Today I went to watch a London 2012 Olympics event. The Olympic Games don’t really start officially until tomorrow night and I went to Cardiff to see my chosen event, which all seemed quite peculiar really and made me wonder if perhaps Wales were staging their own Olympics.
The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was the venue and I travelled there with our Seán in my trusty motor car to watch Brazil playing Egypt in the men’s football competition. An evening kick off and just a short hop of a journey over ‘the bridge’ made life so much easier than it would have been had we travelled to mucky London for Olympiad purposes as the majority of Olympians will be doing over the course of the next few weeks. Also, it was nice to be crossing the River Severn into another country for a short escape from England, even though Wales is pretty similar to what I am used to and lacks the culture shock that I always yearn for.
Cardiff city centre was awash-ish with football supporters, the vast majority of them being Brazilian but with pockets of Egyptians too. The Latin Americans dominated the scene and people clad in the national shirt of Brazilwere there from such far flung places as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Basingstoke. Exotic olive skinned women draped in Brazilian flags were out in force, just as you would expect to see them in the Maracanã. I have never been to a football match before where I have seen so many people wearing high heels, mascara and bikini tops . . . with the possible exception of a Bath City versus Ilkeston Town encounter in the Dr Marten’s League some years ago. Similarly I had never seen so many people in Islamic dress at a game before either. Oh foreign cultures . . . I absolutely love them, especially when there is an excuse for overindulgence in them as there was tonight.
Seán and I did our best to fit into the multicultural world by wandering into Cardiff’s salubrious Walkabout restaurant (an enclave of all things antipodean) for the sake of nourishment and refreshment. Here I had a pint of Stella Artois and a most delicious kangaroo curry to get into the spirit of the confrontation that lay ahead of us as Africa took on South America and as we watched Uruguay beat theUnited Arab Emirates2-1 on the big screen in the bar. Football was suddenly hot, exciting and glamorous again and I felt a Mexican wave of Mexico 1970 wash over me.
The atmosphere inside the ground was vibrant, despite a poor turn out. Slightly less than 27,000 of the 75,000 seats were occupied which was a terrible shame but such is the apathy of British football supporters if their own sorry national teams aren’t playing. Tickets were very reasonably priced and easy to get hold of but yet only a pathetic few people turned up to watch this flamboyant sporting spectacular.
The sound of drums and horns filled the stadium and the occupied sections were emblazoned with the yellows, greens and blues of the Brazilian flags and replica shirts. The night was uncharacteristically warm but just as you would want it to be for a big international tournament. With the help of a little bit of imagination it was like being in the Maracanã itself. Many of the British people in the crowd had brought their kids along. People were smiling and laughing. The chant of ‘Brasil! Brasil!’ echoed around the stadium as people stood up to do as good a Mexican wave as is possible in place that is two thirds empty. Laughing and cheering Egyptian supporters did their utmost to compete with the noise of their counterparts. There was no trouble, no aggression, no animosity and no drunkenness or bad language. Just a beautiful big fat friendly atmosphere on a very warm night as two teams from the tropics took each other on in one of the opening games of a pretty significant competition.
The match itself turned out to be a good one too. The Egyptians had all the passion and the determination but the skill of Brazilian stars like Oscar, Leandro and Neymar saw them take control and effortlessly go into a 3-0 lead by half time.
In the second half Egypt seemed even more determined and threw everything they had (kebabs, camel droppings, Great Pyramid snow storm scenes, etc) at the Brazil side who defended poorly and did little themselves by way of attacking the opposition goal. Their efforts almost paid off as Egypt were rewarded with two come back goals, the second of which was scored with incredible calmness and skill by a player whose name I cannot remember and probably wouldn’t be able to spell, I'm ashamed to say, even if I could. A third, equalising goal eluded them though and African side, who in my mind deserved a win, were unlucky not to have earned a draw.
The air was still very warm as we caught the third world style bus that Cardiff’s transport company had brought out of mothballs to ferry the hordes of fans back to the Park & Ride site on the edge of the city. The stickiness of the night, the hot bodies crammed into the small space on the bus and the smell of the diesel from an engine that shook every bone in my body as it chugged away from the beautifully illuminated stadium took me a long, long way away from home in my traveller’s mind. Thank you Cardiff for being so tropical.
My ticket to the Tropics.