Archive for June 2014

Luis Suarez, the perfect mascot for this World Cup; or, “Aliens are Watching the World Cup”.

Aliens are watching the World Cup, and there is one thing they haven’t yet seen. Sitting high up in the stars, several million light years beyond the Moon’s dark side, they have carefully taken aim with their magnificent interstellar telescope at Brazil, its streets and its stadia, poring over this our grandest of shows with infinite jealousy. They have seen jackbooted cops drive citizens from their lifelong homes, clearing them away like conquistadors hacking at stubborn jungle shrubbery; they have seen concrete needlessly poured into the humid earth of regions where, months from now, a fraction of the current crowds will ever again set foot; they have seen sweating middlemen desperately stuffing their pockets with crumpled bundles of Reais, or simply cramming the cash down their throats as crumbling hospital halls gathered dust and inadequate railway systems gathered rust;

The aliens, spectating in envy from a gas cloud a billion leagues past Pluto, are watching as the World Cup provides we humble humans with weeks of theatre so wondrously unpredictable, so spectacularly wasteful, a drama as spontaneous and explosive as that when the heavens themselves first caught fire; they are watching as Messi rescues and Neymar ascends, as England fall and France thrive, as Ghana survives; they watch as Blatter bulges bank accounts once again; and they think; there’s one thing we haven’t seen;

And the one thing the aliens haven’t seen, is one particular scene; they haven’t seen that moment, that mascot, that proud emblem of all that this World Cup, both brutal and balletic, both cruel and beautiful, truly represents; and then then they twitch their antennae in delirious recognition, because out there in the cold, hollow yet suffocating cosmos they have seen Luis Suarez, of Uruguay, sink his teeth into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini, of Italy, and they think Yes, this is it, he is the mascot, this is the moment! This Luis Suarez, this is the World Cup: an entity that enthralls and appals, that delights and disgusts, an expensive, gloriously unstable, untameable beast, who looks up in bemusement and bewilderment at those outraged at what they themselves have created;

And the aliens think, show us More, More, More; we should be more upset were we paying for this, but since we are not, More, More, More!

“the beach is so white”; a racial take on Rio.

On matchday,

the beach is so white, and the metro is so white, and the hotel is so white,

Until you look below, at the sellers and the drivers and the washers,

And you see that the blacks who built this country

Are still in its foundations;

Their backs, its bricks and mortar,

Their souls, the bloodstreams of its hilltop homes.

Long after the mansions’ owners are gone, down to town to work or play or eat,

the blacks keep these houses on life support,

chugging patiently through their vast veins,

cooking, cleaning,

sweeping, sweeping, sweeping.

Halftime at the Copacabana



It’s halftime at the Copacabana, just under an hour after we have arrived here, on a subway train where judging by their football shirts everyone seemed to be Neymar. Back then, as we walked to the beach, cool, tree-shaded streets were turned humid with the body heat of thousands. Now we are seated, either on deckchairs or with knees pressed up against our chests, watching a mile-wide screen on which Brazil play Mexico.

Watching this match from up on the hill, Christ the Redeemer has the best view of all. Jesus, whose statue is a sort of compass by which you can judge wherever you are in the city, will later be illuminated in the dying sunlight in yellow and green, a privilege that God’s son is only afforded whenever Brazil play. Right now, it’s that time and temperature of afternoon when almost anyone can be convinced to smoke socially. Our cans of cold beer, helpfully branded Antarctica so that we won’t notice even when they turn warm, are planted up to their waists in the soft earth.

New friends – three French, one Andorran, one English – pose for a photo in their Brazil shirts; caramel-tanned, they all look like natives. Later, one of them, in as much a commentary on the host’s performance as the quantity of homemade caipirinha that he has consumed since midday, will fall asleep during the second half. Later, we will all crane our necks in vain anticipation towards Neymar, who will spend that second half entirely as he spent the first; pursued by two or three defenders at a time, like a bank robber whose security guards have been warned of his precise movements six months in advance. Later, we will half-heartedly curse and then loudly praise Ochoa, the Mexico goalkeeper who will deny an entire beach; grumbling good-naturedly, hundreds of men will amble down to the water and piss two hours’ worth of drink into the sea. The only ones not grumbling will be the small and faithful cohort of Mexicans, and a raucous band of Argentines; there are supposedly sixty thousand of them in Rio, and half of them will apparently spend the match two rows in front of us.

Soon, by 6pm, it will be midnight dark, and I will score my first ever goal on the Copacabana, during a game with fellow fans and locals; and I will jog away casually, pretending not to be filled with childish pride. Later still, the concert at the nearby FIFA fan site will continue into the evening. For now, though, there are fireworks and baile funk and barefoot dance-offs with ice-cream sellers, and I am wishing that this halftime’s final whistle never comes.


The true, eternal magic of the World Cup.

Here I am, freshly roused from an overnight flight out of London, en route to Rio, stopping at a cramped São Paulo airport whose faded-futurist decor looks like something out of Flash Gordon; and here they are.

A Mexico fan coming through Customs with a sombrero of comical width. An Algerian taking a nearby seat, having fashioned a sarong from his national flag. Iran fans bellowing as they unfurl their own colours in the departure lounge, whilst two smiling Nigerians accost a similarly joyful Colombian and get him to pose for a photo between them. Three middle-aged Belgium fans drifting by in their team’s training tops, as several benches of South Korea fans look on, quietly amused by it all. All of a sudden, an ailing late-Seventies airport terminal has taken on the soul of a summer afternoon backyard barbecue – and all of a sudden it’s gone again, as these supporters merrily disperse, to different flights and to different dreams. And this – many miles from any stadium, and without a ball in sight – is the true, eternal magic of the World Cup.