wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Seeing Brazil—-particularly this version of Brazil—-play live in the World Cup is an unparalleled experience for the soccer obsessive. Last night I checked this experience off my life list, seeing the Samba Kings dispatch (effortfully) a stout Croatia side, 1-0, in a sold-out Olympiastadion in Berlin (72k in attendance). Enough has been written about the game that I won’t repeat any of it here. Rather, I want to write about the experience of seeing Brazil in person at the World Cup.

First, the scenes of craziness you’ve seen on TV accurately reflect what the actual game is like. Twas a sea of bizarre green-yellow-and-blue accoutrements, some of which were elaborate (the dude dressed up as a Brazilian lion-man replete with green-and-yellow mane), while others impressed by virtue of their, um, simpicity (a statuesque woman whose outfit consisted of three cocktail-napkin sized swatches of Brazil-colored fabric, precariously attached by the least bit of string). Throughout, lesser costumes pervaded, of which the most popular seemed to be hairpieces: either a Brazil-colored afro wig or faux-hawk. For my part, I wore the only relevant clothing I brought: a green shirt with the phrase “Jamaican me crazy” in yellow (it seemed to convince the German people there I was Brazilian though—the ticket takers and concession folks greeted me with “bom dia” before the standard conversation in English ensued).

As I got to my seat, I looked around and was pleased to find myself located on the edge of the Brazilian curva of the stadium. I had been concerned that I would be surrounded by a sea of angry drunken Croats. Then, as I sat waiting for the game to start, the seats around me filled with—you can guess it—angry, drunken Croats (again, see pic). Well, to be fair, reasonably well-behaved Croats, but still, it kind of freaked me out, especially since I’d resolved to have a conflict-free World Cup. Eventually, though, a few Brazil supporters appeared here and there, reassuring me a bit, but I remained fairly subdued throughout, even when Brazil went ahead 1-0.

The fans themselves impressed not so much because they did anything unusual or elaborate, the way British fans often have funny and creative terrace songs (rather, they mostly just chanted the standard “Bra-zil” *clap clap clap*). Rather, it was the sheer numbers and energy (and, related, volume) that made such a powerful impression. When Kaka scored the golaco that turned out to be the difference in the game, the response was deafening in a literal sense—it took me a while before my ears stopped ringing and I could hear clearly again.

Of course, there were times when things slowed down (especially in the increasingly defensive second half) and the Brazilian fans grew quiet. It was in these moments that the Croatians really impressed me—I think it has to be said that over the course of the second half they were the louder and more impressive of the two fan groups. As the game wore on, and Brazil (and their fans) grew tired, it seemed that Croatia (spurred on by enormous enthusiasm from their supporters) got stronger, and easily could have tied the game (Croat forward Dado Prso seemed to me the best player on the field for either side, although he didn’t end up scoring a goal).

Two more observations about the game: First, in about the 75th minute, a Croatian fan decked out in all manner of national colors managed to negotiate both the moat that surrounded the stadium and the burly Teutonic guards who surrounded the pitch and appeared on the field, cavorting crazily to cheers from the Croatian supporters (and, surprisingly, no whistles from the Brazilian fans). He was out there for a couple minutes, doing his thing, then eventually approached Dado Prso and kind of knelt down and hugged the forward’s feet. Then Prso brought the fan upright, put his arm around him, and escorted him off the field, where he handed him over to the German police. Please note: during this entire time, no policeman touched the fan. He could have been a terrorist or some crazy looking to attack a player, but the police just stood and watched. More amazing, Prso didn’t run the other way from the guy but actually seemed to sympathize with him, even protecting him as they walked off the field, which seems to have led the Berlin police to have treated him with kid gloves. In the US, that guy would have been pinned to the turf instantaneously and dragged away in a brutal headlock, then placed in jail for an indefinite term. I honestly thought the Germans—no strangers to a bit of brutality, after all—would take a similar approach. But I guess we’re the world leader in this respect too. USA! USA!

Finally, I’m not even sure what to make of the following: about an hour before the game, a wealthy, well-fed looking German man came into my section along with his very pretty but also very young daughter, who was tricked out in Brazil-themed bikini top and boy shorts that left almost nothing to the imagination. They walked down to the very first row where she stepped one leg up on the railing and proceeded to wave a Brazil flag to get the attention of the assembled photogs (who flocked over immediately upon seeing her). A ten-minute photo shot of increasing suggestiveness ensued, by the end of which the girl was using the pole in ways that could have given new ideas to even the most experienced American strippers. I wasn’t sure if I should have called child services or given her a tip (so I ended up doing both).

{Pic 1: DF in pseudo-Brazilwear, standing a bit uneasily amid a sea of checkered Croats. The woman whose tiny head you can just see above me and to my right is Janica Kostelic, Croatian Olympic skiing gold medalist.}

{Pic 2: The Brazil supporters section during lineup announcements.}


Anonymous Alex S said...

David's comments about committing violence against fans who take the field proved well-timed. I offer the following point of cultural comparison:


While the policemen in Minnesota chased the enthusiastic fans around the baseball field, they proved too unfit to catch them and eventually capitulated. The Twins' bat boy filled the vacuum.

1:29 PM, June 15, 2006


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