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Rumble in the Jungle


Picture the scene. Deep, deep, deep in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon basin in a run down scruffy riverside port, a hot steamy Saturday morning and a bar, which at the best could be called optimistic and at the very least could be condemned as a major health hazard (assuming that you lived long enough for that to be a problem).

I had ended up here by mistake, a series of wrong busses, misunderstandings and acts of incredible stupidity on my part had taken me far from my hotel and deeper into the unknown. My better judgement warned me against entering, but hell, I was determined not to miss the kick off. As Bill Shankley once said ‘Football, its not a question of life or death ­ its more important than that’.

So I entered, ducking between two beefy fisherman and the carcass of something quite dead which had been hung over the door to dry. I squeezed into a seat next to the flickering TV and called for a beer. A few of the fisherman shoot me a quizzical look probably wondering what a guy from Ceara was doing so far from home (my Portuguese must be a lot better then I think) and the bar man pointed that I should help myself from the freezer behind me. The two national anthems were played and once we had again taken our seats the game kicked off to cheers from the crowd which was now spilling out of the bar and onto the docks. England in their change strip of red and Brazil in their famous yellow and blue.

The first twenty minutes or so were a scrappy affair, and I was soon nodding wisely with the guy next to me who was taking time out of gutting an enormous catfish with a rusty looking machete to question the referees heredity and sexual prowess. The beers, the humidity, the press of humanity and the tense tense atmosphere which was descended on the bar was getting to me. The flickering picture, the buzz of mosquitoes and the monkeys squabbling in the tree outside the door didn’t detract from the feeling that I was there, between the fabled twin towers urging my country on to victory. Sweat tricked down my back as I reached for another beer.

Suddenly, quite against the run of play, England won a corner. There was some jostling and shoving in the box, and like a vision in red Michel Owen sprouted wings and rose above the defenders to nod the ball into the back of the net. Before I could control myself I leapt to my feet, knocking my beer flying, and screamed at the top of my lungs… ‘England…………GOOOOOAL’.

This was swiftly followed by a more profound thought: ‘Shit, I really didn’t want to do that’. The crowd already stunned by the goal slowly turned to stare at me. The bar-man stopped cleaning his teeth with his butterfly knife, the man gutting the catfish next to me turned slack jawed to stare, the monkeys in the trees stopped squabbling, and even the dirty little toddler who had wandered into the bar with the apparent intention of pissing on my foot stopped and stared at me.

‘Oh shit’, I thought again. I thought about trying to make a swift exit, but my chances of getting to the door past so many viscous looking fish knives was slim, armed as I was only with my guide book. ‘ I am English…my team…Owen my hero’, I spluttered in my best Portuguese (which had at juncture in time more or less deserted me).

After what seemed like an eternity, during which my life flashed before my eyes (purely, I guess, to remind me, that I am making quite a habit of this kind of thing) the bar man leaned over and with a massive hand thumped me on the back and muttered ‘that Owen, you know I think he has Brazilian grandparents’. The bar roared with approval and a fresh beer was thrust into my hand.

The next fifteen minutes of the match were somewhat of a blur as my heart rate returned to somewhere near its normal level and the tightly pressed crowd asked innumerable questions about England. They seemed especially impressed when I said I used to work at Wembley. I was just settling down to a good afternoon of drinking free beers where incredibly Brazil fumbled the ball into the back of the net.

Instead of the normal screaming and jubilation the whole crowd, which had swelled once news had got out that an English man was in town especially to watch the football, turned and stared at me as if to say ‘now what are you going to do’.

Well, there was only one thing I could do and let rip with one of the loudest, longest, most passionate ‘Goooooooooooal Brazil’ screams of my life. The rest of the crowd were not far behind in their celebrations and in the ensuring chaos I slipped out and didn’t stop running till I got onto a bus.

Philip grew up in London and left at the first opportunity. After a glittering academic career in Japan came to a sudden end (after he discovered there is a limit as to how much sushi one can eat in a week) he left for sunnier climes. He currently lives, and it is rumoured, works in NE Brasil. He has travelled widely – often as the result of getting on the wrong bus – and claims mistaken identity as the reason for his arrest in Africa. He may be contacted at philip@ufc.br

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