Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wales v Brazil

The news that Wales will be facing Brazil at White Hart Lane on September the 5th fills me with ennui. Whilst English players seem to resent playing more than eight games a season, it seems that the Brazilians will fly off anywhere mid-season for a quick game of three and in if there's a monkey on offer.

But you try telling that to my boy. Six years old, he wears a Ronaldinho sweatband and carries a nylon wallet featuring the less than elegant features of Ronaldo. He has three different Brazil kits, all purchased for a fiver from Thailand, but Brazil kits nonetheless, and can tame the clubs of every member of the World Cup Squad. Try telling him that it's a nothing game. He can't believe that they'll even be on the same pitch as Sam Ricketts and David Partridge.

I felt the same in 1983, when we played Brazil for the first time since the Sweden World Cup in '58. Ninian Park was packed to the rafters with a rumoured 30,000 crowd. Somehow, I was given a Grandstand ticket by an Uncle, and I took my place amongst the Cockneys and Brummies who had travelled to see the famous South Americans.

I don't remember much about the game, except that the Bob Bank was fuller than at any time since the 1977 FA Cup run. And Brazil's goal was dodgy, of course. Something about a quickly taken free kick while the ball was moving. And didn't Bryan Flynn score with a header to equalise ?

But the big occasion for me was the friendly we played at the National Stadium in 1991. I was in the band. On the pitch. I was on the pitch. Legally.

It just so happened that I used to play the sousaphone. One of my occasional bands was called Wonderbrass, and we were asked to join the Steel Band, Samba Gales in making the Brazilians feel at home.

Out I went before the game and experienced the big match atmosphere. I really felt I was playing for Wales, and set off an a lap of honour. I saw my mate in the crowd and started doing the Ayatollah. 15, 000 people in the North Stand Ayatollahed back. So I turned to the South Stand. Same thing. Another 15,000 Ayatollahing.

I was enjoying the greatest moment of my life when a Chief Inspector tugged my collar. "You're nicked, Eric". I had been recognised by a Ninian Park copper, and my supposed scam was about to be outed. They tried to escort me from the pitch.

"But I'm in the band - really. They'll never do justice the Charlie Mingus number without a thumping bass line." They weren't having it, and the frogmarch continued until I begged for mercy. Eventually the CI cut me a deal. I had to audition for him, and if was any good , I could rejoin the band.

I hadn't been so nervous since I sat in front of Arthur Davison for the National Youth Orchestra . I played like I had never played before. Strictly speaking, you need a fourth valve to play the Vaughan-Williams Tuba Concerto, but nonetheless, that old sousaphone was bouncing around the high cadenza as she celebrated her release from the shame and humiliation of my chugging ragtime oompah! of the previous few years.

It worked, and I was back in. I rejoined my colleagues in time for the Anthems and posed for a photograph which made the front page of the Newport Argus and sits in my trophy cabinet till this day, alongside the match ticket for Exeter away in the Leyland Daf trophy.

We played throughout the game, or rather the Samba band did. They had no real interest in the football and started up every time Brazil attacked. We were soon being attacked by the occasional missile and those in the seats near us glared furiously and raised fingers to their lips. Others just raised fingers.

We won 1-0, thanks to a Dean Saunders goal, but it wasn't celebrated like a proper win. We all knew that if it came to it, that Brazil could beat us even if they were all forced to wear a Sousaphone each for the whole second half.

It was in this frame of mind that I missed the friendly at the Millennium in 2000. I didn't have any kids at the time, (well, maybe one) and I knew that it would be a highly unsatisfactory evening whatever the result.

But this time it's different. The Chief Hambugger, will be hambugging me for the next month. But I will resist. It's a long way to Tottenham, and I know for a fact that after 15 minutes, the burgers and coke will be of more interest to him, than the best player in the World who has just been tackled easily by Carl Fletcher, as Brazil go through the motions on behalf of the ticks on their shirts.

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