I often Google your name.
Well, maybe not “often”, but once or twice every two months or so.
You are so cool.
Well, you were.
I don’t know what you are up to these days.
Hope you’re ok.
Frankly, I’m not sure why I like you so much.
It must be the fact that we are both men without a proper “home nation”, children of Globalization.
You left Canada long ago. I left Brazil long ago. But I went to Canada. You went to Germany. My family is from Germany. Then you went to England. I once went to school in England.
See, we have so much in common.
Yea, that’s probably why I like you so much.
You know, we should go fishing, or maybe open up a bar, or a hipster cafe, or something manly like that.
I miss you.
This is the story of how I, on this of all years, became a QPR supporter.
And why I don’t regret my decision one bit.
Originally from Brazil, but long ago relocated to Canada, I moved to London on September 18, 2012, to attend one of the city’s finest drama schools.
Indeed, I consider myself a “citizen of the world”; and London is, essentially, the world capital of culture – and football. Two things I cherish very, very much.
As soon as it was decided that my wife and I were to reside in West London – more precisely, on Askew Road, where Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith & Fulham, Acton Town and Chiswick all pile up on top of one another – I proceeded to properly think about choosing a club to support; and given my tricky location, my options were several.
Many friends told me I should go for Chelsea, since they already had a large Brazilian contingent in the club, and were building an excitingly young and winning squad. But I thought that would have been too obvious a choice, and not a very exciting one. After all, I chose acting as my profession – I do not tend to make sensible, easy choices in life.
Others told me I should ignore my West London location, and go for something thrilling like the Tottenham Hotspurs, if only to annoy those many Canadian friends who somehow adore Arsenal. But, again, that seemed like an all too obvious option, and I truly wanted to support a local West London side. So I settled on Fulham!
Fulham had everything I really wanted in a club: potential for surprises, an exciting forward in Moussa Dembele, a certain stability coated by a delightful veneer of underdog struggle, and, more importantly, no one really hated Fulham or Fulham supporters. Done, I was sold!
Thus, on September 18, I landed at Heathrow every inch a Fulham man!
Alas, upon arrival, and as the weeks progressed, I simply couldn’t find myself getting fully behind Fulham. I tried. I watched the games, I followed the news…but I started to feel like a fraud – sort of like Robinho (hey, remember Robinho!?).
And then Fulham sold Dempsey and Dembele, which only deepened my conundrum.
So I decided to let go of this idea of supporting an English club, and instead continued to focus on my passion for the Brazilian national side and Sao Paulo FC (my childhood club). Perhaps it was mere culture shock: maybe my melodramatic and erratic Brazilian heart couldn’t find a match in the Premier League, where things often seem too bureaucratic, and in the end Manchester United wins anyways.
But there was one option I hadn’t yet explored, and it seemed to contain my deep desire for danger and dramatics: Queen’s Park Rangers!
Frankly, I thought the idea was absurd. Why support a club that, even at that time, very early into the season, were already struggling? And, what’s even worse: similarly to Chelsea and Manchester City, QPR were attempting to rebrand themselves through the sheer cynical power of money.
Nevertheless, because it was a sunny Saturday morning, I took a short walk to Loftus Road, just to see what I’d feel like once I got there. I must confess, though, that the signing of Brazilian International Julio Cesar had me a little too excited already – he is a player I’ve been following since his Flamengo years, indeed a favourite keeper of mine for a long time. And to think of him as a “neighbour” was making me a tad giddy.
Since I needed a new scarf, I went into the QPR shop upon arriving at Loftus Road. I was the only person there – aside from the clerk behind the counter, who didn’t seem particularly happy to be in there on a sunny day, listening to loud replays of QPR’s glorious past on DVDs…
I asked about any Julio Cesar gear, but they didn’t have anything yet, since he had just recently signed with the club. They did have, however, loads of Robert Green stuff!
I decided to pass on that offer.
But I did manage to find a very cozy and quite attractive scarf! Success.
I confess, there was something so simple, and a tad desperate, about the Loftus Road grounds that was winning me over.
It is a very small stadium, almost attached to the neighbouring houses, screaming for space. Indeed, it feels like it is part of the community around it, like it truly belongs there – like it has been there for generations, piled on top of buildings and flats, in people’s backyards, squeezed in, unthreatening, unpretentious, welcoming…
And, at least for now, even though the team is owned by an ambitious business man, Loftus Road retains that vintage charm of a proper football club that belongs to the common folk.
Needless to say, I was becoming enamoured with that aura. I am tragically romantic.
So I thought it was imperative that I attended a live match. And, being a poor drama student, I went for the one I could afford: the bombastic first encounter between QPR and Reading, a 1 x 1 draw!
In retrospect, that first match between the two clubs in November turned out to be more tragically significant, if not prophetic, since both clubs managed to be relegated after a suicidal draw following their second encounter a day before my birthday, in April.
Nevertheless, I have nothing but great memories from that live match at Loftus Road. It was there and then when I truly became a full-fledged QPR supporter!
For most of us, it’s hard to pin-point when exactly we first became supporters of our clubs. We just… are. I remember always liking Sao Paulo FC (and later PSG’s) star playmaker Rai, so I quite naturally developed an affinity for the club in my youth – which has stuck, and now I cannot not be a supporter, even though Rai retired some 13 years ago.
Once you develop that affinity, it truly becomes hard to shake off the feeling that you are somehow connected to the club – that you have made a commitment, and to break it would be somehow shameful (kind of like a marriage).
Indeed, in most instances, our reasons for supporting a club are quite mundane: ‘well, my dad was a supporter’; ‘I was born around the corner from the stadium’; ‘as a kid, I liked the colour of their kit’; etc, etc…
Football fandom isn’t rational. It’s all down to a feeling.
And that’s what QPR gave me on November 4, 2012: a feeling of utmost desperation; a feeling of life at extremely high stakes; a feeling that the battle for survival was on, and that I had an important role to play in supporting the club. I couldn’t just sit there in silence, squeezed in between proper fans, with my knees hitting my chin because I was too tall for that tin-can of a venue. I had to take part in the belief that c’mon you R’s, this must be the first win of the season, c’mon, for Christ’s sake!
I confess, it was exhilarating. Being Brazilian has kind of spoiled me: I’m too used to winning. In my lifetime, I’ve seen Brazil lift the World Cup twice, and play another final. And Sao Paulo FC are one of Brazil’s most successful clubs. So QPR was teaching me something completely different, and something most English fans are all too familiar with: disappointment.
In that sense, I was having an absolutely authentic Anglo experience! I started to feel like a true West Londoner. QPR were my team, and by God, they were awful!
But they were my team; my awfully dysfunctional and disjointed little neighbourhood team. And they needed me.
Moreover, who would have thought, disappointment is kind of fun! It feels great to yell at players, to call Mark Hughes bad names (God, he was dreadful), to share your sheer disbelief in your club with fellow supporters…all of this pain and angst make for incredible celebration when something finally does go right – as it did in that match, when Djibril Cisse scored a delightful goal for the R’s!
Loftus Road exploded in joy! It was right then: I became one of them.
Unfortunately, things grew rather grim for the rest of the season, culminating in the disgraceful relegation of Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club. Tragically, not even the mighty Harry Redknapp, the Honest – who was brought in way too late – could save the club from sinking into the bowels of the Championship tier.
And, frankly, I cannot see the club ascending back into Premiership any time soon. There is a lot of work to be done, as many of those suspiciously mercenary players ought to leave the club, and an identity must be built into the squad. And all of that takes time.
But that’s OK. I’ll be right here, whenever QPR needs me. And through the struggles, I’ll continue to passionately play with the side on my PS3 – whose FIFA Soccer universe has even seen (under my controls) QPR win a Champions League.
However, as a true fan would likely say: who knows, maybe one day in reality, eh?! Who knows…
Alas, suffering truly is an art-form the English (and now me) are particularly good at.
Well, C’mon you R’s!
The biggest winner of the 2013 edition of the Confederations Cup was the biggest loser of the 2010 World Cup: football.
Sure, FIFA tried to spoil the party again, and the sport, by scheduling games between European squads in ridiculously hot places like Salvador at 1pm – but no dice. In the end, we saw relaxed, attacking, optimistic and free-flow football from all of the 8 participants.
And there were goals! Plenty of them – and pretty ones too. Who knew modern football, with all of its angst and advertisement-riddled existence, could still produce that?!
Sadly, all of that went missing in South Africa three years ago, and many (myself included) declared the total death of international football.
Even Spain, winners in South Africa with an incredibly bureaucratic style of football – heavy on the passing, meager on goals – managed to unleash their attacking power in Brazil: they beat Tahiti by a score of 10 x 0 (granted, it was Tahiti, but still; the Spain of 2010 would have given up after scoring 2 x 0, surely).
Granted, the Confederations Cup doesn’t produce the same kind of pressure we see in a World Cup, but that’s not a good enough reason to diss this fine tournament. The squads we saw in action in Brazil this year all displayed the same level of commitment and passion we’ve seen in previous World Cups – no one was taking the competition lightly, and no one was sparing ammunition.
And if indeed football itself was restored, that meant the beautiful game had to cease being Spanish.
It needed to belong to its original spiritual owners: Brazil.
Amidst an unprecedented wave of political protests that swept the massive nation, the people of Brazil had very little faith in their team at the beginning of the tournament – occupying the 22nd position in FIFA’s rankings (an all-time low), Brazil’s football was internationally demoralized.
Morale, on and off the pitch, was hitting rock-bottom.
And while millions of brave youths took to the streets to demand the end of corruption – much of the ranting indeed aimed at FIFA and the organizing committees that resorted to public money in order to hurriedly build the venues for the 2014 World Cup – on the pitch Luiz Felipe Scolari programmed a revolution of his own.
Deemed by many as an old-fashioned manager who was past his prime, unable to reproduce the earlier successes from the last decade with Brazil and Portugal, Scolari methodically and patiently put together a team of skilled footballers and enthusiastically instilled in them a savage will to win – and he did it all in less than 7 months!
The passionate displays of patriotism on the streets were transferred into the stadiums, and I shall never forget the images - and indeed the potent sonic experience – of watching the fans and players sing the full version of Brazil’s national anthem, even though FIFA would cut the instrumental accompaniment short due to time constraints (Brazil’s full anthem is impossibly long). But it didn’t matter to fans and players, who continued to sing long after the cut – sheer spine-tingling moments.
As people in Brazil now beautifully sum up the protests: “o gigante acordou”: the giant awakens.
I’m glad neither fans nor players ever displayed any form of cheap patriotic sentimentalism. Scolari and his boys kept it all professional. There was no empty rhetoric. There was no patronizing attempt to politicize the game and transfer the socio-political woes of the nation into a match of 11 guys kicking a ball around. There was simply a sincere will to bring the country together in order to make noise and express whatever we felt like expressing. It wasn’t pedantic. It wasn’t flowery. It was a loud, physical, visceral cry for attention; it was a statement.
There was a collective understanding that things needed to be shaken up a bit. Political corruption had to end. And Brazil’s football had to re-gain international prestige. It wasn’t ‘planned’. It simply unfolded that way. The more Brazil won on the pitch, and the more President Dilma listened to the demands of the people, the more the country realized its potential for change and victory.
Indeed, what brought the two movements together was this idea of ‘ENOUGH’: we will no longer be subjugated, neither in the Palaces of Brasilia, nor on the football pitch. And from thereon it all unfolded rapidly; at times aggressively, unflinchingly, hell-bent on the pursuit of victory – on and off the pitch.
In the end, given the build up of the whole situation, the inevitable happened: Brazil grounded Spain down in a frenetic final by a poetic score of 3 x 0.
No one saw it coming, and yet, it all seemed completely plausible. The more Brazil shoved football’s history down Spain’s throat, the more we went “oh, but of course, it’s Brazil.”
And yet, how magical – how beautifully bewitching that a supposed “crippled generation” of Brazilian footballers (22nd in the world, behind Bosnia!) would crush the very best that way, so confidently.
Spain were punched into paralysis. Brazil shut down every single playing space on the field, and shot down all Spaniard hope.
In the end Spain were left catatonic, as Fred and Neymar showed them that footballers don’t need to put on grim-faces (as is the Spaniard wont) in order to display concentration and competence on the pitch – victory can be achieved in the vintage, naive and carefree boyish style of wearing a smile on one’s face.
And if you perchance run into a slightly confused and comatose Xavi or Torres in the street, tell them not to worry.
There was nothing they could do. It was inevitable.
After all, the giant has awakened.
Spending my lonely days in the vast wilderness of Canada was becoming excruciatingly boring.
Save from the occasional trip to the town’s pub, or the daily routine of observing the Albertan squirrels in my backyard, life was moving at a painfully slow pace.
Solitude isn’t a terribly fun companion.
Still, I hold no grudges. Man City did what they had to do. I know they didn’t hire me for my skills in the first place, but rather as a statement. That’s fine. I can live with that. After all, I made a statement of my own by going there, didn’t I?!
And then, of course, there was that beautiful goal in the Carling Cup!
What a statement!
…things of the past, really. It’s all gone. Now all I have are squirrels in my backyard.
Alone. At home.
But then, quite unexpectedly, a break from my monotonous existence:
I was visited by a dear old friend.
I was sitting on my porch, doing nothing but staring out aimlessly, chilling out with a couple of ice-packs on each knee, when an impressively shiny black car pulled up.
The sharply dressed driver got out and opened the back door, waiting for his cargo to alight.
Very slowly, a grey head atop a long black coat emerged from the vehicle, and my heart skipped a beat – I could feel what was left from my knees shake.
Sir Alex Ferguson. In the flesh!
“G’day, ye olde curly-haired basterd”, he belted in jest, smiling through his chewing gum.
“Oh God! Sir Alex! What…what are you doing here?”
“No! No! Don’t get up Owen. You carry on icing those joints there. I don’t want to be blamed for any more accidents!”, he warmly interjected, as he approached me.
“Sir Alex, please pull up a chair, here next to me”, I pleaded.
He did so, right after relieving the attentive driver from his duties, requesting that he return in a couple of hours.
“What brings you here, Sir? And how did you find me anyways?”, I asked inquisitively.
“Oh, Owen. Yer a United boy, ye always will be. I can smell the blood of United soldiers from miles away. I don’t give a rat’s arse that you once wore blue. That’s forgotten. Ye see, once you leave the game, mistakes tend to get washed away, and what remains is the celebration of the golden days. That’s all. I came here to tell you that. Plus, I was around the neighbourhood looking to purchase a cottage, so I thought I’d pop by anyways. Hello.”
“What exactly are you trying to say, boss?”
“Ye need to leave the game, Owen”, he responded, quite briskly.
“Well, it’s not like I’m out there playing, is it? I spend my days watching squirrels and icing my knees, for Christ’s sake”, I followed up, quite desperately.
“But ye still hope to play, somehow. I admire that. It was that hope that took ye to the Blue enemy. Sure, they signed ye to piss us off, and ye went there to piss me off too, I get it. But at the end of the day, ye know why ye really went there: to play football, and they said yes. Again, I admire that. But ye won’t find peace again in football, Owen, believe me. Do ye feel in peace, here, right now, hoping for another chance?”
“…no”, I replied, defeated.
“Leave football, leave it for good. A clean break, and believe me, suddenly, the good times will rush back in, and everyone will love ye again, even yer enemies. Ye wouldn’t believe just how many Chelsea fans kissed me arse this week. People like to pretend they are cynical, that football is all about money and business and all of that. It’s rubbish. Football is about football. I know that. Ye know that. We play for the sake of playing. We play to create memories. But it’s also important to accept that football isn’t forever. And it’s even more important to know when to say that inevitable good-bye.”
“What difference does it make? No club wants me. I’m officially unwanted. Plagued. ‘Officially announcing’ my retirement now would be kind of petty, don’t you think?!”, I whined.
“Owen, it’s about making a statement”, the knight replied, gently.
I then smiled at him, and he smiled back.
And suddenly, it was all silence.
We just sat there, looking out, watching the sunset over the trees.
Two old men, sitting on the porch, silently reminiscing about the good old times.
Two old men, enjoying their well earned retirement.
Two old men.
I’ve been high on nostalgia these days (living in England will do that to you), and on a whim I recently decided to spend some very late and lonely evenings watching Brazil matches from the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups on YouTube (bless those footy nerds for uploading them).
I’ll tell you what I missed from those 2002 clips: Dunga.
Yes, that Dunga that was Brazil’s cranky Captain and later turned into cranky 2.0 manager in 2010.
I love him.
Say what you will about his supposedly “unlikeable” personality, but with Dunga in the squad as a player, Brazil won the 1994 World Cup and reached the final in 1998. And as a manager, Brazil won everything there was to be won ahead of the 2010 World Cup, and the team was back at the very top position in FIFA’s rankings, arriving in South Africa as uber favourites for the title.
Sure, sure, Brazil didn’t win 2010; and, well, yes, that was basically Dunga’s fault, since his sideline tantrums punched the squad into paralysis against Holland in the quarter-final.
However, whenever present (for the most part), be it as a player or manager, Dunga kept Brazil organized. There was a system at play, a formation to be honoured, and a desire to push ahead as a collective that’s essentially gone from the squad post-1998.
I’d go as far as to say that the 2002 Brazil was highly inferior to that of 1998, even though they won in Japan/South Korea. Indeed, they had better individual talents – Ronaldo and Ronaldinho were at the top of their game in 2002 – but as a team, they left much to be desired; and, frankly, won the World Cup mainly due to a very easy campaign: meeting with Germany, their only truly strong opposition in the entire tournament, in the final match.
Much of the Dunga hate still hails from THIS - the man’s historical failure to stop Maradona’s catwalk towards serving Caniggia, who scored the goal that eliminated Brazil at the 1990 World Cup.
Brazilians tend to be very forgiving when it comes to their politicians, but never when it comes to a footballer’s mistake.
But, hey, I was 7 in 1990, so what do I know?! To me, Dunga remains a towering presence in midfield.
The other criticism that’s often thrown at him is the idea that he’s “unBrazilian”: too tough, too crabby, too violent, too pragmatic (both as a player and manager), too conventional, too much without flair…etc etc…
It’s bollocks, really.
Dunga had a specific job to do: to break the flow of the opponent’s attack. And even when he failed, he failed while truly trying to get that job done with all of his might and will – he was never a highly skilled player, but one whose desire to do well was larger than his physical ability, and usually made up for any absence in talent .
Moreover, unlike so many of the “classically Brazilian happy boys” (Denilson, Robinho, Ronaldo, etc etc), he could never be accused of laziness, or of being a sellout, or a mercenary. He played for the passion of playing. In that sense, he was – and this is another criticism often throw at him, although I see it as a virtue – “old fashioned” .
Nevertheless, his most remarkable skill was vision – in both the physical sense, of being able to find a distant striker through exquisite long-balls, and in the sense of pulling the squad together behind an idea; a principal; a collective wish. In short, he was an astute captain who inspired his mates to work hard in order to win – as simple as that; as “old school” as that.
As a manager, Dunga ultimately failed at the World Cup, but we understood his Brazil. There was, again, that strong vision at work in his squad. Many called it a “pragmatic” team – mainly because, well, they were pragmatic – while others called it “European”, “unBrazilian”. In other words, the same old criticisms that were thrown at him as a player were now applied to the entire squad.
I actually respect him for that – what other player (especially one so, well, average in overall skill as Dunga) was able to transfer his personality into an entire team like that successfully (remember, he won everything but the World Cup; and in 60 matches, Brazil lost only 6 during his reign)?
I say let’s celebrate Dunga, however flawed and lackluster the man was as a footballer – and as a man.
If anything, for his integrity, and for being truthfully in touch with his own nature.
Old fashioned values, but that’s what nostalgia is all about.
Let’s be honest, these are grim times for the Selecao.
Currently positioned at 18 in FIFA’s ranking, Brazil have never, ever, sunk this low before.
Sure, FIFA’s ranking system is something of an insignificant puzzle (are Brazil really worse than Greece? Ecuador?), but the truth is that such low placement still hurts – I mean, the English are placed at 6th! C’mon!
And Brazilians cannot avoid the fact that the beautiful game belongs very much to the Spaniards these days.
Felipe Scolari is back in charge (God, Menezes was awful), and he’ll indeed need a great deal of ingenuity and innovation in order to pull the squad back together and escape sheer embarrassment on home soil in 2014.
Thus, without further ado, here are the lads I’d call up right now if I were in Felipao’s shoes – it’s a mix of experience and energetic youth =
GK: Cassio (Corinthians)
RB: Maicon (Man City) // Danilo (Porto)
CB: Thiago Silva (PSG)
CB: David Luiz (Chelsea)
LB: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
DM: Paulinho (Corinthians)
DM: Hernanes (Lazio)
RAM: Ramires (Chelsea) // Lucas Moura (PSG)
LAM: Oscar (Chelsea)
RF: Leandro Damiao (Internacional)
LF: Neymar (Santos)
And there you have it.
May the Gods help us.
PS – I miss Dunga…
No one probably truly cares or even noticed (if you did, aw, you’re a charmer, thanks), but I haven’t posted anything in this space since this past summer – Brazil losing to Mexico still hurts.
The true reason for such silence, though, can be found in the “About” section of the blog.
I’m off in England doing some intense theatre work, and my level of concentration, energy and creativity for the writing aspects of my life have fallen immensely.
Having said that, I still, obviously, follow the game. In fact, this past weekend I had the immense pleasure of visiting Shepherds Bush’s Loftus Road stadium. I attended the (insert sarcasm) bombastic meeting between QPR and Reading.
Both sides have yet to register a victory this year, and both look set to sink into the depths of relegation – which is truly sad, since I’ve grown terribly fond of Queen’s Park Rangers (seriously, scarf-wearing and all).
The match ended in a 1 x 1 draw, but my spirits were mighty high. After all, I got to see keeper Julio Cesar, Djibril Cisse (who scored a beautifully gentle goal), Anton Ferdinand, Jose Bosingwa, Bobby Zamora, and many others live, in the flesh.
An occasion to savour.
Loftus Road was a nice change from the Emirates, where I saw Arsenal play last year. Sure the Emirates stadium is an amazingly impressive, high-tech and comfortable venue…but I’m a romantic (read: I like suffering), and there’s nothing more romantic than a tiny (tiny!), incredibly uncomfortable and thrown together, vintage football space. I loved it.
I’m also a big fan of crowds chanting – the English are particularly good (and creative) at this art form. Sure, most of the chants involve poor language, cheap rhymes and a complete lack of proper poetry, but they’re fun and passionate. “We are QPR. We are QPR” and “clap clap clap CLAP…RANGERS” are now part of my shower repertory.
I may write something on the idea of enjoyment in football via suffering…I’m looking at you, When Saturday Comes magazine Writer’s Award .
Stay tuned…I may produce something of some (some) worth anytime soon.
RB, suffering with delight