Futebol by Alex Bellos
When I was young, I used to love football annuals. Shoot was a dream, because a large amount of it was filled with Liverpool players, my team at the time. Overtime, I became a bit skeptical of footballers autobiographies. I found them full of gossip than I did inspiring. The last one I read was Diego Maradona’s and by the end I was a little bored. Garrincha, I liked, because it was more about him than his ego’ed opinions. But back to the football, I have read books about Spanish football, Celtic, and non-league football, all of them have interesting facts and figures.
This, though, turned a corner. Futebol. The Brazilian Way of Life. Now you have to understand that this review will not give you a concise view on the writer’s style of writing, because I read this book while on vacation in Brazil. You have to understand how much of a football nut I am. For the whole time there, I was walking in a very happy yellow, green and blue mist. This was my element. Reading this and visiting the Maracana twice (before it was knocked down and pimped back up into another non-descript stadium, when it had character and was circular with a public telephone box behind the goal at both ends of the pitch, although admittedly, looking a bit sorry for itself) to watch Flamengo (Brazil’s Manchester United) lose 2-0 to a team I’ve forgotten (I saw a fan kick off a seat with his bare feet in front of apprehensive armed policemen) and Fluminese lose to Sao Paulo 3-1 with Kaka wowing in his last couple of games before he set off to AC Milan, and the once amazing Romario missed two penalties, sent me gaga.
I was travelling with my brother and his former partner and the poor souls had to listen to me quote facts at Brazilian football, such as car football, football tournaments that run alongside beauty queen contests in the Amazon (where a team can lose all their games and finish bottom of their group, but still win the cup if they have a beauty representing them), Garrincha, the world cup final disaster against Uruguay back in 1950, the extent of the inquests of the 3-0 loss to France in the 1998 world cup, and corruption. At first they enjoyed my pointless trivia, but towards the end, and in hindsight, I can see how close I was to death when I enforced them translate using their limited Spanish (I didn’t speak Spanish at the time. Also we spoke very limited Portuguese. I myself knew the word obrigado, meaning thank you, and literally nothing more) the information I was so desperate to impart and get a random Brazilian’s view on it, such as whether they really do love Garrincha more than Pele, and whether Flamengo really is the “team of the people”. I was tackling busy waiters on these issues, and on one evening in Morro de Sao Paulo, I was being chatted up by a stunning big-boobed lady with a superior posterior lady using the best English she could muster, and all I wanted to know was whether she thought Ronaldinho would be a success at Barcelona and how she celebrated Brazil’s world cup win the year before in 2002. I then went off to play football in the nightclub with a deflated football with a bunch of locals, and I didn’t care how much of a fool I looked as they nutmegged five times and bellowed olé. When I say locals, these were actually 10 year old kids. I looked as out of place as the English national team did at last year’s world cup which, ironically, was held in Brazil. This book made me bonkers. Luckily for my brother, while in Morro de Sao Paulo, some paradise beaches accessed only by boat near Salvador de Bahia, we met an Italian who worked for the Inter Milan television channel who shared a similar passion for Brazilian football and oh so happy to take in my hours and hours of what we both thought was vital information.
I went home with this book which was nearly pulp (I unsuccessfully tried to read it while lazing in the sea), a hammock and three football shirts, being the Brazilian national team, Flamengo and Fluminese. I still have them. The book does hold a lot more importance than I first thought though. I read this in 2003. While trying to impart all this information to Brazilians who glared back at me like I were a crazy gringo, I felt frustration, muted, unable to communicate all my thoughts and integrate in the way I wanted. This made me forever more determined to learn a different language (I learned French at school for a mandatory reasons, but the classes were as good as my French at the end of five years: shite, and I was interested in the language too) As soon as I arrived at university to study journalism, I enrolled in a Spanish elective (I know they speak Portuguese in Brazil, but Spanish is more widely spoken). If it hadn’t been for this book, I might not have come to Honduras, and be sat here, now, writing this blog in this beautiful cafe called El Hogar, sipping in a coffee, married to Pamela, and be happy and content with life. In my favourites list, many are classics which are written with class and distinction, and remembered by the masses for the aforementioned reasons. Without wanting to downgrade this book, it won’t be remembered because it was amazingly written. It did change my life though, and this is why it is an important book to me.