Episode 3 - Football and Firecrackers

Trip Start May 10, 2001
Trip End Sep 28, 2001

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Monday, June 4, 2001

Simultaneously ignorant in 2 languages

The Miami stereotypes of palm trees, Rollergirl and Policemen wearing shorts and riding mountain bikes (though I wasn't expecting to see him riding around the airport's departure lounge) were but a distant memory as I landed in Sao Paulo. Vying for my attention that Thursday morning were food (I'd slept through breakfast on the plane), coffee (that had been the first sleep I'd had during the flight) and the trivial matter of no bed for the night. With tourist information as frustrated as me with not being able to help, and my 11 year old guide book oblivious to things like new metro lines, I resolved to solve the other two problems. The local fry up featured such interesting items as rolled up ham, fried egg, crackers and half an unknown fruit, all washed down with sweet coffee. But even with a full belly I was still in no rush to leave the relative sanctuary of the airport, as my language skills ended with a well-meaning please and thank you. For the first time in the trip the brakes were on and I must admit to being a little unsure.

This didn't last too long though and the Philleas Fogg spirit soon returned as I took a deep breath and bagged a bus ticket into town courtesy of some well placed pointing, smiling and random currency waiving. I even had some sketchy directions thrown in on where to find the bus. When I arrived the driver stared at me, looking bemused beneath my rucsacs, and gave me a quick but intense speech that may have been about me looking scruffy and smelly. I couldn't be sure, but more tactical smiling eventually got me aboard a bus I hoped was going somewhere in the city centre. Well it was a start.
Along the way there was graffiti everywhere, on houses, roofs, bridges; in fact if you can think of somewhere they couldn't get it, chance are they'd already been there. And as we dribbled over the hill (the traffic was another lasting memory), I could see why Sao Paulo had been described as the New York of Brazil as there were skyscrapers as far as the eye could see in all directions. It actually turned out that at rarely more than 20 storeys they weren't true skyscrapers but the fact remained that the first direction Paulistanos thought to build, was up.

The bus chucked everyone out at Republica, which had a certain Piccadilly Circus meets Soho feel. Heading for the information booth in search of a cheap hotel I discovered that "the cheapest hotel in Sao Paulo" was just across the road. At reception I was offered 2 keys, and told to choose which one I wanted (I decided to go luxury, and get the one with t.v. and bathroom for all 10). Now I'm not suggesting the price was a clue, but on hindsight I was slightly surprised the receptionist didn't first confirm that I wanted it for the whole night.

Passing on the opportunity to watch ALF dubbed in Portuguese or listen to George Jetson advertise Visa Electron, I bounced straight back out to explore. Having located the hotel where I was to meet the rest of the team the next morning I headed for the main drag along black and white mosaic pavements. I soon discovered a market style shopping centre where everyone had been to the same Japanese wholesaler, who had furnished them with lots of radio's, MP3 players, watches and trainers. Not only that, they had also imported the Japanese shop assistants and price stickers too, which left me simultaneously ignorant in 2 different languages. I moved on.

Further afield, past many an impatient motorcyclist waiting for pedestrians to clear their road, I found a record shop with quite the most confusing, dare I suggest even concerning, pricing structure. I counted 48 active combinations of coloured dots and numbers (and hence prices) just for the current albums, while in the bargain section I finally discovered what happens to all the albums that are left over when Virgin's sale finishes. The pride of place given in the window to Neil Sedaka and Bill Haley was surely an unheeded warning. Despite all the scare stories I'd heard about the world's 3rd largest city, I was feeling perfectly safe to the point where the subway seemed the most sensible route back to my hotel. Rush hour was in full swing, with trains frequent, packed and awash with conversation. The platforms were even noisier, as just approaching them on the escalator offered up a huge din as the conversations rose and echoed around the tunnels. As well as clean, airy trains, this subway offered another great idea. At stations where lines crossed, there were platforms on both sides. 1 side of the train opened to let people off, then the other side opened to let new passengers on. A bit Disneylandish, but a huge improvement on the London tradition of climbing out through the legs of people already trying to board.

My day's adventure ended in the Dunkin' Donuts by my hotel, where I planned to pick up a coffee to take back to my room. With the menu looking distinctly familiar (Cappuccino, Chocolate, Latte, Mocha), I decided it was time to pile in in 'full' Portuguese. "Ola! Uma latte, por favor" and my biggest smile returned nothing. 1 blank stare and I crumbled, resorting to speaking English slowly and pointing. Tragically this wasn't helping either as despite every pronunciation of the word latte I could think of, accompanied by pointing to the board behind got me nowhere. Enter Plan B. "Chocolate?" I asked, pointing to the item above. "The one below, Latte". This got things moving, and in case you were wondering, my Hot Chocolate to drink in was lovely.

By 7.30am next morning, next door's building site was drowning out any noise my impending alarm may make. So following another fruit and crackers breakfast, I hoisted my rucsacs front and back and 'blended' into the morning rush-hour on my 20 mins walk to the team's hotel. Rolling up to several heckles, I soon discovered that while I had slipped unshaven and anonimous into the country the day before, they had just arrived suited and booted to be greeted by bright lights, reporters and t.v cameras. The reason for this, and the similar fuss that followed us throughout the week, was that on a previous tour to Brazil in 1910, our club - now called Corinthian-Casuals - had inspired the formation of Corinthians of Brazil, last year's World Club Champions. They still play in our original white kit, while we have returned to The Casuals' kit of chocolate and pink quarters...
Still by midday I was also in on the press act as photos from that morning's training session were to make the next day's national sports paper - with Junior Roberts featuring strongly thanks to some cunning positioning on the camera's end of the line! With the light session over (though obviously not so light that I didn't develop a few 'niggles'), we retired to SPAC's clubhouse (Sao Paulo Athletic Club were hosting us for the week) for a late lunch. And with Brazil's winter temperatures still well above those in the UK, we got in some early fluid replacement courtesy of Gatorade and beer. This practice was continued at the evening's engagement at the British Consulate, a suit and tie affair to which my lilac shirt was not invited. This left me begging Sheer's spare white shirt which, after all the week's official engagements, practically walked back to Mitcham for him. The affair itself was enjoyable but quite official, with food coming as different spreads added to a tortilla chip for you by the waiters.

Let the games begin...

Next day we were out by 9am for the tour's opening game - Corinthian-Casuals Vets v SPAC Vets, where I came on for the last 15 mins (after 60 mins of walking, stretching, running, calf massaging and anything else that might stop my calf stiffening up). I managed to sling in a few good crosses and even out-jumped a former Brazilian International to launch a header that the keeper had to pluck from the top corner! But most importantly, my calf had survived and I'd impressed enough to get a place on the bench for Tuesday's big game!

With the day's work done I settled down in the afternoon sun, beer in hand, to watch the first team win the 4 team tournament on penalties. The team's hero was John the local stand in goalkeeper, who had been recruited at last night's reception and saved 2 penalties. In return he was given a signed t-shirt and offered a cameo role against Corinthians on Tuesday. Following the games, SPAC threw a Barbecue where we added our own relish to their fantastic food by providing the entertainment. We led with the tour song, 'Casuals brown and pink, tra la la la la', written by Sheers and Blunty to the tune 'Brown Girl in the ring', and featuring premature applause and several more verses than our hosts expected. From there a Beatles medley, Sinatra, Queen, Chas n' Dave (led by Micky Owen) and The Stray Cats (led by me and Jock) all made appearances before we offered 'Boy Band' Badger on a chair to perform 'Words' with the Casuals Male Voice Choir on backing vocals. Not to be left out, the locals were represented by a Peter Cook lookalike who went around exuberantly banging a round metal tray with a large spoon whenever he felt people should be silent for singing, speeches or just his tray banging.
By 10 ish we'd outstayed our welcome and were back on the bus where Dave led a Kangaroo Court extracting fines for late return to the bus. With no thought for his own selection, defendants included Trevor the manager, David the Chairman (who foolishly took the fine to the appeal court - everyone on the bus - and lost, hence doubling his fine) and Brian Wakefield who was photographed paying a fine rather than handing them out for breaking the club's unique disciplinary code. In a final twist of justice the Chairman put Dave in front of the court and, despite an impassioned plea drawing on his years of legal experience, the bus turned against him - shame!

Following regrouping in the hotel bar, bar suggestions were photocopied and we headed off in 5 cabs to who knows where in Sao Paulo. 20 minutes, and a less than thrilling 5 taxi race through the Arton Senna tunnel, we landed up at the bars - neither of which would serve us. Instead we headed across the road to a bar that charged you to leave rather than enter. We were given a card each, onto which drink purchases were marked for us to pay on exit - an apparently clever system that reduces bar time slightly but increases the time required to go home by at least 10 minutes. With classic rock echoing around the insides (Kiss, AC/DC, The Eagles and even Pink Floyd), conversations flowed with locals through words, actions, smiles, arm signals, body language and eventually just through standing next to them. But judging by the number of phone numbers collected, and several public displays of affection, the language barriers were successfully scaled...
Unsure of where we were, we only left in groups of 3, but with 6 of us left I gave up my seat in the next cab to the shambles formerly known as Speedo who, despite having been voted player of the year, was struggling to demonstrate the basic skills of standing up. Instead I ended up staying to help JR talk his way out of having no drinks card ("I gave it to this girl..."), before returning to the hotel at 6am to meet 3 members of the committee on their way to the airport to meet our goalkeeper. "Do you realise we are on a different day to you" was the tricky response to my chirpy greetings.

Having only grabbed 4 hours sleep I was nonetheless fined for arriving 2 minutes late for the coach next morning. The coach was taking us to the Sao Paulo State Cup Final, where Corinthians were playing Botofogo. Approaching the stadium, flags were flying on, from and over every car in sight, while car horns, chanting and firecrackers filled the air. And all this a mile from the stadium and over 2 hours before kick-off. At the ground we were ushered off the bus and through a side gate, much to the disgust of at least 1 fan who rather foolishly picked 2 large policemen with which to discuss his feelings. Amongst the Corinthians supporters we were being treated like superstars - although I think the accompanying tv camera helped. As we walked through the seats people were patting our backs, shaking our hands, welcoming us to Brazil and asking to have their photo's taken with us. All a far cry from a home game at Tolworth and we were loving it. The treatment went on all the way to kick-off, with people coming up and taking a quick snap of us (now sat in a block in matching t-shirts), then returning later with friends to set-up a group shot (not difficult to arrange as we weren't proving a terribly camera-shy bunch).
Of course we were only a minor distraction to the main party, now in full swing all around us. With 30 minutes still to kick-off, the singing was deafening, cheerleaders danced around the pitch, the rain poured, the fans bounced and danced as entire rows moved in alternate directions and Mexican waves swept around the 3 tier stadium that was rapidly disappearing beneath a sea of white shirts. Those without cover seemed oblivious to the rain's attempts to dampen their spirits. Even the smell of damp grass and sparklers was strong, as was the waft from someone nearby smoking weed.

With kick-off approaching, the lads were rapidly disappearing beneath bandanas, scarves, hats and flags from the brightly coloured bags of the salesmen moving between the wooden benches. The Botofogo team appeared on the scoreboard to a torrent of whistles, while Roman candles and sparklers were being lit all around the walls. As the teams appeared the stadium went totally bonkers, the players disappearing behind white balloons, children, cheerleaders, firecrackers, chanting and even more fireworks. Botofogo, 3 goals down from the home leg, faced deafening whistles with each touch and wild cheers with each mistake from the 50,000 Corinthians fans. To be fair, the Christians had stood more chance with the lions, as throughout the game Botofogo's small pocket of fans were never heard above the din of "Timao" (Corinthians nickname) and "am campione" (champions).
As the game went on, and it became clear Corinthians were happy to sit on their 3 goal lead, the atmosphere died down to more 'normal' levels; until that is Corinthians had a shot. It didn't matter how close it went, it was still the signal to resume the torrents of cheers and whistles once again.

Meanwhile up in the stand a second tv crew from ESPN had arrived, looking for interviews with star players (Wagsy) and keen pundits (Blunty). However, as we were all running out of superlatives, they had to fall back on "amazing" and "unbelievable". More team singing was also requested for the arm chair fans. Despite the hours of bedlam and predictable result, nobody left early either, with everyone staying to cheer the team and cup on their lap of honour, and to let off any remaining fireworks - including a full 5 minute volley of firecrackers. When the crowds finally did depart, smoke and helicopters hung heavy in the air, as the sun set behind the stadium.

Waiting for the coach we watched a large group of fans across the road singing, waving 8 foot high flags and lighting yet more fireworks. On seeing us, one fan invited us over to "come and join the singing. You are Corinthians, you will be safe". However we were leaving for the 'all you can eat' steak house, just as soon as the Corinthians captain stopped being interviewed with Sheers. At the restaurant we had a card describing where each of the best cuts of meat come from, and boy did they keep coming, from pure and simple fillet mignon to steaks covered in herbs, mustard and marinades. The meat was directed by stop and go cards. You showed the green side for 'yes please add more meat to the mountain on my plate' and the red side for 'nao obrigado, there's no room on the plate or in my belly so please stop trying'. We rolled out a very contented bunch, although I was slightly concerned by the increasingly itchy rash covering my left calf and featuring a growing number of painful white spots. Not terribly attractive and I apologise for mentioning it over dinner.

After two football days came the first free day. A leisurely breakfast led into a leisurely walk to the local shopping centre. However this was declared unanimously boring once new films and batteries were purchased, and cabs were hailed. The destination was 'Eldorado', a large downtown shopping centre where we did what any self-respecting group of footballers on tour would do - ate, bought a few shirts with trendy labels and visited every sports shop in the place. With the big game of the tour next day a quiet meal out was planned that evening, but as usual anywhere not within sight of the hotel was a cab ride away at night. This restaurant was no exception, although despite going the wrong way on the way there, the cab still cost more coming back 2 hours later. The place was quiet when we arrived and with English translations on the menu and cards that were marked to show the food and drink you'd ordered, getting the food promised to be simple process. It was not to be. The waitress kept wandering off mid order and was struggling with our menu pointing tactics. Meanwhile the food was delivered by random people who didn't appear to understand us or the waitresses notation system on the cards. Fillet steak in mustard sauce was the dish they kept delivering when no-one remembered ordering it, but at least the hot crusty bread was in limitless supply to stave off the hunger.

The big match...

55 minutes earlier than agreed last night we were woken up by Dave clanking around. In the 4 years we shared a flat I never saw him more chatty and energetic as he was at 8 that morning. By 11am we were assembled in the hotel lobby, shuffling around excitedly in our chocolate and pink ties, and awaiting the arrival of the Corinthians bus that they'd lent us for the day. Driving through the city we provoked curious stares from those on the streets (perhaps the other Corinthians team doesn't stand up playing 'chase the ace' on the way to games), while at Park Sao Jorge the siren started wailing across the complex to mark our arrival. As we posed in front of the bus for photos, the early arriving fans started cheering, singing and waving those huge flags beyond the fence. We were running short of time, but still found room to inspect the pitch, take more photos and, after getting changed, pose for more photos. The first team led off, against Corinthians' under-21 team and unfortunately from my perspective were left with little time to warm up and prepare for their big game. During the game I had 3 roles i) video the game on Sheers' camera, ii) take pictures on my camera and iii) politely refuse the continuous requests to swap my club T-shirt for one of the replica shirts being worn beyond the fence. Despite playing well in the scortching heat, the lads were 2-0 down when I left to get changed for the Vets game that followed. It was at this point that the whole experience became surreal.

While we were warming up in the large changing room, the back door opened and in walked a host of former Brazilian Internationals to shake our hands and line up along side us in the tunnel. As we walked out into the sunlight we were greeted with singing, cheering and a barrage of firecrackers, the smoke from which still filled the air as we lined up in front of a bank of tv cameras and photographers. The tv camera walked up and down the line zooming in on each one of us in turn, and beaming it back to the alleged 10 million watching proceedings on television. The great Careca was commentating, 3,000 people were in the stadium and I couldn't help thinking this attention all seemed rather disproportional to my potential performance!! Still as sub I had lots of staying loose to do first, much to the amusement of the fans by the fence who embellished my runs past them with racing car noises.

When I went on (replacing Fulham's former record signing Peter Kitchen), I had a few good touches and even forced a corner - well we were 8-0 down so it was something! And then with almost the last kick of the game, the ball was put through for me to chase. The crowd sensing a goal started to cheer (we were now 9-0 down) and as I raced towards it I had visions of a first time shot flying into the roof of the net. But as I shot the covering defender got a block in, the ball deflected for a corner and I landed awkwardly with a torn my hamstring. Ouch. The vision of glory was over!

After the game we stayed on the pitch a long time, talking with the opposition, swapping shirts and posing for yet more photographs as the firecrackers started again as the interviews rolled. That evening Corinthians laid on a reception for us where the club President spoke of how honoured they were to have us. They also gave us all a first team shirt (minutes after we'd been on a buying binge in the club shop) and a medal commemorating 90 years since their founding. Back at the hotel as the other lads headed to the locals bars, I settled down with an ice pack as the opening credits of 'Octopussy' rolled.

With everyone else in Rio, Wednesday was a quiet day spent nursing my hamstring by the pool and returning frequently to the room in the (vain) hope of catching my first glimpse of our television coverage. Later, with the sun gone and Buck Rogers on the telly I reclined on the bed for an evening of spilling yoghurt on my new white Corinthians shirt and learning the difference between 'com gas' and 'sem gas' water. Hours later I still boasted the burps to prove my lack of progress. So all in all a quiet day.

Due to my hop-a-long status, I didn't even bother bringing my boots to thursday's game with the Paulistano Sports Club, whom Corinthians had also played during their 1910 tour. This club was clearly for people who thought SPAC wasn't expensive enough as it boasted 3 outdoor swimming pools, a synthetic jogging track around the artificial grass football pitch, and the offer of instruction in 22 different sports. Both 1st and Vets teams adjusted quickly to the small pitch, seering temperatures and sightings of scantily clad middle-aged joggers circling the pitch, to win comfortably against our hosts. Following the games Paulistano hosted a reception where they displayed all their old trophies for us, and served a fine selection of fried cheese balls with the beer. In return we wheeled Badger out to sing again, and once more he stole the show despite not having to stand on a chair this time.

As usual the reception was only the warm up for the main evening's entertainment, as Dave and JR had worked tirelessly on Flavio, one of the SPAC players, to get the entire tour party on the guest list at his nightclub. Confirming his status as unofficial Junior Chairman, Dave even waited outside the club nodding to the bouncers as our cabs arrived and ushering us past the waiting line of revellers. Unfortunately this meant quite a wait for him, as in Sao Paulo taxi drivers aren't required to do the 'knowledge', or even the 'idea' or the vaguest clue', with my driver being a perfect case in point. Having confidently insisted he knew exactly where the club was, and thus let one of the few maps go elsewhere, our cabbie got lost somewhere between starting his engine and finding first gear. Within 10 minutes we had stopped 3 times to honk down other taxis to ask directions, and at one point we even started following the taxi he'd asked. This seemed to be going well until the lead taxi driver stuck his arm out of the window and pointed to the left suggesting, to me at least, we should stop following him and head left. However our driver chose to interpret this as 'drive in the left lane, indicate left, and then at some random point take a spontaneous and very late right turn across 3 startled lanes of traffic'. Then just as I was regaining confidence in arriving, somewhere at least, we pulled up along side a group of bikers and our driver made a very unsubtle job of locking all the doors. This was fine except they were on my side of the car and he still had the window down ready to ask directions!

The club itself (yes I did eventually get there) had a sunken dance floor that made it ideal for cutting some serious rug, even if the tunes didn't always match the moves. Even Lordy, on a very rare night out with the lads, was going through his paces. The other great thing about the club, which again operated a pay at the end card system, was the bill. Despite having a tab that was only exceeded by Dave's, the entire night only cost me 25 and included 3 of the largest vodkas known to man. I believe they were even visible from space as a solitary can of red bull was still half full having topped all 3 tall glasses up to the rafters. Needless to say we again left only once the club refused to serve up further music or drink, but did roll back at a slightly more respectable 5.15am.

I had those footballers in the back of my cab the other day...

Not surprisingly breakfast was a whole event that passed me by, as I chose to move straight on to comparing hangovers over lunch at the rooftop pool. The afternoon proceeded even less energetically, as Dave and I demonstrated just how little sun we get in North Wales. Words such as snow and transparent were running around freely. And talking of running around freely, 10 of us hopped carelessly into 3 cabs to go to dinner that evening.

I say carelessly because, and by now we should have known better, only the one I was in actually knew the way. Therefore following an early right turn from the left lane and a stop to get petrol (he kindly left the radio and meter on while he filled up), we'd shaken off the other two cabs and all our loitering outside the restaurant proved fruitless if entertaining. The parking pantomime outside featured patrons abandoning their cars in the middle of the junction, with the engines running, for the scurrying army of black shirted valets to hide away somewhere. Once experienced, this left Dave, Glyn (Chesney Hawkes' stunt double) and I to enjoy great chicken steaks and beers for just 8 quid each, and play charades with the waiter. With no common language in which to say the word bread, we were left with no option but to mime (not as easy as you'd think), with little success.

The ride home was no less eventful as the procession of curb crawlers down Rua Augusta was sufficient excuse for the taxi driver to take a huge detour to ensure the meter reached the quoted 20 Reals before we got back to the hotel. However, during the detour the driver took a call on his mobile (hands-free of course!), and told his friend "I've got those Corinthians from England in my cab - or Portuguese words to that effect - and got us to shout hello down the phone to prove it.

Saturday saw the final tour match, but as my hamstring was now displaying more colours than a Harlequins shirt, my participation was limited to a few well placed words of encouragement and supportive drinking in the sun. That evening SPAC threw a formal reception for us to end the tour, where the food was most memorable for the complete absence of fried cheese. Speeches of new friendships and repeat visits were punctuated with claps and cheers, before Midders the physio rose for his traditional humourous summary of the tour. He died, and the reception finished shortly afterwards. However the night was far from over as we set off for yet another nightclub. Initial progress was slow as cars of blokes were cruising very slowly along Rua Augusta, looking, staring and sometimes stopping 'for a chat' with the young ladies. Unfortunately most of Sao Paulo were also heading to the club around midnight and the "30 mins drive" saw us abandon the car after an hour to walk, tragically the wrong way. Several neighbourhoods I won't be visiting on my own later, we found the club and were promptly escorted past the queue and issued with VIP area tags that reunited us with the rest of the team. Tom Jones was playing, the lads were bouncing and singing. Obviously our singing wasn't good, because the DJ followed this with 5 hours of ravy gravy no singing music. Of course being the adaptable souls we were we managed to push trolleys, row boats and pack boxes with big and little fish until the 5am next morning.

You won't be surprised to hear the taxi home was again eventful, with our driver acknowledging red lights with a press of his horn (and accelerator) rather than the more traditional stopping and waiting. Around us, drink driving was in full swing as cars swerved across, past and around us not to mention straight out in front of us, all crammed full of people our age. For once a taxi was the safest car to be in, which seemed sufficiently confusing to be the perfect end to the football tour.
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