As the only English person many of my friends and students know over here, I’ve been constantly talking about the English teams performance over the last few weeks…or perhaps I should say our lack of it. “What happened?” and “I am sorry about your team” are things I’ve been hearing A LOT of recently.
It would be fair to say that the reputation of English football has taken a bit of a battering over the course of the three games we played here. Perhaps the most interesting conversation I’ve heard about English football came from some Brazilian football pundits last week, who discussed the future of the English team during a World Cup based TV show. “Maybe it’s time to scrap English football and create a team that incorporates the whole of their country” one argued. “Why should FIFA allow them to play as separate countries when no other country is allowed to do this?”
But do you know what? For me personally my favourite day of the tournament so far is still the day that the English team came to São Paulo, bringing with them hordes of English supporters! (Last Saturday’s nail biting Brazil-Chile game has to come a very close second though!)
I first noticed the presence of the English in the city the day before the game. As I left the company office I’d been teaching in at 8.30am, I was walking towards a coffee shop, when I saw something I’d not seen in São Paulo before. Coming out of a hotel was a confused-looking Englishman, sporting some pretty impressive King Arthur-inspired chainmail. Up until this point I’d not seen anyone dressed like this, so naturally, as soon as I noticed what he was wearing I couldn’t take my eyes off him!
From the startled look on his face as he looked up at the towering skyscrapers that dominate this area of the city, I sensed that he wasn’t at all familiar with this avenue too….in fact, I’d hazard a guess that he’d probably not planned on staying in this hotel the night before.
My first thought was ‘has he really managed to pull wearing that costume!?!’
My second was ‘Wait! Am I witnessing the ultimate walk of shame?’
My third? ‘I really need that coffee!’
The Day of the England vs Uruguay Match
A few hours before the game I stepped onto the subway with a friend to head over to the Fifa Fan Fest area. We couldn’t fail to notice that our carriage was already filled with guys in red and white, people were waving English flags and many were speaking with accents I hadn’t heard for a very long time.
“Andrew, I am really not used to hearing ANYBODY speak English on the red line” my friend pointed out. “I almost feel like I’m in a different country!” He wasn’t the only one; I was already thinking the same thing, although for me the feeling was a whole lot more familiar!
A few minutes after arriving in front of the big screen, my friend and I were stood in line to get a beer where we met a woman wearing an England shirt. “I just flew in here this morning” she said before chugging down a large amount of beer (an amount I’m not used to seeing Brazilian men drink in one go!). “It’s fackin freezing here! I said to our Tony, Tony ‘ave we arrived in the right country? Ain’t Brazil supposed to be ‘ot? I’ve brought loads a tee-shirts aat here with me, but not one fackin sweater!”
Not long after this my friend and I walked across the fan area, where I accidentally bumped into a heavily built guy. “Desculpa” I said instinctively as I turned around, assuring him I wasn’t wanting to start a fight. “Sorry mate!” was the response I got…affirming that this was no ordinary day in the Portuguese speaking city I’ve been living in for over four years!
There must have been at least 500 English people in the area singing loudly, chanting at the screen and screaming some of the most sublimely vulgar English phrases I’ve heard this side of the Atlantic. “What are they singing Andrew?” I was asked a number of times as the English fans belted out their chants in unison. At one point, after listening for some time in silence I replied. “We’re in Sao Paulo, we’re on the piss!”
“What does it mean, we are on a piss?” I found it quite refreshing to be able to translate to my friends things people were saying in their city; usually it’s me asking them to do the opposite!
“Take your shoes off if you love England!” was the chant I enjoyed the most. “Andrew, they really don’t know this city very well, do they?” laughed my friend as he heard this! He was right. On any normal day in São Paulo the sight of 300 pairs of Nikes being waved in the air would be bait for opportunistic thieves. But on this day there was a large police presence in the fan area; so those trainers all made it safely back onto those English feet.
We were 1-0 down at the end of the first half when the referee blew his whistle to signal half time. This inspired one burly Englishman to give a rousing speech to everyone in earshot. “Don’t think this is it for England” he slurred, sincerely, ”we will come back from this! You mark my words, we can do it! We are England! We will win! We will WIIIIIIN!” He then gave a Gladiator-like growl, a growl that seemed quite fitting for the occasion! Unfortunately of course, he was wrong. About an hour later we were effectively knocked out of the tournament and the Uruguayans in the crowd were already celebrating.
But being surrounded by so many passionate English fans on this day was quite a novel experience for me as a British expat. I might not have been back to the UK for a few years, but on this day, with all of these English people around me, it really felt like I’d been summoned back to England for a few hours….all be it, an England with a very Brazilian feel!