Friday, 11 July 2014

Louis Van Gaal + Anecdotal Evidence re: Brazilian football fans

1. I am already looking forward to hating Louis Van Gaal as Man U manager

It's hard for me to write about Man United without going full Hornby, but let's just say that the first feeling I ever had about football was hating Man U: Becks, Scholes-y, Giggsy, Nicky fucking Butt, all of them great big British LADS, probably GIVING IT LARGE etc etc etc. I pretty much started supporting Chelsea, semi-local Hornbyesque connection via my divorced father aside, because they seemed to represent, in 1994 at least, the anti-Man U - all ageing French journeymen, Continential flair, Zola, Di Matteo, no hope of the title but great cup runs, chic Fulham gastropubs with bottled Czech lagers vs Northern superclubs where people hoovered up ecstasy, ate kebabs, got into fights and generally intimidated me, even in my imagination, miles away in my sleepy West Country private school.

(OK sorry I went full Hornby).

As an extension of this I also hated Fergie for most of his career for being such a dour Scottish old school GAFFER, proper LEDGE, oo-er you don't want the HAIRDRYER TREATMENT, blah fucking blah, and loved it when the dashing European Mourinho turned up and beat him 1-0 on the first day of the 2004 season (I had to look that up). By the end of Ferguson's career it was hard to keep the hate going, especially as he is an old school Govan socialist, and of course, "Get Rid of the Cunts", but still.

Obviously I didn't hate David Moyes, and as much as I massively enjoyed Man U's collapse last season, it felt like there was something missing from my enjoyment of football. Louis Van Gaal is going to fill that pantomime villain gap perfectly, I think. Big arrogant Dutch prick, haughty little pink face, like a shrunken David Lynch, fawned over by the press for being a tough guy disciplinarian, here to whip these spoiled multimillionaires into shape, father figure, blah blah blah - I just know already that I am going to enjoy every game he loses. Balance is restored.

2. Brazilians aren't that bothered about football, or at least, are bothered in a different way

I watched two Brazil games in Brazil. The first, against Cameroon, I watched in the FIFA Fan Fest area in Salvador, the poorest city I visited. The second, the penalty thriller against Chile, I watched in a restaurant in Santa Teresa, a "bohemian" neighbourhood in Rio (in the Second World, "bohemian" = "you might get mugged, but everywhere has wifi").

We got talking to these two after the Chile match, and they invited us to an outdoor samba party. 
We went but couldn't find them, maybe we went too early. It was great though.

I can simply report from these two data points that Brazilians don't seem to watch football with anything like the focused intensity of English or other European football fans. I wouldn't quite say that football was simply an excuse for a party, but "watching the match" and "lulzing with my mates" seemed to be of equal concern. The goals were celebrated lustily, of course, and there seemed to be some general football-related banter going on, but people were also looking away from the screen and just chatting (it seemed, I don't speak Portuguese) about any old shit with their mates. I mean, even in extra-time of the Chile match, when they were in danger of being knocked out in the Round of 16 (or octofinals, as I prefer to call them), people weren't exactly on the edge of their seats.

In fact, I was more visibly tense and nervous than anyone else in the place, tapping my foot, hands in hair after a miss, "ooooohh!!", eyes fixed on the screen etc.  Obviously I cared less than the Brazilians (although I really didn't want to be in Brazil when they lost), but my learned behaviour, acculturated body language or whatever you want to call it made me seem somehow more emotionally affected than the home crowd, almost embarrassingly so - the girl in the left of the above photo even teased me about how much I seemed to care about Brazil winning (she was really fit). Think about a packed pub during a major England game, everyone with that slightly wretched expression on their face - you get the odd moment of comic relief when the ref falls over, of course, but imagine turning to your mate during the 63rd minute and asking how the course is going.

We also missed the first 10-15 minutes of the Cameroon match because we were queuing to get into the Fan Fest. I was mildly pissed off about this, especially as it was completely obvious as soon as we joined the queue that we wouldn't get in before kick off (the presence of illegal beer vendors helped - FIFA heavies went around breaking their signs but didn't evict them). Through a series of comic errors we also managed to miss:

- the first 6-8 minutes of England-Uruguay. Drake's Bar, Sao Paulo. Don't look for it; it's not there anymore. Fuck you Foyles of Charing Cross Road for selling me a 2009 Rough Guide to Brazil.

- the first 15 minutes of England-Costa Rica. Would you believe that all the bars in Salvador preferred to show Uruguay-Italy?

- the first 5 minutes of the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second half of USA-Portugal. Our taxi driver dropped us 10mins walk from where we thought we were going, so we watched the first half in a lesbian bar. This was fine until some guys came in and loaded up Cher songs on a very loud jukebox. We agreed to leave at the break, but our plate of shell-on prawns only arrived ten minutes before the second half. We ate these in silent, seething anger and then went to the first reasonable looking place, which was a sort of all-you-can-eat deli with a small screen and precisely zero atmosphere.

In all three cases, we fell into states of angry panic until we were safely in front of a screen. The snaking queue of Brazilians behind us in Salvador, however, didn't seem to give a shit that they were missing the bulk of the first half - hardly anyone was breaking off and finding a bar with a screen etc, the Fan Fest was the place to be and that was that. 

So yes, no firm conclusions to be drawn, but Brazilians didn't seem to be particularly hysterical about their national football - up for the Cup and up for a party after winning (the chef in the restaurant ran out banging a pan and the waitress chucked all the sugar in the sugar bowls in the air, later there was a hilariously drunken and inept samba parade through Santa Teresa), but in general, taking it in their stride. Even the reports of trouble after the Germany game seem pretty tame - a few scuffles, a little tear gas and a few buses burned. Canadian hockey fans do that when they WIN.

3. The only lolgif I've ever sent my (heavily Catholic) mother

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Without Nick Hornby Arsenal may never have been adopted as the Guardian's football team. It's easy to blame him for the gentrification of football, but he's actually pretty good.

Here's a piece he did for ESPN challenging the narrative of decline in English football.
So the first point to make about the failure of the 2014 campaign is that progress into the last 16 would probably have necessitated one of England's most impressive World Cup results, a win over either Uruguay or Italy in the group stage, two teams they have never beaten in the finals of any tournament. And as nobody believed that we were going to Brazil with one of England's most impressive teams, it was baffling to listen to the "realists" predicting exit in the quarterfinals. How were we supposed to get even that far?

Friday, 20 June 2014

The problem with expectations

What everyone was saying:
For the first time in decades this England team goes to a World Cup without a nation expecting them to do well. 
What everyone was thinking:
This lack of expectations means they're definitely going to play really well and get to the final playing fearless, joyful football!

Friday, 13 June 2014

World Cup punchline in search of a joke

I continue to wait for a scenario in which I can say in a crowded pub, "Willian, it was really nothing".

International likes, dislikes...

This is good, from the New York Times, an analysis of countries' opinions on other countries' football.

It should be a great source of pride for the English that we only feature once in the "team to root against" column: good old Argentina.

Also, the Japanese and Australia pick the English for "who plays the most beautiful soccer".

It'll probably surprise the media to see that the English are, after the USA, the least interested in football of all the surveyed countries. Maybe we need to separate out the sports coverage into special newspapers like they do in Spain, France etc.