Friday, 1 April 2011

Brazil v Scotland

We're not racist, we just don't like you (or fruit)

Brazil 2-0 Scotland (27:03:11)

Calum Mechie mixes politics and football on a cosmopolitan weekend in the capital....

My first international match was a World Cup qualifier between Scotland and Switzerland in September 1993 at Pittodrie Stadium, Aberdeen. Incredibly, Switzerland were ‘officially’ the 3rd best team in the world that evening (the game finished 1-1). Scotland’s opponents for my latest exposure to the international scene are only the 5th best team in the world, but the comparative paucity of the opponents was compensated for by the relative plushness of the surroundings.

The Emirates Stadium: Better than Pittodrie (which is Pictish for ‘dung heap’)

So this is an international friendly. It’s Brazil’s home game, but they’re playing in London, against Scotland, in a stadium named after a conglomeration of oil rich Gulf States. And people say modern football’s lost its soul? I actually think this is a good thing, but I’ll save that for the post-match analysis.

The plans of a number of Scotland fans, my little brother included, were given the kibosh by a signal failure at York on Saturday. Fortunately, I live in London so my European Future Weekend was ensured.

I’ll spare all of y’all the minutia of the first portion of my weekend (it involves a gourmet burger, some laundry, a bacon and egg roll and a shower) and kick things off on Victoria Embankment. I met my friend Emily at Waterloo station in the early afternoon and we spent the next couple of hours collectively sticking it to the man politely and peacefully. We were two of the 250,000/500,000 (depending on where you get your news), rather than 2 of the 201 (verifiable fact), which is good.

One (of many thousands of) peaceful placcarder(s)

While I was largely disappointed by the banter (although that may have been bitterness, my chant, “I voted Democrat, Now I want a coup-de-tat”, didn’t take off) the behaviour of the section of the crowd in which we found ourselves was absolutely impeccable. We also had an interesting conversation with a balding relic who outlined the principals behind ‘consumer politics’; The Co-Op gives away 20% of its profits to local projects, don’t’y’know.

Linekar; Barnes; Charlton; Greaves; Owen; Hurst; Dean; Lofthouse; Shearer; Edwards; Banks, arranged in the seldom seen ‘three banks of three (strikers)’ formation - potent

I had intended to write, ‘Protest made and socialist credentials asserted, we then repaired to a free house for the more gentrified pleasures of the boat race (knowing England to have already accounted for Wales) and/or cricket world cup quarterfinal’. It seems more appropriate to write, however, that ‘we decided the best thing was to undermine the afternoon’s genteel atmosphere by repairing to the boozer to abuse the toothy aristocrats arsing around in boats on the Thames or with bats and balls in the land of the Raj’. Even these paltry revolutionary diversions were denied us though: the latter by the magnificence of Dilshan and the former by the fact that Britain’s great Universities seem to be disproportionately populated by hulking American and Canadian exchange students (cheers Vince).

Oxford, as I’m sure you all know, won and I consoled myself at not being able to watch the cricket by supping on a pint of Marston’s ‘Old Empire’ and, confused metaphor alert, remembering the good times.

Between that and noon on Sunday a few things happened. These include a pint (another IPA, Deuchars on this occasion) in a nice pub in Stoke Newington, my Amazon Kindle’s screen breaking (hello SEO), drinking Scrabble and several games of fives resulting in Facebook Status forfeiture. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that these were enjoyed (the Kindle is being replaced, free of charge, thanks to a genial Irishman at Amazon’s customer support centre) and skip ahead to the main event.

This begins, at the aforementioned noontime (to all intents and purposes 11am), at the Charlotte Despard pub in Archway North London.

Me Ale, Dad Lager, girls Orange Juice (sometimes Cider)

The Charlotte Despard, named for the suffragist and later Sinn Fein activist, is a really nice pub. It was not, however, named CAMRA’s pub of the year as I claimed to my non-London based fellow supporters but ‘North London’s pub of the season’.

“I thought you said…”

After a couple of Wandles (a nice ale brewed by the London based Sambrook’s) we set off on the thirty-ish minute walk to the impressive Emirates stadium. Apparently, although we arrived at the stadium at 1.39pm, we hadn’t left ourselves enough time to get into the stadium in time for 1. The teams to be read out (my Sister’s favourite part of the game apparently), 2. The National anthems to be sung (the only part of the game Scotland fans really enjoy) 3. Ronaldo (the real one, obviously) taking a bow, or 4. Kick-off. This was due to an unusually strict policing policy which didn’t seem to have any real purpose. Drunks were certainly not weeded out and, although all bags were searched, some miscreant still managed to smuggle a banana into the ground – more on which later. This seemed unnecessary as the streets surrounding the stadium, as well as the concourse, saw fans from the two nations mixing freely and good humouredly and the atmosphere was carnivalesque rather than threatening. I have attended many Arsenal games at The Emirates in the past, all of which have seen a worse ambiance paired with a lesser police presence.

Our seats were in an upper corner behind the goal into which Neymar scored Brazil’s excellently crafted opener.

Neymar celebrates his first goal with his mates – disgruntled Scottish people look on

Our seating position commanded us an excellent view of the Santos man’s skills, which it has to be said are thrilling and various. He is, however, a disgraceful cheat. There was a lot of animosity towards him from the Scotland fans. The group of lads in front of us, Annihil-8, Inebri-8 and Fornic-8, were especially displeased by his first half antics. A particular low point was when he sought to complete a one-two with Damiao, realized he wasn’t getting on the end of it then crumpled to the ground (he had been left untouched by a Scott Brown challenge 5 seconds and about 10 yards earlier) clutching his knee and claiming foul play and, presumably, a penalty. This annoyed the whole of the Scotland support who love to see a tricky little winger (a wee jinky) in action, but loathe diving and injury feigning and as a result booed his every touch for the next hour or so. From where we were seated, I heard absolutely no racist abuse and Neymar’s subsequent allegations of this seem ill founded. The on-pitch banana he cites as evidence of this can only have come from the Brazil fans at the end in which he scored his and Brazil’s second from the penalty spot (it looked like a dubious award and wasn’t replayed on the big screens, which means it probably was).

It would be nice not to have to mention this unsavoury episode, there are enough examples of unacceptable racist abuses in European football without magnificent players like Neymar needing to fabricate them, because Brazil were overall a delight to watch. Ramires transferred his domestic improvement to the international scene, Lucas Leiva looked expansive and Dani Alves was a force of nature. They were let down by their finishing, especially towards the end when an unidentified (by me) player lashed over the bar when a Romario-esque dink over McGregor would have completed a wonderful goal and provided a more representative final score.

Scotland, in truth, were poor. The Brazilians targeted Charlie Adam and shut him down early each time he received the ball, not allowing him to turn and distribute. This was as effective as turning off a tap since without his influence Scotland were completely unable to retain position or even, until Barry Bannan’s late free-kick, manage a shot on goal. Tactically, it is hard to know what Craig Levein could have done about this. We simply don’t have the players to compete with Brazil on their own physical and energetic terms – especially on a pitch as large as Arsenal’s. But Scotland’s battles are not with the likes of Brazil and Bannan and Adam continue to represent a justifiable hope of a more expansive and exciting end to the campaign to qualify for the Euros.

Shot on target (followed by comfortable save) coming up

The stairs leading out of the stadium resonated (uncharacteristically) with song as we left and the self-styled ‘Tartan Army Boys’ headed off into the sunny London evening to enjoy what was left of their European Football Weekends. For me, this meant Tepanyaki style Japanese food on Upper Street. This completed a gloriously cosmopolitan weekend, which is, ultimately, what International Football should be about. London is a truly international city and it is great when the global game, too often nationalistic and insular, becomes a part of that.

This guy is an excellent knife-smith. Catching the piece of chicken he pitched towards my mouth was a high point of my weekend.

You can follow Calum and European Football Weekends on Twitter

Calum is the editor of Good Feet for a Big Man

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