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It's Not Soccer Anymore (5)

Updated: Feb 2, 2020

(dificuldade 5 – pode encontrar uma lista de vocabulário no final)

January 09th 1991. It’s a cold, wet, Wednesday night in Wimbledon, South London, a place most famous for its lawn tennis championship. But there’s no tennis played this time of year. We are in the visitors’ section of Plough Lane, home to Wimbledon Football Club, squinting enviously through the driving rain at the home fans as they sup their Bovrils from under the covered sections of the stadium. I estimate that about six coaches of Aston Villa fans have made the four-hour journey from Birmingham, maybe 200 hundred fans in all. It’s not easy to take time off from work midweek, after all. But they are in good voice, undaunted by the miserable conditions, singing about how good it is to live in Birmingham, and how shoddy the local stadium is.

It is the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Actually, it is a replay. The teams have already played out a 1-1 draw at Villa Park, four days earlier, so a second match is needed to see who will go through to play minnows Shrewsbury Town in the next round. And as our heroes run out onto the sodden turf and give us a cheerful wave, it feels like it is going to be a good night. Ninety minutes later, still peering through the freezing rain, watching twenty-two professional footballers flounder in mud deep enough to bury a hippo, my optimism has diminished somewhat. The score is still 0-0. There is to be another 30 minutes of extra time to see if anyone is capable of scoring a goal despite the evidence to the contrary. My long-suffering best friend has finally had enough. It’s 9.30pm, he has work tomorrow, and he can’t feel his feet anymore. I don’t begrudge his decision to bale. I can’t feel my feet either, and my rain coat has failed to keep out the one enemy it was designed to defeat. But my morbid fascination with all things Aston Villa has its hold. ‘We’ might yet find a winner and make it through to the 4th round, and that would make my suffering worthwhile. But as the extra 30 minutes drag on, it becomes clear that it has all been in vain. They could play another week and no-one would score. As the final minute of extra time arrives and my team clears another corner, I look at my watch and see it’s nearly 10.15. It’ll take me at least an hour to get home, and I have to start work at 6am tomorrow morning. So, I shrug and hit the exit. I reach about 100 yards from the ground and behind me there is a weak roar. The home team have scored in the final seconds! Villa are out of the cup. I roll my eyes and wonder just why we football fans suffer such things. Following a football team ain’t easy.

But then there’s the highs. As a teenager I was lucky enough to witness Villa’s glory years, as they won their first championship in 70 years, and followed that up with the European Cup, defeating Bayern Munich in Rotterdam. To be a football fan is to know the highs and lows – which is why Prince William supposedly chose Aston Villa to be his team rather than one of those ‘guaranteed’ success. But there’s never any guarantees, and that’s why we love the game.

Some of my earliest memories are of standing in a windy corner of the children’s playground, trading football cards. Back then the cards we collected came with packs of bubble gum that I was forbidden from chewing by my parents. So I’d throw the gum away and would be left with the crisp, clean images of the stars of the day – the gum leaving them smelling vaguely of vomit. I still remember the many names and faces – mostly obscure players who very few people today would ever have heard of. But it was exciting. As kids, football was all we lived for, every break time devoted to playing the game. When we were seven years old, our teacher went around the class asking each child what they wanted to be when they grew up. Almost without exception, the boys said footballer (one kid might have wanted to be an astronaut). And little tribal gangs developed. Most kids supported the big names of the day – Man United, Leeds or Tottenham, but I was stuck with a family tradition that began around 1920, and our family supported Aston Villa, who were in the third division at the time, the lowest they had ever been.

So, it was some surprise when it was announced that the mighty Pele was coming to England with his famous Santos team, and that among the teams they were to play, were little old Aston Villa. I say ‘little old’, but in fact Villa were (and are) one of the traditional sides of English football, dating back to 1874. The English football league was even founded by Villa chairman William McGregor in 1888. Pele’s visit to England caused a lot of excitement, and not least at Villa Park, where 55,000 people packed into the ground – a ridiculous number for a mid-season ‘friendly’ fixture. I was too young to remember anything about the occasion, but have seen the highlights:

Pele clearly didn’t disappoint, although it’s said he doesn’t remember anything about the game, which perhaps isn’t surprising, as Santos were constantly touring the world at this time, playing in every continent bar Antarctica. They had a prized asset, and were cashing in while they could.

But Pele must have noticed the passion of the English fans – every bit as passionate as the fans back in his native Brazil. They say football was actually introduced to Brazil by a Brit, Charles Miller, but he was in fact half-Brazilian, having been born in São Paulo to a Scottish father and Brazilian mother, before attending school in England at age 10. It was here he learned football and played for English sides Corinthians and St. Mary’s (now Southampton FC), before returning to Brazil with some footballs in 1894 and helping to found the first Brazilian league here in São Paulo and setting up the more famous Corinthians – Sport Club Corinthians Paulista.

And boy did Brazil take to football! And the rest of the world took to Brazil. The Brazilian national side has always been everyone’s ‘second team’. If England can’t win the World Cup, then the English will support Brazil (and maybe a plucky underdog like Ghana or Cameroon). Everyone was heartbroken when Italy knocked out Socrates’ Brazil in ’82. And even the Brazilian club sides back then were filled with talent and glamor, be it Zico’s Flamengo, or Romario’s Vasco. Brazil was known for style and flare – things English sides lacked.

But the game has changed. When I was growing up, you could get 50,000 spectators inside Villa Park, and up to 12,000 of those would be away fans. The noise was incredible as the mighty roar from the visitors was matched by a deafening response from the home supporters. Just standing there, behind the goal, taking in the banter, as the cigarette smoke wafted over you, was truly magic. And the fans were hilarious. They commented on everything from the visiting striker’s haircut to the tightness of the referee’s shorts. They would sing chants adapted from classic hymns such as Bread of Heaven and Amazing Grace – tunes that have become so familiar you can easily forget where they came from. And there was only one substitute – who was usually a striker. So if your goalkeeper got injured, one of your outfield players had to go in goal! And the game was known as ‘soccer’ (derived from Association Football, as it is officially known). It was only in the ‘90s that a new generation of angry young men came along to reclaim the name ‘football’ for the game, mostly because they objected to the idea of the Americans referring to their own national sport as football, a game in which kicking the ball is the least relevant or interesting part of the contest.

It’s fair to say that the ‘great game’ – football or soccer, whatever you want to call it – has changed significantly since I first attended a game. First went the standing areas, then the cigarettes, then the hooligans, and in came shirt advertising, foreign players, matchday ‘squads’, corporate boxes and a huge inflow of money from giant TV rights contracts. The tiny number of away fans are now boxed into one small corner of the ground and the atmosphere is a pale shadow of what it was.

And money is king. Just a few teams hoover up the majority of the vast riches on offer, and the smaller teams risk all just to try and compete at the top table.

The Brazilian game has also been hit by these changes. Where in the past star names may have played up to half their career in the national league, now they are sucked up by European scouts as early as 17, and return only when they are twice that age. The Brazilian league suffers from well documented issues – not least the convoluted ownership structures of the clubs. Few teams own their stadiums or even their players. Players are traded like commodities among interested private investors looking to make a big score. And the crowds are generally much smaller than in England – a combination of high prices and kick-off times that are not family-friendly due to the ruthless hold Globo TV has over the Brazilian game. Then of course there is violence and corruption, two elements that are hard to escape wherever you go in Brazilian life. Personally, I stopped watching Serie A after it was ‘arranged’ for my father-in-law’s team – Portuguesa, a team he’d followed faithfully with his brothers since the early ‘70s – to be relegated even though they had finished outside of the relegation zone. Everyone involved knew it was a scam, and yet it was allowed. Integrity is important, and I’ve no interest in watching a sham.

But then one day you meet one of your heroes...

There can be no team more famous than the Brazil World Cup winners from 1970, legends one and all – Pele, Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Tostao, Gerson, Clodoaldo…Rivellino. It is hard to describe just how strange it is to be introduced to someone who is of mythical status, but meeting Rivellino was a true thrill, and a brag I will hold dear for the rest of my life – up there with meeting Gary Lineker (another story).

That’s the magic of Brazil.


to squint – olhar de soslaio

to sup – bebericar

Bovril – marca de uma bebida quente feita de caldo de carne

coach – ônibus (também significa ‘técnico’ em outros contextos)

fans – torcedores

undaunted – destemido

shoddy – de qualidade inferior

minnows – peixinhos (zebras)

sodden – encharcado

turf – grama / turfa

to wave – acenar

to peer – igual ‘squint’ (olhar de soslaio)

to freeze – congelar

to flounder – ter muitas dificuldades (uma gíria baseado no movimento do peixe tipo raio quando está fora de agua!)

mud – lama

to bury – enterrar

hippo – hipopótamo

somewhat – um pouco

to begrudge – ressentir (igual ‘to resent’ em inglês)

to bale – ir embora (forma curta de ‘bale out’ – uma gíria baseado no conceito de escapar de uma avião que vai cair do céu)

has its hold – me captiva

worthwhile – vale a pena

to drag on – extender/continuar numa maneira chata

corner – escanteio

shrug – encolher os ombros

ground – estádio

roar – grito

roll my eyes – revirar os olhos

to wonder – pensar

windy – ventoso

to trade – trocar

bubble gum – chiclete

forbidden – proibido

to chew – mastigar

crisp – bem definido (neste contexto – tem várias outros sentidos)

to be stuck with – ficar com algo que não quer

highlights – os detaques

asset – ativo / bem

to cash in – aproveitar a oportunidade de vender

boy! – exclamação – equivalente de ‘nossa’!

to take to – fazer bem e gostar de fazer

plucky – corajoso

underdog – zebra (futebol)

to knock out – eliminar

flare – talent

to lack – faltar

mighty – poderoso

banter – brincadeira verbal desenhado para provocar

to waft over – flutuar no ar

chants – cantos

to reclaim – recuperar

squad – pelotão (ou ‘seleção’)

boxes – camerotes

pale shadow – sombra pálida (literalmente, que significa algo muito menos intenso do que como era antigamente)

to hoover up – pegar tudo (como uma aspiradora)

to be sucked up – ser sugada

scout – escoteiro

convoluted – complicado

a big score – um grande sucesso (financeiramente) – gíria

ruthless – cruel / sem misericórdia

hold – controle (neste contexto)

scam – truque / golpe (gíria)

sham – algo falso

a thrill – uma emoção

(to) brag – alarde / vangloriar (‘brag’ pode ser verbo ou substantivo)

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