Turkey vultures and stuff – World Cup week 1


I’ve been to two games and watched maybe only five more on TV due to the logistics of travelling around. But that has left time to soak up images and experiences of Brazil you don’t get if you spend six or seven hours a day gawping at a box. Luckily I missed Iran v Nigeria but it would have been good to see Holland spank Spain.

I wouldn’t dare to try to encapsulate the country on what I’ve seen.

But the obvious thing is that it is much more developed than the impression I got from media reports.

I thought this would be a Third World state rife with incompetence, poor infrastructure, scavenging crooks.

Brasil 2014
I like this photo very much and I know you do too

That surely exists but I haven’t seen much of it. No doubt partly due to being in the wealthy north east.

I can only say what I see and people seem pretty content. It’s not grim up north.

Thirteen years ago I visited Rio and felt it edgy and chaotic with a basic level of services and limited vision or scope to enable drastic improvements.

I’ve been surprised. Having spent a year in Ukraine I tend to compare other countries to it as a measure of how developed it has become.

Ukraine and a lot of Eastern Europe looks way behind Brazil which clearly has huge resources and embarked on housebuilding, specifically tower blocks, on an enormous scale.

Best team

The Germs. After the 2006 love-in where the rest of the world decided they were OK as long as they lost, they look like they are reverting to old where you admire them but want them to lose.

Muller’s pathetic engineering of Pepe’s dismissal soured a great performance. Sure, as coach, you would consider trying to goad the games biggest headbanger into something rash. but it was nasty to watch.

Muller, had he beeen seriously hurt, certainly wouldn’t have sprung to his feet after the weak head butt. it was clearly play-acting.

That’s not to side with Pepe at all who got what he deserved. his credentials as the greatest headbanger in the historyof game are unimpeachable.

I struggle to think of a crazier player – Mark Dennis, Billy Bremner, Souness?

Andit looks like he has single-handedly scuppered Portugal’s chances of the last 16. If US get a draw with them then Ronaldo et al are out. Which is a bloody shame as I wanted them to finish second cos I’ve got a ticket for that last 16 match.

His actions make Muller hard to admire.

I fancy Germany to face France, themselves skilled in the dark arts, in the quarters and that could well be an orgy of cynicism.

Best fans

Mexicans have been tearing up the north with their sassy sombreros, musical genius, whole-hearted vocal support and ridiculous wrestling masks which make them look like a fetish club or the IRA on holiday.

Brasil 2014
Mexicans on the beach in Ponta Negra, Natal

They are quite bewildering, believe me. But in a good way. They are wonderfully friendly and most seem to be from Los Angeles,and supporting Mexico and the US. So, double bubble gimp trouble. Caramba!


Turkey vultures

My only regret about coming here is that I missed Springwatch on BBC2. So I’m doing my own version, here from the Brazilian wilderness beset as we are daily by anacondas in our beds, ravenous mosquitoes which have nearly chewed my arm off (true), and hostel tortoises looking on avidly as we eat watermelon for breakfast (also true).

Apart from Olinda beach being full of cats (no pictures, I promise), these guys stand out.

Brasil 2014
Beach soccer on the beach in Olinda

All over this part of the world, the hawk-like beast rises up from a roof to lazily glide.

It’s not a turkey,it’s a vulture that has a turkey face, hence the name. They look quite majestic and swirl slowly so they can spot carrion on the ground.

Interestingly, as Chris Packham would say, their vocal cords are virtually non-existent so they can only hiss or grunt.

The original flying pigs!

Recife bus station

This concrete monstrosity ranks as third worst bus station in the world,  after Lugansk and the pigeon shit-encrusted depot in Newport, South Wales, where I am convinced the dastardly pigeons watch you like hawks and if you take your eyes off that little slit in your coffee cup lid, they try to bomb it. Oh yes! That’s Newport for you.

It looks like Stalin-era Soviet design and smells of fried food. But it is also like a village in itself. Shop and cafe staff are smiley and helpful.

To while away the hours waiting for a coach to Natal, I went to the barber.

Giraldo, 71, has been doing the job for 55 years, nine at the bus station. And, boy, was he good at cosseting the cranium and brushing into my bald bonce all sorts of unguents and creams.

Giralo the Recife bus station barber
Razor sharp finishing makes Giraldo my favourite for the Golden Boot

I kid you not, hovering turkey vultures were queuing up to see their reflections in it.

By the end every hair had been hacked, exorcised even, such was Giraldo’s scrupulous attention to detail, and I was halfway to being a ladyboy. Albeit the ugliest one ever.

A Nautico fan, he shaved my head for $7 and then shaved me mush (face) for $2. Just shades Robin van Persie for best performance so far of the World Cup.

It’s all about the fans innit

What’s gratifying is that after saying you’re from Wales, most people’s faces light up in recognition. Even the English.

Eddy, mid-20s Bournemouth fan, from Dorset, has a great tattoo of Zidane on his shoulder. “He’s my favourite player, man. My idol – loved watching him play.”

Marco Antonio, quietly spoken, from Sinaloa, Mexico: “I have a friend in Wales, she says it is very nice place. She met some guy from a place Mas-dock? ”

Brasil 2014
Marco Antonio: this year the World Cup, next year Porthmadoc


“Maesteg?” I offered, hoping she hadn’t ended up in Pembroke Dock. He came back ten minutes later after, rather impressively, doing some research and said: “Porthmadoc. She live there. I hope to go and see her next year.”

Japan fans at Brasil 2014
Gene Simmons and Yoko Ono made it to one of the Japanese games

Salvador, mid-40s, Chelsea fan. Lives in LA SouthCentral where he is a teacher.

“I went to Hamburg to see Mexico in 2006. Got drunk and was vomiting in the street, two or three in the morning, on my own. Two guys were passing me and I said: ‘No, don’t rob me boys.’

“They said: ‘Hey mate, we’re not from Liverpool.’

“They were Chelsea fans and they took me to my hotel and we stayed in touch.

“Anyway, Chelsea then came out to LA and they knew the players so they got back in touch and took me out. Met Lamps, John Terry and others.

“They were posh guys for sure, I know which is kinda not me. But,hey, i’m a Chelsea fan now.”

Ally, 30s, very funny, Rangers fan, from Pittlochry in Jockyland and author of the very good football in the clouds blog: “I was at that Scotland Wales game last year – the worst game I’ve ever seen. Hampden’s rubbish now, it’s lost the Hampden Roar.

“I taught English in Thailand and Ecuador. In Thailand it was bananas, you’re teaching kids English on a Saturday morning. Parents drop them off and you’re just a childminder. The school feeds them pizza and Coca Cola so you spend half your time peeling them off the walls cos they’re buzzing like flies.

“You were allowed to hit them which I couldn’t do so I would send them out of class and if the kid was spotted by the head in the corridor he would come with his cane and whack them. You’d hear them yelping but it was impossible to control some of them.

“The kids would ask if I was Muslim because my name is Ali and I would say ‘yes’.”

Greg, mid-50s, from Boston, US: “You worked in Newport.I been there. The Ryder Cup 2010, best thing I have ever been to.

“I watched the first two days and decided to fly out on the Sunday for the third day. Got there overnight. Train to Newport, saw the day’s play which was fantastic, flew back Tuesday morning just in time to start my new job on the Wednesday.

“I like to go to every sports event. Seventh World Cup for me since 1986 -I go for a week, take in a game or two and watch all the rest on TV in bars. This place, Olinda, is perfect for me I’ll sit here and watch the lot.”Brasil 2014






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