04:05AM, Monday 16 June 2014
Two England Fans - Advertiser columnist Jim Taylor and his pal Steve Belcher - are flying the flag for England in Rio de Janiero. News and photos from their World Cup trip-of-a-lifetime will be updated here.
Monday, June 30
For most of our World Cup blog I have tried to write about everything bar the actual football.
But on Saturday there were a couple of defining moments, in a matter of hours, which took the trip to a new level.
First was Brazil's penalty shoot-out where the mood of the nation changed in a heartbeat. The happy-go-lucky samba beat stopped dead in its tracks as they nearly lost to Chile.
The second was the simply stunning goal by Colombian striker James Rodriguez which electrified the Maracana.
Our last-but-one day in Rio was a South American double-header delight. In the morning we made for Copacabana beach with tens of thousands of other fans with carnival in their minds.
The party had been in full swing for hours before David Luiz scored, but then Chile equalised and nearly won in extra time.
The trouble was, by then, we were again late for our second date at the Maracana for Colombia's game against Uruguay. So we had to run to the Metro, stopping at each juice bar, supermarket or restaurant with a TV for a quick update.
From the groans, moans and shouts of glee we knew exactly what the score was.
Now we English know a bit about penalty shoot-out horrors but the looks on the local faces showed that for the first time they feared their dream was about to die.
Of course, Brazil are not England and they won. Despair turned to joy and we were carried on a tidal wave of emotion into the subway and all the way to the stadium...again with seconds to spare.
It has to be said the Brazilian exuberance was more than matched by the Colombian support and they again celebrated long into the night.
In the ground we were surrounded by Colombians who went wild in delight at the two goals, one a fantastic volley and the second a superb team effort. So we went wild with them for a wonderful World Cup memory.
Of course, Steve made some new friends. One Uruguayan lady showed her feelings for Luis Suarez's exclusion by wearing a cage over her mouth! We couldn't tell if she could see the joke.
And he teamed up with a couple of military police Robo-Cops...as part of our Anglo-Brazilian diplomacy.
We had hoped to be watching England at the Maracana, but it was never meant to be. Instead we got the perfect taste of a sizzling slice of South American high-life and the English Premiership will never be the same again.
Sunday was the last day of our dream trip to Brazil... So where better to end up but on top of the world at Corcovado.
The 1930s Art-Deco Christ The Redeemer statue looks down over Rio from its fantastic rainforest peak.
It is one of the modern wonders of the world and the views over this marvellous city for once leave me lost for words.
As we stood above the early morning mist, I stopped to think about how to describe Rio after our two weeks here.
There is something life-affirming about the place. The passion of the people who really seem to have rhythm in their souls and usually a ball at their feet.
The gulf in the haves and have nots is staggering. The wealth of the country compared to the poverty of the masses is shocking. There's corruption, danger, and things don't work...but it is still a wonderful place.
Six million people live in this high rise city and some of them are quite mad. There are so many examples of crazy things we have heard and seen.
Here's just one: there is a guy who dresses as a chef, wears a Guido protesters white mask and juggles meat cleavers on one of the busiest zebra crossings for hours at a time close to our hotel.
If he's lucky, a cab driver will chuck a couple of coins to him, as the light changes, before nearly running him down.
Why he does it? Who knows! Perhaps he just blames it on Rio like the rest of us!
It ended as it began. When we arrived we had a crazy taxi drive listening to Messi score on the radio.
On the way back to the airport the same commentator was still shouting 'Gooooooool!' as we listened to the Costa Rica game. Planet football will be continuing without us for the next two weeks
Flying back from RDJ on British Airways and who should be sitting two rows in front of me but ITV soccer pundit Martin O'Neill.
I showed him the picture of us we had taken on Copacabana Beach nearly two weeks ago and explained how it had been used in my local paper blog.
"Which paper?", he asked. The Maidenhead Advertiser, I replied. "Oh, I know the Advertiser, remember I used to be the manager at Wycombe Wanderers". And so it goes on....
Friday, June 27
Sometimes it is great to just be a tourist...but even then football gets in the way.
Yesterday we finally got the cable car to the top of the Sugarloaf to see the amazing views over this city.
But on our way up we could see the Urca military training ground that was used by England...before they went home. Looks very quiet down there now.
And, at the top, we met a charming Fox Sports presenter filming a piece for the South American TV network.
So, we felt it was only polite to say hi to Tanya from Mexico who was very excited about the World Cup. She would make a change from the retiring Alan Hansen!
We were told there aren't any bears in Brazil, but we found 141 of them at the end of Copacabana beach in Leme.
Lined up, as if on parade, these sculptures each represent a country. They are called Buddy Bears and are all about promoting the art of tolerance around the world.
Apparently it all started in Berlin in 2004 and the exhibition has been travelling ever since.
Our British bear had a little inscription on it which read: "East Meets West". But my favourite was the two Love Bears linked together.
Thursday, June 26
So we finally made it all the way from Maidenhead to the Maracana. But it was touch and go.
We were in our seats in the super stadium only seconds before Ecuador and France kicked off.
And we couldn't blame it on FIFA's extra airport-style security (which we breezed through); Rio's Metro system (which worked like a dream) or anti-World Cup protesters (who never turned up!).
No, it was all my fault. We took a different route back from Buzios to Rio which I was told was nicer and faster. It wasn't! And we anxiously watched as time ticked away as we sat in traffic jams.
But, we got there...and wow, what a fantastic experience! A real Fan Fest atmosphere, more like the London Olympics than a London derby.
The passion is here, but off the pitch - let's not talk about Suarez on it -there's none of the nastiness.
Maybe it's just Rio, but there is no fan segregation, you can drink a beer in your seats, but was not a hint of trouble.
We felt the excitable Ecuadorian fans - who were surrounding us - really connected with their team as they repeatedly chanted: "He's Our Brother", throughout the match.
Something, perhaps can't be said by England's supporters and their super-rich, pampered Premier League under-performers.
The French were chanting, "Allez Les Bleus!", while Americans, Mexicans - some in wild wrestling masks - and, of course, of our happy hosts continued to have a party and pose for pictures.
On Saturday we are going back to the Maracana for our second taste of the action, along with another 70,000 super-fans. We had planned it to be England in the knock-out stage.
Instead, we'll be watching an all South American affair between Columbia and Uruguay. One of their team will be missing the match...we're determined to get there early.
Twenty four hours earlier we had been in a Buzios beach bar watching England's final group game before they flew home.
The result obviously wasn't what we wanted, but sipping a cold beer, enjoying the catch of the day, and watching the bikini-clad beauties on the white sand below made me think...it can't be all bad?
In fact, I came to the conclusion there are probably a lot worse places to watch the demise of the Three Lions...and strangely Russia and Qatar quickly came to mind.
If I ever only go to one World Cup...I couldn't have picked a better place than Brazil!
Finally, for today, spare a thought for the football widows back home who let us "lads" go to the big games and who seldom grumble! Happy wedding anniversary, Kate!
Tuesday, June 24
Back home our British Olympic winners were lucky to have a post box painted gold in their honour.
Over here, hometown heroes get their own statues.
So who do you think this is? And no it's not Robbie Savage!
We were a few miles down the coast in Cabo Frio when we found Jose Leandro de Souza Ferreira in all his glory.
It turns out defender Leandro, was one of Brazil's unsung stars in the 1982 World Cup playing alongside the likes of Zico, Falcao and Socrates.
He now runs his own hotel and restaurant back home. But the coolest thing about this statue: the ball is soft so the kids don't hurt their feet every time they kick it.
Tudo Bem! I think my one time Portuguese teacher, AnaMaria Lima, would be quite proud of my linguistic skills on this trip.
Several years ago I did an evening class at Maidenhead College followed by some lessons with a small group of friends at Ian Alexander's home in Furze Platt.
I confess my pronunciation was poor and my verb conjugation left a lot to be desired. But Brazilian-born AnaMaria used to say I was always willing to have a go!
And that's how it's been on our trip with hotels, restaurants and shops, taxis and road signs negotiated with various degrees of success.
Until, that is, we got to the bars of Buzios, where I have noticed even Brazilian tourists struggle to be understood...and they are not amused!
The reason is, everyone working in the town appears to be Argentinian with their own brand of Spanish.
And the Brasilieras don't like having to say "Muchos Gracias" in their own country. Maybe that nice Nigel Farage should have a word?
Last week we watched Brazil play from halfway up the Sugar Loaf in Rio.
Yesterday in Buzios, we started the day all at sea! We hired an old fishing boat called the Mariana M for a two hour trip around the bay.
Capitao Neile assured us the calm waters would be the perfect build-up for the big game. But, trust us, the waters were pretty choppy past the first head-land!
That didn't stop Steve and his pet mascot Fuleco going for a quick dip.
Back on dry land we hit the town square and joined the Torcirda, the all-singing, all shouting, all dancing superb supporters as Brazil conquered Cameroon 4-1.
I felt I little sorry for the other team as the Portuguese translation of their country comes out the same as shrimps on the local menus.
Nevertheless, it was action non-stop with firecrackers, blaring horns and the relentless band not even missing a beat when Cameroon equalised.
Generations of families packed the square with everyone - even the dogs - dressed in the team's colours.
We were told similar parties would be taking place in every small town across this enormous country.
Shops, schools and offices had either closed all day or at lunch-time in a bank holiday atmosphere before the big game.
And after the final whistle: well the band just played on...for several hours, in fact!
They simply set off on an impromptu parade around the town centre, stopping off at every bar.
Oh, sometimes, when it comes to a bit of a party, we do feel a long way from Maidenhead.
Monday, June 23
According to legend, Brigitte Bardot created Buzios. The French film star declared her love for the sleepy fishing village 50 years ago after being discovered "in hiding" there with her Brazilian boyfriend.
Ever since it has been one of South America's coolest resorts - a bit like St Tropez- with the likes of Madonna and Mick Jagger sampling its 23 picturesque beaches.
Now this millionaire's playground is only three hours drive from Rio de Janiero...so where better for two forlorn English football fans to escape to after getting kicked out of the biggest party on the planet?
Here was our chance to lick our wounds after England's embarrassment, chill out for a few days, and reflect on what we were missing back home.
Despite the modern wi-fi wonders of Face-Time and WhatsApp to keep us in touch with our families, you can still feel a long way from home.
It seems bizarre it was only two weeks ago since I was at our St Piran's Rio-themed charity school ball where my wife Kate and her team raised a record-breaking £14,600 profit.
And can it be that next week we will have swapped the chanting Chi-Chi-Chilean fans and whistling Costa Ricans on Copacabana for Costa Coffee in Maidenhead's High Street?
Luckily for us, before then, we've still got a lot to do and two games to see back in Rio. But, for now, here in Buzios, we can report they still love BB.
In fact there is a bronze statue of her right below our hotel. She gazes out across the bay as the water-taxis busy about, beach buggies chug along the cobbled streets and everybody people-watches along the promenade.
Down on the beaches, everyone is playing football and enjoying a BBQ. Where, of course, we just had to be tucking into Argentinian steak on Saturday as Lionel Messi scored his last minute winner.
We might have escaped Rio for a few days, but there's no getting away from the Copa do Mundo!
Friday, June 20
Doom and gloom descended on England fans last night after our latest loss. And to add insult to injury the weather was cold, wet and wild as well.
But while we were down in the dumps, the tournament's naughty boy fans - The Chileans - were still having a party.
Nearly 90 of their red army of supporters were arrested for trying to smash their way into the Maracana before their victory over Spain on Wednesday.
But while that left FIFA's security staff looking red-faced behind their barricades at the luxurious Copacabana Palace hotel, the Chileans were parked right outside having a laugh.
And here's perhaps the greatest contrast of life on Copacabana.
While the top-brass are paying thousands of pounds a night to stay here...the biggest party is on the streets - for free.
The rest of us are paying an arm-and-a-leg and staying in hundreds of high-rise hotels, which to be honest, most of which have seen better days.
But the sea-front is packed with some of the most clapped out camper vans, old trucks, and DIY-caravans that you have ever seen.
We've been told it takes seven days to drive here from Chile and a mere three from Argentina. Local TV even showed a band of happy campers who had spent 65 days on the road to get her in an old school bus from Vancouver!
Now these caravans would never be allowed on any campsite back home. But, here they are, all parked up along the glamorous Avenida Atlantica.
They are stuffed pull of people and their possessions. While they put tables, chairs and even old sofas out on the pavements to make themselves feel right at home.
They cook their meals on camper gas stoves, shower on the beach and play their guitars and sound systems all night.
You get the feeling they probably sleep in shifts, because there is so little room inside.
But as they sing, dance and wave their flags all night long, you get the feeling they are definitely having the times of their lives.
Thursday, June 19
We caught up with some of ITV's World Cup pundits on the beach in Rio yesterday.
Here's me with a very friendly Martin O'Neill - the former Aston Villa and Sunderland manager - who was happy to pose for a picture.
He had just been part of the panel doing the live build-up to the cracking Holland v Australia game.
He said he'd only just arrived in Rio and was still finding his feet.
Crocked Spurs winger Andros Townsend gave us a quick smile but didn't stop...maybe it was because of the Chelsea top I was wearing!
And my attempt of a selfie on the move with football legend Patrick Viera turned out to be a bit of a disaster...as you can see!
Now, here's another secret of what you guys don't see at home on TV.
Presenter Matt Smith and his panel were looking cool throughout their live links.
But, here is why: Every time they went to a commercial break two production team members rushed in with giant red umbrellas to keep the sun off their heads. Bless!
Wednesday, June 18
Some guests arrived by helicopter...we had to make do with the cable car.
But we still felt on top of the world as special guests at an exclusive private party half-way up Sugar Loaf mountain yesterday.
This was a party with attitude and altitude! But we soon settled in at one of Rio's most iconic settings to enjoy Brazil's latest World Cup game.
We had been told that everything stops in the city when The Selecao come out to play.
So we decided to swap the Fan Fest fun on Copacabana beach and join 500 cool Cariocas on the Sugar Loaf.
The views were stunning, even if the game against Mexico wasn't a classic.
We warmed up, pre-match, watching a band belting out some samba classics and modern dance tracks.
Then everything stopped for the big match with everyone glued to the big screens desperately wanting Neymar, Oscar & Co to get into their own groove.
I think Steve and I - plus a couple of German guys from Hamburg - were the only " Gringos " at the party and nearly almost the only ones not wearing yellow!
For the locals, the result was a big disappointment...but not for long.
If we had been at home watching England draw, then everyone would have gone straight home and sulked. But not here!
Once the DJ took over, after the final whistle, the dance floor was soon full and the party kept going long into the night.
Wednesday, June 18: Jim and Steve have been enjoying relaxing on the beach in Brazil and reading their favourite newspaper - the Advertiser of course.
Tuesday, June 17:
This is what you don't see on TV!
Here is the view from the outside, looking in on Gary Lineker's glamourous BBC studio in Rio.
The two-storey temporary structure - which also houses rivals ITV - may look stylish on screen back home with its fabulous beach backdrop.
But, actually, it is an ugly pre-fab built on stilts over the main road at the far end of Copacabana.
I'm glad we're not staying in the Sofitel hotel right behind it because it has made a right mess of their expensive sea view!
Fancy a flavour of Brazil? Try some brilliant Brazilian recipes here.
Tuesday, June 17:
It feels like Planet Football has landed on Copacabana beach in a cacophony of sound and vision.
It attacks your senses from first thing to lights out. I've just pulled back my hotel curtains to see people already playing on the scores of laid out pitches and foot-volleyball courts on the beach.
Yesterday, by mid-morning, there were long queues in football shirts of many colours snaking across the sand to get into the FIFA fan fest zone.
But by dusk the place goes mental with searchlights, fireworks, police sirens, flashing lights and a booming musical soundtrack - last night featuring loads of Jackson 5 classics - all along the three mile strip.
At lunchtime it was 29 degrees C in the Fan Fest as Germany began their demolition of Portugal so sun cream and light refreshments were required.
Ok, there might not have been as many people on the beach as they had for either the Rolling Stones or The Pope, but the atmosphere was great and there were fairground and zip-wire distractions too.
Germans and Americans headed the friendly fan invasion, but there were plenty of Croatians, Chileans and Argentinians on Avenida Atlantica, all dressed with flags, hats and shirts and blowing their horns, beating their drums, chanting their tunes and blowing their whistles.
It's been a perfect peaceful invasion so far with only explosions of sounds erupting in restaurants and bars as another goal goes in!
A table of Americans were actually applauded by the rest of the restaurant after they stood and sang their national anthem before last night's game.
But, it must be added, there is usually a little warship in the bay first thing; military helicopters hover low over the beach during the day, and lorry loads of Robocop-dressed armed troops can be spotted around the corner.
After all, this is Brazil, and our lovely hosts are not taking any chances.
Monday, June 16:
We arrived in Rio last night just as Lionel Messi scored. Copacabana was full of Argentinian fans celebrating until 5am. We know, they were outside our hotel!
Sunday, June 15:
We are checked in at T5 at Heathrow off to Rio at 12.20pm. Shame about the result last night...decided not to wear the shirts on the BA flights!
Thursday, June 12:
Blame it on Rio! Ever since I was a boy it’s the one place in the world where I’ve always wanted to go.
That iconic statue of Christ The Redeemer; The Girl from Ipanema, sunshine, samba and the World Cup in its spiritual, sexy home…what’s not to like?
In fact, the thought of sipping an ice cold beer on Copacabana beach while watching England score on the big screen is probably my fantasy football dream!
The World Cup might start today (Thursday) and England play their first game in the Amazon on Saturday night, but my pal Steve and I are counting down the days until we fly out on Sunday.
Veterans of more than 70 football fan trips across Europe, w
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