Sao Paulo, Brazil – June 15, 2010 – 4:22pm
The point of watching the game isn’t to see the game … it’s to see the fans. That’s my approach to watching today’s World Cup match with Brazil and North Korea. However, failure to plan means I’m watching it in a hotel bar, which isn’t exactly the height of local color.
Still, just seeing the fans in the street before the game tells me I’m not in Kansas anymore.
It doesn’t matter that the football match in question is being played in South Africa. Any uneducated tourist would have thought Brazil was playing on home turf. Yellow jerseys, waving flags and the drone of horns that sound like swarms of angry bees amidst the urban sprawl that is Sao Paulo.
I thought I’d be watching the match with folks from the local Intel office, but they had other plans. The office is hosting a match party, but everyone I work with is using the game as an excuse to head home and see it with family. I grabbed a quick lunch with my boss, then headed out to wander the shopping district near the hotel. Maybe a bar with empty seats would turn up.
This, of course, is a failure to plan. And we know what turns into …
The shopping centers in Morumbi are very upscale, catering to the office crowds of nearby skyscrapers. The brands on the marquee tell you it’s not a low-rent district, and the very obvious security around the entrances tell you it intends to stay that way. It’d not the subtle security of a casino or upscale hotel, it’s the man in black tactical gear that has no intention of blending into the background.
So when the shops inside the mall start to close, and the name-brand bars are only open to people who made advance reservations, the guards quietly make it obvious this is not a place for pedestrians.
I headed into the bar at the Hotel Blue Tree Towers Morumbi about seven minutes into the match. The crowd is small, but definitely home team fans. The bar was prepared for this match, setting up snacks and a few extra televisions. It’s the same game I could get in my hotel room, but why bother listening to the drone of angry bees and Portuguese commentators alone.
For me, the life of any good soccer match lives in the crowd. Here in Brazil its part of the culture, like yellow and green threads woven into the fabric of their daily lives. It’s really the only active professional sport. America’s individual spirit spreads fandom across a variety of sports, one or more for every season.
Forty three minutes into the match and it’s a defensive struggle. The crowd gasps and grumbles as shots go wide around the goal or careen off of North Korean heads. At the half, many of the fans pay their tabs and wander off. Perhaps they were expecting a more decisive opening for Brazil, especially playing against such a low ranked team. The North Korean approach of stonewalling foreigners seems to carry over to their soccer team as well, producing a very solid defense.
There’s another forty five minutes of soccer to go and a few more snacks to grab from the bar. I’m already at my hotel, so I don’t have to beat traffic like may of the locals. I hope Brazil make a good show of the second half, otherwise it may be a bad night to go out in Sao Paulo.