Being a huge football fan there was always one ambition that had to be ticked off my list. I follow England and have seen them play at Wembley many times. I have seen my country come head to head with all matter of opponents from Brazil to San Marino, Netherlands to Kazakhstan. When the chance came to travel to Brazil for the World Cup, I had to take it and never look back. So off I went, seven days in Rio de Janeiro, four days in Sao Paulo and three days in Belo Horizonte. It would be easy to talk about the football and what I think of team X, why team Y is out and which team will win. Instead, I thought I would talk about my experiences of just being there.
There is a Fan Park in each World Cup hosting city and I spent much of my time on Copacabana watching a big screen surrounded by thousands of fans. They were by no means perfect, perhaps the biggest issue being the lack of toilets. It became common sight to witness guys relieving themselves against walls or into used cups. Apart from this, the parks provided a great atmosphere, perhaps more so than within the actual stadiums. With the attendance within the stadium itself largely made up by locals, these parks were often made up by those fans that could not get tickets but who still really cared. I certainly cannot speak too highly of the park in Sao Paulo and did not get the chance to visit the one on the edge of Belo Horizonte, however, the Copacabana fan park is the place to be.
Despite the mix of nationalities I did not visit any trouble at all in my two weeks of Brazil. The closest I came was a random guy from Argentina telling me to give them the Falkland Islands and then quickly scuttling off (I should point out I have no such power). Apparently a few things kicked off between England and Uruguay fans in an area I was close to. There were a few bars that England fans had completely taken over. The story I heard was that Uruguayan fans ran in, threw bottles, turned over tables and kicked a few fans to the ground. Having seen this area and knowing what certain England fans can be like (the type that give the rest of us a bad name), I would not be surprised if there had been some provocation. I won’t dwell on this too much as I did not witness anything and the Uruguayan people I met were very friendly to me.
In fact, pretty much everyone I met was great. Everyone had national pride, swanning around in their team’s colours, holding their flags aloft and chanting on the streets. However, I always felt comfortable talking to random fans in bars or at the fan parks. England is meant to have massive rivalries with the Germans and Argentines. Despite this, I spent the opening match talking to a guy from Argentina. A few days later I shared some beers with a pair of Germans as we sat back and watched England play Italy. Support your country yes, but we are all relaxing and having a good time. Everyone was so approachable that a friend and I (of ScoreBuddyApp.com) invented a game to try and get a photograph with every nationality. I believe we managed 19, which isn’t too shabby!
One custom that I was not expecting was the swapping of shirts. This is not something I have ever experienced when watching a game but one that I like the idea of. I went to the World Cup with just one England shirt and a flag to wear over the top (and to keep me warm in Sao Paulo, it was freezing at times!) I probably had over a dozen offers to swap shirts (or flags) with both Uruguayan and Costa Rican fans after the two matches I attended. I just wish that I had bought a few cheap England shirts before I had arrived, I would have loved to have come home with shirts from both these teams, I just didn’t want to give away my only England top.
Another collectable I did not foresee were the cups handed out during matches. Each stadium and fan park sold a certain beer and soft drink, each coming with their own match specific style. A cup has the flags of the two nations as well as the time and date of the match. It was not uncommon to see people climbing over seats after the final whistle trying to claim left cups from under seats. I also saw some fans leaving the stadium with at least ten cups in hand, surely they could not have drunk that many beers in a couple of hours?
I imagine there must have been some sort of deal on TVs in Brazil just before the World Cup. Even if you wanted to miss a match and just go for a walk, you would see what was happening in every shop window. You could try and go out for a meal and have a quiet night, but you would just end up within close proximity of three televisions all showing the game. I have never seen so many TVs in my life. My favourite location being close to my hotel in Sao Paulo there was a small flower shop. I never saw any customers in there, only the single staff member crowded around watching the day’s highlights.
Brazilian State of Affairs
The media in England made a huge story of the protests in Brazil before the World Cup started. I did not witness any real protests, however, the sound of boos ringing around Copacabana really struck me when the president of Brazil was shown sitting next to Sepp Blatter during the opening match of the World Cup. The quality of life is more important than any sport, nothing emphasises this better than thinking back to the workers that died trying to get the stadiums ready in time. I hope this is something that FIFA consider when picking controversial choices such as Qatar to host future World Cups where all stadia are yet to be built. Thinking back, I felt the atmosphere in Sao Paulo was very muted, especially after having travelled directly from Rio and seeing the contrast. There was little sign that the World Cup was even happening whilst I was there. I accept that Sao Paulo is more of a business city and Rio is more of a tourist destination. I just wonder, with the protests mainly being in Sao Paulo, if the residents felt it would be wrong to involve themselves in the World Cup with passions lying elsewhere.
Now I am back home and I can reflect on the journey of a lifetime. Ok, I was only there for two weeks and will not get to witness the party atmosphere of the final (especially if that includes the hosts), nevertheless, we have seen a great tournament that is breaking records for the number of goals, there has been numerous shocks and as I write this we haven’t even seen a quarter final yet. It may not be the same watching the football from home, but I for one, cannot wait for the action continue.