It’s time for part 4 of Michael Moss’s World Cup 2014 blog…
We stumbled from the plane and into the heat of Belo Horitonte (said Bay-lo Hori-zon-ch) and were immediately eager to see how the Germany Portugal game was faring. As we made our way to find the game, iIt was very apparent that the planned expansion to support the World Cup was not yet complete. Signage was missing, large areas were sealed off by plastic sheeting or tape, and swaths of the flooring were incomplete and definitely tripping hazards, but without the expected warning signs of tripping hazards. Despite this, a fans area was, partially, ready and we slinked to the back and saw the Germans compelling win over Portugal.
We took a bus to the centre and snaked our way through 40km towards the centre and realised why the city was called “Beautiful Horizon”, as tumbling hills and valleys merged into jagged mountainous areas that stretched on and on, coupled with the luscious green countryside that disappeared into the sunset on the horizon, it was a spectacle to be seen. The natural beauty rolled into human poverty, as we crashed through the outer areas of the city, whizzing past favelas. A striking plume of acrid thick black smoke poured out of the distant horizon.
Our bus landed and we tumbled in a taxi to pick up Linda, our connection to our accommodation. After negotiating with the driver to fit 5 of us in his car the short distance required, we were, after ringing the bell, awaiting. The answer came from a joyous voice, evidently a smoker, welcoming us. Our host in BH was a friend of Linda’s. Her friend, Bernado, was due to join, but other commitments meant he was stuck in London. However, his Mum, Lidia, was still willing to host us!
Luckily for us, Bryan could speak Portuguese, because our host, the fantastic Lidia, could speak only basic English. There were five of us, but we were awaiting another three. Lidia immediately offered us beer and and a tour of the flat. Bryan had his translation mode on to help through, however there seemed to be problem. Oh, shit. She wasn’t expecting eight, but only six. However to Lidia this was a minor problem, to us, the embarrassment was a little uneasy. There weren’t enough spaces to sleep us all, however, she sorted it, her sister coming around with some more inflatable mattresses. The unlimited help Lidia offered us was unprecedented. She knocked up some pasta for EIGHT of us in no time. We tried refusing her every comforting advance, but to no avail. We wanted to hit the town, and she insisted on being our taxi. NO! Please, your hospitality is amazing, but we don’t want to be an inconvenience! This wasn’t acceptable to Lidia, and off our entourage went.
A casual night drinking and laughing around Belo was had, meeting locals, who were happy to host so many tourists, as Belo is often missed by tourists. English was less of a problem, probably helped by a large University population, than we encountered elsewhere, although by now my Portuguese was almost fluent in ordering the essentials; Caipirinha’s and Cerveja’s!! After much joking, and plenty of singing in preparation for the game, we clamoured into a Taxi back to Lidia’s place to slumber.
We arose early the next day, and Lidia had laid out breakfast! A truly remarkable woman! Once breakfast was eaten, we prepared for the day. Although some had been to the Maracana, the entire group hadn’t. The majority of the group had grown up in Brussels, but had a diverse background of heritage, ranging from Lebanese, Indian, Irish, Dutch, German and more, however Belgium had united these guys, and today we all had tickets for Belgium vs Algeria! I was clearly supporting Belgium! We got underway and by 9:00am had Stella Artois in hand. The coordination of getting from the city centre to the Stadium was poor. Not even the local’s could give us a clear route. We persevered with the bus before buying more beer and jumping in a taxi. Although in the taxi for some 20 minutes, our fare was around 8€. All of us decked in red started singing, the beer clearly working it’s way through our systems.
Little did we know, but there was a 2km walk to the stadium, however the entrepreneurial locals ensured we could survive such a grandiose walk, by selling beers. The 8 of us, decked in red, garnered a lot of attention, and everyone wanted photos and for us to give renditions of the unique songs for Fellaini, Kompany, Mignolet and others plus a completely new entry devised before I had arrived in Sao Paulo. It took us a couple of hours, with many interruptions, to ascend a minor gradient to eventually rise slowly over the crescent of the hill to face the stadium; and what a sight. The Mineirão is a vast and impressive stadium. It is listed, and renovation construction work was complex to ensure it kept its key architectural elements in preparation for the World Cup.
We decided to make our way quickly into the stadium, of course recruiting a couple of beers.The queue seemed quite large to get into the inner perimeter. A quick scour for information revealed there were relatively few entrances, so we continued. In a way, the queue was dark in its efficiency, with its zig-zag pattern taking only a single line of people and snaking them all the way around a complex route, compounded by temporary fencing which had the supporting raised feet blocking the route, so occasionally you would trip. Despite this, we carried on singing and dancing. The neutral fans loving us, more photos in the queue prevailing. But we weren’t getting anywhere quickly. This was pathetic. We arrived at the stadium 4 hours before kick-off, and now, just an hour to go, we were feeling nervous.
More problems ensued. When in a queue for some time, coupled with drinking steadily, means taking a leak is difficult. One of the group got so desperate it became difficult to walk, and although spirits were still high and we were all laughing, he had to relieve himself. We surrounded him, whilst he unleashed into a discarded can. Not pretty FIFA, not pretty.
Eventually, with not much to spare, we got through the queue, but I was amazed at the amount of contraband. There were piles and piles of Algerian and Belgian flags.The economics of it crazy. Why were they confiscated? Is this FIFA’s totalitarian military regime? But to what end? My lighter was also confiscated, and, as I would find out later, incorrectly.
But stuff FIFA and their regime. This was my first game at a World Cup. And I was now buzzing. Sure, a little alcohol was helping. The stadium looking even more intimidating as we were closer, towering above us with it’s staunch angular columns, curtained in a veil of concrete. As a group, our seats were scattered all over, but that didn’t matter. We could meet up, right? We could. And I ended up in a group of four behind the goal.
The game started and we were still in full flow, singing, dancing, cheering; the locals pouting for more photos with us, but no, we are watching the game. Algeria have a penalty. Courtois to save, surely? But no. The Algerians, who boo the Belgians every touch, are ahead. The first half ends, and not too soon. A dire first half combined with us in the direct sunlight has sapped our energy. Two of us depart for beer (the queues are scandalous) and we double up, we don’t want to be queuing again.
The second half opens and the only improvement is in our spirit, the fresh liquid pushing us into more cheer. Belgium are looking poor. Where is this talented team? Marouane Fellaini was introduced as a substitute, and after his performances for United, I was not expecting much.
But I was wrong. Fellaini started to add a firm but calm presence in the midfield, where Belgium had been struggling. Then 10 minutes after he came on, Fellaini met a ball with his now lost locks and guided it into past the Algerian keeper. Queue monumental mentalness from ourselves and other Belgians around the stadium.
Within minutes, a FIFA representative came up to tell us to sit down, well I presumed, as he asked in Portuguese. I forgot Portuguese was the 4th language of Belgium. I vehemently refused to sit down. I was at the World Cup finals, not a performance of ballet or Shakespeare. The steward kept arguing with me to sit down, eventually summoning his supervisor. Then something magic happened. A Brasil fan stood up and shouted something to the steward. To which more fans stood up. And then more, until the entire block was stood with us, clapping and cheering as we continued our song and dace. This show of unity was a powerful reminder and two finger salute to FIFA. People want to stand, to let the energy of the game flow through them, to create the atmosphere of what football is. Football is played with pace, ingenuity and intelligence (unless watching Netherlands vs Argentina in the semi final) and the support is delivered through song, dance and unity through people synonymously joining to enhance the visual and audio effect of its deliverance.
We continued our singing at the equaliser, and we were definitely more open to having our photos taken with the Brasil fans who supported us through the face off with FIFA. Belgium were definitely in the ascendancy, and minutes later they took the lead after a furiously break, with Mertens steadying himself before rifling the ball past a hapless keeper. Que yet more scenes of delirium, this time the FIFA Official stayed well clear.
With only 10 minutes remaining, the Belgians shut-up shop. And rode home safely with the 3 points. Success indeed. We ambled back to the agreed meeting point, we search for beer, but after the game no beer was to be sold. Strange. We cruised back and talked of the game whilst watching the dull Brasil vs. Mexico game.
We moved back into the centre and continued the party, meeting with other happy Belgium fans. We also came across the students from the previous night and shared our match day experiences with them. Around midnight, we were finally beaten. Fifteen hours of drinking had drained us and it was time to hit the hay. The group was due to split in the morning. The German faction flying early to Brasilia, whereas we had an evening flight. Lidia had kindly offered to drive the first faction to the airport at 4:30am.
Upon us waking, Lidia had breakfast ready, and offered to give us a tour of the city by car. There were just the four of us now, so we could comfortably fit in the car. Our tour included driving past a favela, going to a great view point lööoking high over the sprawling vastness of the city, followed by a great view point looking high into the fabled wonderful horizon with minimal concrete obscuring our view, before being dropped off at a great little restaurant with the Holland Australia game on. We had all collectively agreed in the morning that maybe today we should not have a beer, given the consumption would resume again at the next stop, Brasilia.
We headed back to Lidia’s and upon our return, she thrust beer under our noses. Although reluctant, we thought it would be rude to not accept her offer, and the chance of a last beer at Lidia’s. We packed into the car and disappeared towards the airport, passing favelas with plumes of the acrid smoke, before arriving back to the airport. Our time in Belo was over and although the game and atmosphere was momentous, the memory will be the hospitality of Lidia.
Keep up with Moss on his global adventures on Twitter @enjoycoca_, look out for part 5 later this week.