At last, it’s here. Finally, we have arrived in Brazil. By common consent the World Cup was a fantastic appetizer, but the world’s greatest sporting festival has been going a mere eight decades – Exeter City’s link with the birth of Brazilian football is 100 years old.
First impressions of Rio? Well it’s dark, at 9pm it was a balmy 23°C, and as we got to our hotels on Copacabana there was a game of floodlit football still going on down on the beach.
Am I the only one wondering, given the City squad is 18 strong, just how many hamstrings might have to be tweaked in training for one of us to get a place on the bench at Laranjeiras Stadium on Sunday. We have all brought our boots, after all! The official party travelled here, as Fluminense’s guests, via Frankfurt, and we will hope for news of them in the morning, and of the second wave of City fans.
Every City fan here has their own story but none more striking than Emily Wort, who married lifelong supporter Toby on July 6. This is not their honeymoon though, she says emphatically. “We have signed up for all the games and I will be on camera duty when Toby plays in the supporters’ match on Tuesday, but in September we are going travelling in Italy for our real honeymoon.”
Sunday’s match inevitably casts minds back to the day nine years ago when the Brazil legends – the bulk of whom played in the 1994 World Cup final – came to St James Park. City were just past their lowest ebb, in the Conference and on financial life support. Yet there was Dunga, a World Cup final-winning captain, casually dominating proceedings from midfield. Up front, Careca – whose passport said 44, but who played like a 28-year-old – gave a master class of the centre forward’s art and scored the only goal. The fact that the game took place at all said a lot about City’s never say die spirit.
One hundred years ago, the predecessors of Scot Bennett and Matt Grimes made history in Rio when they played against the first recognised Brazil team. Yet within weeks they were thrust into fighting in World War One. Truly a different world.
Martin Weiler has seen a preview night at the Northcott Theatre of The Day We Played Brazil, and is full of praise for the dramatic realisation of a remarkable story. After all the months of planning, the commemoration of a unique piece of sporting history is coming together in a really wonderful way.
While we can’t wait to see Scot Bennett (presumably) leading the team out, there is a serious side to the preparations for the new season, which should augur well for a competitive game. It might only be a friendly but it is an amazing experience for a squad which, rather like a century ago, has a distinctly home-grown, Devonian look.
The City squad won’t be the most famous group of footballers to have wandered around Rio in the past months but one hopes they are able to appreciate fully this once in a lifetime opportunity. We are sure they will.
And if Tis is still short of a striker, he might do worse than give Careca a call.
Rio de Janeiro