blind, the boy went into cardiac arrest and was given a low probability of surviving.
“But when I got to the hospital, the doctor came over to speak with me, he brought Nickollas and put him in my arms. At that moment, the ties between our hearts were already more than made,” Grecco, who is separated from her husband and has a 32-year-old biological daughter, told EFE.
“From that point on, it was a great learning experience, because I had no experience in dealing with people with disabilities. But the routine, the sharing and the love taught me everything,” Grecco said.