07 May 2009

Clash of the Titans

I'm facing an almost exciting prospect. Cambridge United are through to the play off finals for promotion back to Division 2, and thanks to some end of the season heroics (and Luton starting the season on -30 points), Grimsby Town have somehow avoided the indignity of non-league football next year, and I could once again see the Mighty Mariners play at the Abbey Stadium.

You can call me a fair weather fan, because in all truth the weather's got to be a damn sight better than 'fair'. It's got to be abso-fucking-fabulous weather for me to drag myself any further than a couple of miles down the road.

I'll stand in the driving rain at the Abbey, safe in the knowledge that a hot bath is only 15 minutes away, but a cold Tuesday evening in Peterborough? Stevenage? Even Histon is an extra 20 minute drive away. Fuck that for a game of soldiers, I'll watch Grimsby if they come to see me, but not the other way round. Not until they buck their ideas up a bit and start playing some decent football anyway.

And because of this disparity of leagues, I'd not been to watch a game for a couple of years, and then all of a sudden, I get 2 games almost back to back, and they couldn't have been more dissimilar.

What did you do for Valentines day this year? I went on a stag do to London, and part of that Weekend jaunt was a trip to see AFC Wimbledon play Bath at Kingsmeadow.

I was stood at the back of the terrace - but not a problem, take 5 steps forward, and I was at the front. Most of the party were so bored by half time that they disappeared into the bar and never came back.

The half time entertainment consisted a keepy-uppy competition in which the Stag participated, but was beaten by a ringer who was ex pro.

His other excuse being, that in keeping with the Blue Square League, the ball was blue and square, which the pedant in me insisted was blue and cuboid. A square ball would not be a ball, it would be a 2 dimensional shape. I'm such a fucking geek.



They did serve some particularly lush bacon sandwiches, and the stall was a little shed in the ground so you would,'t have to miss any of the game. You can just about make it out just at the very left of shot, whilst Matt does a big fat FAIL.

The bar was pretty good too, and very organised for getting pints out swiftly. When with 5 minutes to go , and the score 1-1 following 2 shots all game, the brave few who stuck out the second half rejoined the wanderers in the bar for a swifty before heading out to find a titty bar/muff club, and to watch the rest of the days results stream through courtesy of Jeff Stelling on a big screen.

Turns our Wimbledon won 3-2. We must've missed a pretty exciting 5 minutes whilst getting pints, but I think the call for beer was the correct one at the end of the day.



Roll on 8 weeks and again I'm at a football match, but this time I'm still waiting for Matt, and we're a little out of our comfort zone.

Mrsslippy and I have caught a taxi to the Maracana in Rio to watch the semi-final of the Carioca Cup between arch rivals Flamengo and Fluminense.



Matt said he'd meet us at this statue at 3 o'clock.

If I look a bit hungover it's because I am. It's the day after the wedding and I suspect I drank at least a bottle of Scotch, and god knows how many ciaparinhas and how much champagne. At 6 in the morning I didn't think I'd ever be able to lift my head from my pillow, but then my gut forced my hand, or rather it's contents, in a glorious fountain that I only just managed to get to the bathroom on time for.

So half past three, still no sign of him. We'd positioned ourselves near some friendly looking policeman, and were thick in the Flamengo stronghold. We'd seen a few thousand all come running towards us, hemmed in by mounted police. I bit of pre match banter I'm sure, but still a bit daunting. They were also accompanied by the real police.

The ones we stood near had guns and batons, but these guys were in full body armour, and packing 5 foot bats, shotguns, automatic rifles, and grenade launchers (which I'm sure were just for tear gas canisters, not real grenades, but still pretty hardcore).

As we stood watching, mouths agape, the newly married Matt arrived, apologised for being late, and told us that we were probably standing around at the wrong area (despite it being his idea, what with him having all the local knowledge and that), as the Flamengo fans are 'fucking nutters'. So hyped up for aggro, if they haven't got any rival fans to fight with, they'll fight amongst themselves. If we went in the Fluminense end we'd be much safer,as they only fight other supporter...


....and Gringos....


Still, as the lesser of two evils, and with Whiggy for added security we went round to the other side and entered what is the most remarkable ground I've ever seen.

Built for the 1950 World Cup it held 200,000 before it went all seater, but now holds a rather more sedate 100,00 - and none of them were sitting today.

There were parades of gigantic flags, fireworks, smoke bombs, but not a single safety steward to tell you to stop blocking the aisle, sit down, and stop letting off rockets in peoples faces. The only security was those impressive policeman who had now formed a loose perimeter around the pitch (which in itself is protected by a dry moat). I got the distinct impression that they didn't really care what we did to each other, just as long as nobody got near the pitch or the players.



I'd like to say it was a great game, but sadly, it was pretty run of the mill. The Flamengo players were all very proficient at the dive that's fortunately rarely seen in the Premiership now (although Ronaldo used to try it on). You know the one I mean, the one where the defender doesn't make contact, but somehow manages to apply backspin onto the opposing player, so after rolling over three or four times in one direction, he suddenly reverses polarity and starts spinning back towards the defender again.

Both teams had a player called Everton, which left me pondering why anyone would choose that as a nickname. Presumably because they have a twin brother who plays more attractive football, and is far more successful.

Despite it being perhaps the widest pitch I've ever see (either that or the shortest - it's almost a perfect square), both team seemed to have forgotten about the 15 yards of grass either side of the central strip, and just hoofed and fell and rolled and protested all over the same little bit of real estate.



Flamengo's goal was lame; a tame shot that the Flu keeper pushed under his own arm and into the net as he fell to the ground. Very poor.

In the second half a shot that he managed to deflect, and was then cleared off the line by a defender was met wit such jubilation that the pair of them had this whole bromance thing going on for the next two minutes. Sorry to break up the love-in boys, but you've saved fuck all. You're still 1-0 down, and would be better advised to stop going down on each other and paying attention to whats happening elsewhere on the pitch. That equaliser isn't going to score itself - and it didn't....

It's pretty clear that although Brazil may produce some of the best footballers in the World, they don't play over there. We've got them all in Europe.

And for all the pomp and circumstance, posturing and bravado, fireworks and spectacle, the football itself is not a patch on the Premiership. We've got the best league in the World. Love it.

So hopefully next season I can again go and watch Grimsby play again. I can't say it'll be anything like the experience of 100,000 nutters at The Maracana, but the football might be of a similar standard, and certainly better than a Valentines Day watching AFC Wimbledon and Bath.

Come on you fishy men.

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