August 2000, Salvador, N. E Brazil-An old Portuguese colonial city which is the capital of Bahia state. Cobble stoned streets, beautiful architecture, street acts and music pounding out of all the bars and restaurants. Tonight Brazil play Argentina in the WC qualifiers in Rio. I am expecting thousands in the streets of the old town watching a giant screen in the main square and a huge party afterwards.
The reality is I watch the game in a back street bar. 20 minutes before kick off a band is still playing on stage. They stop and a 24 inch TV appears. A few dozen people watch. Brazilians fanatical about football?!! I don't think so. However the game is superb and Brazil win 3-1. I see another WC qualifier in Olinda, just outside Recife, when Brazil play Paraguay. Again the same disinterest. I think back to Copacabana. Where are all these kids who play beach football. It seemed like volleyball is the No 1 sport in Brazil. Plus no one seems to know of Rafael Scheidt, Celtic's new £5 million pound Brazilian International centre half.
A pile of.... Rafael Scheidt
Travelling from Recife, in North East Brazil, to Beunos Aires by coach is quite arduous particularly without a decent command of Portugese or Spanish. Of course the lonely planet is useful for cheapish accommodation and helping you to get from A to B. I do however detect a bias in their ethos against the beer monster heterosexual football fan. As always finding an internet cafe-preferably coinciding your visit with the appearance of the very latest online Daily Record edition-takes precedence over visiting the sights. Sometimes if you take the football seriously, you will get off the bus in Buenos Aires after a 24 hour journey from the Iguacu falls, forget about looking for somewhere to stay and go and find out the Celtic/Kilmarnock score.
The sympathy the wee bird behind the counter feels for a 41 year old nae mates phucker with a backpack is extenuated when the air is punched in jubilation after accessing the official Celtic site. It became a ritual during the trip that as I had found out our opening day score on the official Celtic site that I always had to access that in order to find out subsequent scores.
No wonder the fitba was delayed!
South America is a surprisingly good place to watch Scottish fitba. I actually saw a Celtic game on ESPN in my hotel room in BA. It was against Hearts and it was supposed to be on live. But because the basketball had overrun, transmission was delayed by 15 minutes. The whole of the first half was shown. A couple of guys in the studio talked away in Spanish during the interval. When the 2nd half restarted there was 60 minutes gone on the clock-obviously they were looking to keep their schedule on track-and it wasn't until my visit to the internet cafe a few hours later that I learned Henrik had missed a penalty.
Anyway that was four league games for Celtic and four wins. The following week was the OF match which I had arranged to be in Sydney for and the Celts were looking in good shape for. All that remained was for me to put the hoops on, saunter down to the Plaza de Mayo and pay respect to the Mothers of the Disappeared and then get blootered. It was Saturday night after all. To sum South America up, I spent more on internet fees than food.
September 2000-I am standing on a diving platform at the Great Barrier Reef. Miss BigBhoy has flown to Australia to join me. We are trying on flippers and snorkels along with a few hundred other excited day trippers. I suddenly feel a sense of excitement. Is it the prospect of viewing the coral or the amazing sea life?. No, it is something else. "Where are you going now?" whines Miss BB. "Phuck the snorkeling" I say as I stride over to the wee Chinese guy wearing the Rangers leisure top. "Did you see the 6-2 match the other week?" I ask him.
Looking back over the first half of the 2000/01 season, I will always think of what internet cafe I learned the score at. I remember getting out of a tent at 7 o'clock in the morning in a rain forest that was only 40 meters from the beach at Cape Tribulation. At the open air camp bar, they had a couple of PCs set up. A Celtic/Dunfermline Monday night SKY game had just finished. One hundred meters to the left of the camp was a Crocodile infested estuary. You just can't beat a Scottish game for atmosphere.
To be continued