Posts Tagged With: Germany

Brazil’s winter of discontent…

 

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

An eerie calm has descended on the streets of Brazil – or at least my bit of it down here in sunny Porto Alegre. The World Cup may be a fast fading memory, but the scars haven’t quite healed. There is still a mood of bewilderment. The other day I met an elderly woman who doesn’t even follow football, and yet she told me she has the numbers 7 and 1 going around her brain like a curse (Brazil were hammered 7:1 by Germany in the semi-final). In Brazil, the number of the beast is no longer 666, but seven and one. Nowadays, no Brazilian would buy a car with 7 and 1 on the number plate, and you can bet no-one will gamble those numbers on the lottery.

But the war is over. Germany won and everyone has gone home. We all got patriotic for a few weeks and now we’re back to being global nobodies. We all imagined our blood was better than Johnny Foreigner’s blood and shouted it from the terraces, or from the safety of our living-room sofas. Global football tournaments are one of the only times when nations meet to do battle and the fans can put on their war paint and jump up and down like demented warriors. Of course, it’s not that long since real wars were commonplace. It’s only 500 years since the War of the Roses, for example, that glorious Yorkshire victory! Yes, the House of York (white rose) trampled the House of Lancaster (red rose) and I still have my white rose cufflinks to prove it.

Richard III had a few problems...he wasn't from Bradford

Richard III had a few problems…he wasn’t from Bradford

War or World Cup, men still love the chance to be macho and aggressive. But what happens when the fighting has stopped – what do men do when the war is over? According to Shakespeare, after the Wars of the Roses they started prettifying themselves to win invites into ladies’ chambers so they could try out their amorous talents. But not all men are made for love-making. If you are deformed and ugly, like Richard III, you cannot join in the passion and the poetry. Richard’s response was to avenge himself by killing all his rivals and crowning himself king. It was one way of dealing with his exclusion. But today, for us men who live in peaceful times, we can’t just pick up a sword and let fly: we have to be happy with the bedroom antics. It has led to what some people refer to as the “feminisation” of culture. Men are now more like women. So, the World Cup was a chance for us men to be tough guys again for a few weeks.

Yet more growth at what human cost?

Growth: the only solution in town?

But now Brazilians have more important things to consider. There is an election looming and the country is crying out for change. People are demanding more investment in education, healthcare and infrastructure. Like most economies, Brazil has taken a tumble and the “boom” years appear to be behind. What the politicians tell us is we need more “growth”. It’s funny. The solution always seems to be the same. The magic word is growth – all we need is more people spending and everything will be all right. Well, I agree with Professor Tim Jackson who, in his book Prosperity without Growth – economics for a finite planet, says that every society clings to a myth: in ours it is the myth of economic growth. “The days of spending money we do not have on things we do not need to impress people we do not care about are over”, says Tim. Or they should be.

Here is what all Brazilians should do: STOP. Stop for a few minutes every day. Turn off that stupid ‘Smart Phone’ and think. Reflect on your life. What are you doing with your precious time on earth? Do you just want to be richer and buy more stuff? Who are you when you are not at work? How much time do you have to grow as an individual? What are you doing for the planet?

I'm looking after Number One...that's me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

I’m looking after Number One…that’s me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

Most people will tell you that work and money are not so important for them: what comes first is the family. As if “the family” was the panacea for a perfect life. Well, I say STOP that as well! Stop thinking your family is more precious than mine, or any other. It’s another myth, I’m afraid. One that has been so successful ideologically that we dare not even question it. Believe me, it is not “natural” to dote on one’s family; it is “cultural” – and culture is always part of the broader economic system. The truth is that the “family unit” is a divisive little institution. Through our blind obsession with our own families we have simply stopped caring for anybody else in the wider community. Love stops at the front door of our house. It’s every family for itself – like every man for himself. Dog eat dog. Sad, but true.

No, my friends! Consumerism is a blind alley where you lose your soul. Increasing your buying power – the very thing everybody seems obsessed with – won’t make you any happier. What makes us happy is feeling good about ourselves, and we get that from generosity of spirit. Doing good things, helping others. Kindness.

Of course, in Yorkshire – under the shadow of the “glorious sun of York” – people don’t have a problem buying things they don’t need to impress somebody else. That’s because Yorkshire folk are notoriously tight-fisted. Let me put it this way, if a Yorkshireman owned Siberia, he wouldn’t give you as much as a snowball. I met a bloke from Leeds in Rio de Janeiro a few years back. I kid you not, he would walk a mile to save 5 centavos on a glass of beer. I went with him, of course. I had to.

"Eat all, sup all, and pay now't!" Stingy Yorkshire folk

“Eat all, sup all, and pay now’t!” Yorkshire folk hold on to their dosh

And another thing, Brazilians might still be suffering deep down, but at least their boys got to the semi-final. My army – the ones waving the flag of St George – were annihilated. England were atrocious. We lost twice and drew 0:0 with Costa Rica. What a shower! But at least I have plans for my huge England flag – I’m waiting for a fancy-dress party so I can go as Richard the Lionheart. On second thoughts, after looking in the mirror this morning, I’d better go as Richard III. “Now is the winter of my discontent…”

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Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Man’s best friend is the underdog…with orange boots

Giant-killers Costa Rica celebrate another World Cup goal

Magic orange boots: giant-killers Costa Rica celebrate another World Cup goal

Whatever you think about the World Cup, the tournament is nothing without upsets. If all the big favourites keep winning we start to switch off. We desperately need giant-killers. We need the minnows to beat the sharks, the underdogs to crush the titans. It seems to be part of our nature, an inner urge or desire that stretches back to great archetypes in Western culture.

One of the first versions of giant-killing has to be David and Goliath, the story of a boy and his home-made catapult who knocks down a great ogre. Then Shakespeare gets in on the act, of course, with Henry V, the English King who shouted “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” before crushing the mighty French army at Agincourt. Literature loves the underdog: think of Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre and that unforgettable fairy tale The Tortoise and the Hare – all stories of the poor, weak and humble who triumph against all odds.

Please, sir, could you tell me where the nearest church is?

Please, sir, you couldn’t spare a few shillings by any chance?

So far in this World Cup we have seen at least three giant-killing performances: Costa Rica stunning Uruguay 3:1 and then beating Italy, and Chile knocking the cup-holders Spain clean out of the competition with a convincing 2:0 victory. But we need more, and without them even the most dyed-in-the-wool football fans will start to get bored. Come to think of it, FIFA itself is a kind of giant that could do with knocking down a peg or two.

Eduardo Vargas scores for Chile and sends Spain back to Madrid

Eduardo Vargas scores for Chile and sends Spain back to Madrid

I suffered at the hands of the mighty institution just the other day as I tried to get into the stadium here in Porto Alegre to see Australia vs Holland with a ham and cheese sandwich. The woman at the gate searched my bag and told me I would have to throw the offending butty away or eat it right there in front of her. “But why?”, I pleaded. “FIFA doesn’t allow any food to be taken inside”, I was told. So I asked for an explanation. I got one. FIFA wants you to spend your money only on its selected, sponsored, over-priced food and drink products inside the ground. Here I recognised the ugly face of commercial sport where profit always comes before any other consideration. My wholewheat sandwich was made with love and had just the right amount of butter and mustard. The pricey hot-dog inside the ground was a sorry, soggy mass of junk. Only Oliver Twist would have eaten it with relish.

Oliver Twist: "Please, sir, can I have some more?"

Oliver Twist: “Please, sir, I want some more”

There are other problems of being an England fan in Brazil. Embarrassment is one of them as the national team keep losing and I feel less like sporting my St George’s Cross floppy hat. One Brazilian TV pundit made an interesting point after The Three Lions lost again – this time to Uruguay. The United Kingdom looks quite big on the map, he explained, but England is only a little country. And some of the best players in the UK happen to be Welsh, or Scottish, or Irish – players who wouldn’t dream of switching allegiance. What he failed to mention was that England is a nation of amateurs. From their inept enthusiasm for DIY (Do It Yourself), fixing the car, putting on a play or setting up a business, “professional” sounds way too serious to English ears. We like nothing more than a botched job that saves a few quid.

This jerry-built mentality also affects sport. You see, English people are too bloated with irony to take anything seriously, including professional football. The English Football Association (FA) is a good example. Imagine FIFA run by boy scouts high on cider and you won’t be far off the mark. But though deep down I love this reckless, have-a-go English approach to everything, I am living in Brazil now. And there is a World Cup on…I need a team to support. England have bombed, so how about getting behind the Brazilian boys?

What's the UK...and which bit is England?

What is the UK and where is England?

The dilemma is, Brazil is one of the favourites, so it wouldn’t be right to shout for a giant, would it? Probably not, though Brazil is a young country with serious social problems, stark inequality and dire poverty, so it doesn’t feel so bad wanting them to win. Actually, I really want to see a certain team lose. Germany, of course. Isn’t that horrid of me? It’s not so much the war that sticks in my craw, it’s just that the Germans are so efficient, serious and professional – all the things the English are not. One of my favourite philosophers was German: Friedrich Nietzsche. He said when you meet someone who is obviously superior to you in every way, the only pure feeling you can have towards them is love. L-O-V-E. But loving the Germans? Hmm. 

No – I will get behind any team whose players are humble, a touch amateurish even, yet full of fight and with a lovable sense of humour. Pity the Irish aren’t playing…

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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