Date: 20th July 2016
The next in our occasional series we have launched of “My Favourite Game”. What’s yours? Get in touch and join the series! From David F. Ruccio
A favorite football match?
But I was raised in the United States, where football (at least the sort played by boys and men) still hasn’t quite arrived. . . In fact, I grew up playing the game. And, however ironically, I did so because my high school couldn’t afford to field an American-style football team. Instead, we played “soccer.”
I remember as if it were yesterday playing central-mid in a 2-3-5 formation (yes, that long ago), on a bitterly cold late-November day, when I caught a hard-driven ball on the side of the head. I couldn’t hold back the tears streaming down my face. That certainly wasn’t my favorite match.
I actually thought I knew how to play the game—until I travelled to Brazil to spend a year as an exchange student. Soon after arriving, I took the field with a rag-tag band of youngsters, who (on a rock-strewn pitch, with no shoes) ran circles around me. Now they knew how to play! And dribble, shoot, and play keepie-ups without effort. However disappointed in my own lack of skill, that’s where I saw the match of my life.
It was 1970, the World Cup in Mexico City. I had been in Brazil about six months and, while I had given up embarrassing myself by trying to play futebol (I turned to basketball instead), I had become a fan.
We managed to watch all of Brazil’s matches. Unbeaten in the group stage against Czechoslovakia (1-4), England (0-1), and Romania (2-3). Then satisfying victories over Peru (4-2) and arch-rival Uruguay (1-3). The Seleção of Félix, Brito, Piazza, Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Marco Antônio, Jairzinho, Gérson, Tostão, Rivelino, and of course Pelé were simply unstoppable.
Then came the final, in the Estadio Azteca, more than one hundred thousand fans in attendance. We, on the other hand, gathered in front of the TV to watch Brazil against Italy. “We” struck, Italy equalized, and then the second half was all Brazil—first Gérson, then Carlos Alberto (which, as fans know, is still one of the greatest goals ever scored in the history of the tournament.).
After Brazil’s victory, we tumbled out into the streets to celebrate, knowing full well that everyone else in the city and country was able to forget about the brutal military dictatorship for the moment. Shouts of glee, horns blaring, friends and strangers hugging one another. Pride in the national team even if not in the nation itself.
Needless to say, we all got happy—first on beer and then, when the money ran out, a jug of cachaça (Brazil’s famous sugar-cane whiskey). The next day, well, I wasn’t able to get out of bed, much less make it to school. But, somehow, my classmates had heard about my role in the street party and came to the house—to recognize me for having celebrated the win as enthusiastically as they had.
Because of one great football match, I became an honorary Brazilian—and a lifelong fan of the beautiful game.
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