It is this special time that happens in the summer once every 4 years. The World Cup is going on and people from over the world are cheering for their favorite teams, and placing bets on who is going to score the most goals, which teams will come out of the group phase, who is going to be the best goalie, which team is going to lift the coveted prize this year…
What is very interesting to me, however, is to observe how the city changes as different teams are set to play their crucial matches. Today, I came across an interesting example, which went beyond the typical wearing of shirts with national colors. On my way to the office, I often ride a bus that goes between Vauxhall and Stockwell. This area of South-West London is marked for its very high concentration of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants. As Brazil and Portugal were getting ready to clash in their third group match, two different and very colorful faces of the neighborhood emerged. To the north of Stockwell Tube Station, the houses were decorated with proudly erect Portuguese flags, people were properly dressed in red and green, seafood restaurants were packed to the brim with Portuguese immigrants and their friends who had come to support their favorite team in its last-ditch effort to pass the groups. To the south of the tube station, only a mere half a kilometer down the road, the town was draped in huge yellow and green Brazilian flags, little boys were wearing Kaká shirts, and the churrascaria smoke was filling in our office.
The amazing part was that all these people were part of the same city, and lived only a 10-minute walk from each other – yet, for 90 minutes, they had recreated their own little versions of their own countries, and were eagerly awaiting that precious goal that would allow them to tease their neighbors from across the street. What was more important, however, is that despite the sports rivalry, people seemed friendly. There was no violence, no hatred, just the sheer pride of seeing their teams play at one of the greatest sports events in the world. And all that in a neighborhood, well known for its violent past. I call this the changing face of modern football fans. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that football will really become this world-unifying and peace-promoting game!
Update from June 29, 2010:
Interestingly, BBC did a quick report on the colorful Portuguese football fans in Stockwell only a few days after my blog post! They showed how fans from that South London neighborhood were getting ready for the crucial game against Spain in the World Cup knock-out phase… Click here to watch the clip.