By Anthony Eleftherion
It’s been a little over three weeks since my mid-summer excursion, and I’d say that the time is ripe to report on my findings. As many are aware from the incessant CNN coverage of the overwhelming “dangers” of Brazil, the World Cup began with much splendor. What most of you don’t know, however, is that I ventured out to big, bad Brazil (media’s interpretation, not mine), with my father and a number of fine lads from the original US Soccer fan group, Sam’s Army.
Nobody of course knew what to expect, and I cannot say that I wholly expected the world’s largest tournament to go off without a hitch, or several dozen. However, after the two-week journey down to the mecca of futbol, I can honestly say that my perspective on Brazil, its culture, people, and identity have since changed.
The World Cup took place in a number of host cities (12, to be exact), much to the chagrin of the world’s overlord football association – FIFA. While a number of matches occurred in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, which already had the facilities available to accommodate such an outpouring of tourists/fans, others such as Amazon-laden Manaus and Recife had new facilities built.
The majority of Sam’s Army ventured to each USA group stage match in Manaus, Recife, and Natal, and outside of some VISA issues, and ticket and communication blunders (my Spanish was of little, if any, use), the trip went off without a hitch. We ventured out in each city, we sipped the ever-addictive caipirinhias on-and-off, and we just tried to immerse ourselves in the culture that seemed so distinct, yet so similar to our own.
The tourists certainly did some touristy things, and the locals carried on their normal lives when they weren’t catering to the tourists every whim, but it was on the soccer field that the different cultures and backgrounds blended perfectly. The Germans with the Mexicans, the local Brazilians with the crazy Americans, the Uruguayan’s with the Japanese – it all flowed just as we would hope it would in a utopian world. The World Cup tournament has since ended, but we can only hope that this sort of unique balance can make its way into our own society.
I’ve long been of the belief that the sport of football (yes, that’s European football), has the ability to bring together people from different races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Nowhere was this more evident than in Brazil, where, if you believe what the popular media spews out, you are likely to be robbed or gunned down if you are not in some secret tourist resort hideaway.
If it helps to prove the popular folklore incorrect, however, you can have faith that the 40-plus strangers of Sam’s Army that traveled to Brazil to watch the beautiful game entered the country in the same state in which they left. Mind you, I’m not counting the pounds we might have gained, the sleep we might have lost because of late night adventures, or the countless times we all lost our voices from cheering on our country, but I’d say that that is a price I’m willing to pay to see just what the country of Brazil has to offer.
I do plan to return to the futbol mecca again someday, but until then, remember that the beautiful game does have the ability to change the world in which we live.
Besides a brief period going to graduate school in Washington, DC, Anthony Eleftherion has been active in the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association his entire life. He began playing soccer at the age of seven for the Mahopac Soccer Club and then went on to play for the East Hudson Academy Program, then for FC Somers. He was co-captain of the Mahopac High School varsity team, then received a scholarship to play at the College of St. Rose. He coached the Under-9 and Under-10 teams of the Yorktown Blast and is active today as a men’s player.