Sitting listening to England demolish the Aussies in the Ashes while Lee Westwood leads the Open and Chris Froome prepares to win the Tour makes one feel proud to be British very much as it did during the Olympics. The only sport we seem to struggle to dominate seems to be football, both the mens and womens games, so it seemed an appropriate moment to post my memories of the first game at the new Maracana.
This article was first published in Tigers Eye, the journal of the Hull City Southern Supporters.
When I heard the first game at the new Maracana, which was being rebuilt to host confederations and then the world cup final, was going to be between Brazil and England I was needless to say interested in the possibility of personally attending the spectacle.
England as the creators of the game and, more importantly to Brazilians who have never forgotten the fact, the people who introduced the game to Brazil, for which Brazilians are eternally gareful, were the obvious choice to play them at the reopening of a stadium which is not only a symbol to Brazilians of their great success in the game but also a symbol to football fans worldwide, who have seen the Maracana which once packed more than 200,000 into a world cup final, as one of the greatest temples to the beautiful game.
The only problem was how to get a ticket. Solved easily enough by joining the England travel club. The problem for me was that it costs £75 to join the club and for someone whose monthly take home pay is less than £700 a month, the cost of this plus the ticket, plus travel to Rio, an eight hour bus ride from Sao Paulo, plus accomodation would be a third of my monthly salary and I still needed to pay rent, my daughter’s school fees (everyone in Brazil pays for private schooling if they can afford it and a few even though they can ‘t), child maintenance, bills and a few other trifles like food.
So I’d pretty much given up on the idea of watching the game anywhere other than on TV in a bar, when a friend of mine said they’d managed to buy a ticket using footballcard.com and that they had a spare, would I like to go? Would I? I was going to see the first game at the new Maracana.
The plan was to take overnight buses there and back, thus saving on accomodation, but meant that, given the fact the game was on a Sunday, I would have to leave a suit at school and shower there when I arrived straight from Rio before starting work at 07:45.
Then the unbelievable happened. Another friend posted a message to say they too had a spare ticket. This meant I now had a ticket for my friend who was willing to drive the four of us to Rio cutting the travel bill in half.
As if that wasn’t good enough, an expat living in Rio offered us free accommodation for the night before the game. But our run of luck ended there. Brazilians are arguably the world’s worst drivers and drivers from Sao Paulo and Rio the worst in Brazil. Tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, failing to signal, speeding and jumping red lights are all common practice and, although my friend is an excellent driver, it was hardly surprising that something did go awry on the main highway on our way to Rio.
My friend was overtaking a car, not quickly enough according to the car that drove to within inches of our bumper but even less quickly enough for the car behind who, unable to wait for the overtaking maneuver to be completed decided to take to the hard shoulder of the two lane highway, undertaking both our car, the car huggjng our rear bumper and the car we were attempting to overtake.
Unfortunately and perhaps unsurprisingly, the judgement of this moron, now speeding along the hard shoulder, was less than perfect and he sped too close to the edge of the hard shoulder beyond which, and in the absence of any barrier of any kind, lay a steep embankment down to fields below.
Clipping a marker designed to reflect light so that at night drivers might be aware of where the road ended and plummeting embankment began, our nutter on the hard shoulder, clearly wishing to avoid a closer look at the fields he was passing at high speed, veered back on to the highway, putting his car into a skid which he was unable to correct before crashing into the central reservation barrier flipping his car over but thankfully not back onto the carraigeway where it could easily have collected us like a bowling ball collects skittles. Instead, fortunately for us, his car settled on it’s roof in the central reservation and my friend and the car she was overtaking were able to pull over safely to the hard shoulder.
Wishing to put my first aid training to use, I rushed over hoping to find the driver in an appalling state in immediate need of my skills. Unfortunately, despite failing to use a seatbelt, the idiot had only managed to sustain minor cuts and bruises and I considered administering some additional injuries to assist him in reflecting what a moron he was and how he he could have quite easily made us late for the game.
Instead, I told him to relax in his ungainly position with his head on the roof of his inverted vehicle to wait until help arrived and returned to our car stopping only to threaten the guy who took such a keen interest in our rear bumper. In reality I was really doing him a favour because had he pursued his intention of telling my friend the accident was her fault for not speeding he surely would have encountered a fate worse than death.
Chatting excitedly about our near calamitous experience we happily typed the address of our friends flat into google maps and obediently followed the directions we were given by the Stephen Hawkings sound a like through the complicated streets surrounding Rio all the way to a dead end in a favela.
For those of you who don’t know, a favela is a Brazilian slum notorious for being the home of the worst criminals and drug traffickers. Only the week before a German tourist had been shot dead in Rio’s largest favela so, as you can imagine, we were quite keen to extracate ourselves from our present predicament as quickly as possible.
Following a quick u turn we tried to find our way back to the main road and, putting our trust in Stephen Hawkings again discovered the little bugger was pretty keen to take us back into the black hole of the favela.
We were lost. Three gringoes and a Paulista whom Cariocas (people from Rio) love to murder even more than gringoes. Fortunately, we spotted a van belonging to the branch of the police known as the Favela Pacification Force – a bit like your safer neighbourhood team but with semi automatic weapons.
Instead of demanding a bribe as I’d expected, they kindly gave us directions to extricate us from the favela and send us on the right way to the suburb of Rio we needed. Not before saying “You want to go to Barra?” and then shaking their heads like a mechanic whose just discovered your car needs a part that won’t be available until next Tuesday.
The very fact that I’ve written this article informs you that I survived the rest of the journey and that night at the kiosk on the beach where the third caipirinha each in addition to the rows of empty bottles a of cheap fizzy lager already lined up was definitely a mistake, especially for the member of our party who had already passed out.
Let’s just get straight to the part that those of you patient enough to be still reading have been waiting for, the reopening game at one of the greatest, if not the greatest, football stadium in the world.
There had been controversy leading up to the game which, on a number of occasions looked unlikely to go ahead, mainly due to problems during construction which had been hampered in no small part by extensive flooding which left the stadium looking more ready to host the swimming for Rio 2016.
Only days before kick off, the organisers were told the game could not go ahead in a moment of local government posturing to rival the cuban missile crisis. Irregular paperwork? Only in Brazil.
Finally we were observing the majestic structure from the bridge which connects the ground to the efficient Rio metro and scampering like excited children down hastily erected scaffolding based stairs which though rickety had thankfully been constructed from the type of scaffolding material we’re used to seeing in England and not the thin lumps of wood used on most building sites in Brazil.
The use of airport style x-ray machines to scan every bag meant that the queues were very very long but thankfully not slow and most of the stewards that had volunteered to help organise were doing their best to create a carnival atmosphere.
Most of the Brazilians looked as if they were attending their first match and were reveling in the tremendous pre-match atmosphere inside the stadium, participating with relish in the slowest mexican wave ever to the sound of the Blue Danube.
Both anthems were respected and the noise almost rivalled Hamden Park during the Euro 2000 qualifying play off first leg which England won decisively by the way.
The atmosphere swelled and reached a climax as Brazil scored the opening goal but was then suddenly silenced when Chamberlain slotted in the equaliser. There was a moment of doubt as to whether he’d actually scored at all. Never before have I witnessed a goal received by complete silence but soon the sound of the section of England supporters reached us and it was game on. For us at least.
For almost 80000 Brazilians unaccustomed to watching football in stadiums it was a shock. England scoring had not been in the script let alone England taking the lead and from that moment until the Brazil equaliser it was like watching football in a library, a Brazilian library at that.
Then it happened, a second Brazilian goal, the crowd who had booed Scolari’s decision to take off the popular Oscar rather than the unpopular Hulk, erupted into ecstatic frenzy and the Brazilians around me used the opportunity to revenge my sarcastic chanting. Who’d have thought their English comprehension was that good.
I spent the last ten minutes of the game hoping England wouldn’t score a late winner. A third goal would have definitely spoilt the party. England didn’t deserve to win the game but the Brazilians definitely deserved to go home celebrating a good result in an excellent stadium of which they, the builders and the organisers should be deservedly proud.
2014 is going to be an exellent tournament and no mistake.