From Amazon to Zico

It was a pleasure to take part in last night’s Fans' Forum, an A-to-Z of Brazil, from Amazon to Zico. England fans planning to travel to Brazil for the World Cup filled the downstairs room of the New Moon pub in Leadenhall Market, for a fact-finding evening on what to expect over there.

The first speaker was Alex Ellis, the British Ambassador to Brazil (in the photo). People wanted to know whether Brazil was going to be ready in time, and he said yes, that Brazil can be chaotic but things can also get done fast there. He said the stadiums will be ready and the airports will be fine; it will be the connections (getting from the airport to the hotel; getting to and from the ground) where delays are more likely to occur – ‘give yourselves plenty of time to get to the ground’, he advised.

Sue Branford, from the Latin America Bureau, a former Brazil correspondent, talked about LAB’s guide to Brazil (Brazil Inside Out). People asked about the protests in Brazil and she gave them some background on underlying social and political issues.

Alex Bellos, author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, a brilliant book about Brazil that takes football as its theme (a book of crónicas no less), spoke about Manaus, where England will play their first game. Those present had heard only bad things about Manaus, but Bellos reassured them that it’s a fascinating city, very odd but totally unique; that yes, there’s the jungle to visit and the opera house, but also beautiful river beaches and an amazing amateur football scene. He touched on the protests too: it was the consensus on the panel that things could get ugly if Brazil are knocked out early, but Bellos pointed out that at the Confederations Cup last year, the Brazil team sided with the protesters and this helped generate team and terrace spirit, pride and unity, and they were unstoppable as a result.

No European team has ever won a World Cup in the America; I was asked whether this was about to change. I said that all the Latin American teams, but especially Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, go into the tournament quietly confident, believing they can go very far. I noted that Felipe Scolari, the Brazil manager, has stated he’s keen to avoid Chile in the second round (the alternatives are Spain or the Netherlands) and that tells its own story: obviously Scolari fears Brazil’s neighbours more than he does the Europeans.

I was also asked about travelling fans from Latin America. Having canvassed opinion from The Football Crónicas authors, I was able to tell the audience that a lot of Colombians, Chileans, Argentinians and Uruguayans are planning to travel, less so Mexico (there’ll be a decent contingent, but it’s a very expensive package) and Costa Rica (estimates are for 1,000 Ticos to hit Brazil). A lot of people will be travelling without tickets and there is controversy surrounding ticket allocations. In the Fifa ballot, Argentina were particularly hard done by: having applied for 260,000 tickets, Argentinians were allocated just 4,500. It did not go unnoticed that Canada, not even at the World Cup, never mind not a next-door neighbour, got 13,000. Conspiracy theories abound.

Chile applied for 102,000 and got fewer than 4,500 tickets. This scuppered the plans of many, not least the Mayor of Salamanca, who promised to take 1,000 people to Brazil for the World Cup, if he won the elections: he duly did, but tickets have been hard to come by. Nevertheless, a caravan of 25 buses is due to make its way, slowly but surely, to Brazil early next month.

It was an interesting night and I, representing Ragpicker Press and The Football Crónicas, was very glad to have been invited. Thanks to everyone who took part.

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