No fun being in the wrong place at the right time
Being 600km away from that mesmeric 7-1 hammering was strangely revealing
Fans of Brazil react after their loss to Germany in their 2014 World Cup semi-finals at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte. Photograph: Reuters
Where were you when Germany hammered Brazil, granddad? The stadium media centre (“SMC” to young people) at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo has its charms, like wifi and toilets, but for those there last Tuesday it felt like football’s equivalent of a farcical photograph of whale-watchers taken in Cork a couple of years ago: as enthusiasts all look one way, behind the boat a humpback produces one of the most immaculate breaches in the history of whale-not-watching.
To be clear, Germany did not beat Brazil 7-1 at the Arena Corinthians in the most stunning result the World Cup has ever known, but rather 600km down the road, in Belo Horizonte. We know it happened because we watched it on TV in the concrete cavern of São Paulo’s SMC; hundreds of worn-out journalists lined up like cattle, brains fried and bodies weary, hacks who would always have to live with the fact that they had stupidly missed out on a piece of World Cup history.
Is that a violin we hear? Why don’t you return it to its case, because this sad story has the redeeming detail that São Paulo’s SMC was not full of any old sports hacks, but Argentinian sports hacks. If you are going to watch Brazilians being humiliated at something, for the sheer anthropological wonder of it you are best to do it with a bunch of Argentinian people in the room.
As the goals peppered into Brazil’s net in that first half – five of them – the sounds in the SMC shifted to mark an evolution in emotion: first applause, then laughter, gasps, and lastly incredulity. Technically, incredulity has no sound other than a few gurgles, but it involves a lot of facial expressions, like an open mouth and wide-eyed staring around the room.
Some hard-bitten reporters looked at each other smilingly and threw their eyes up to heaven to say: “Something else, huh?” Others stared into the distance to ruminate bitterly over what they were missing. By the time goals six and seven went in, dozens appeared to have gone to the toilets to pour cold water over their heads.
Like viewers around the world, and Brazilians bubbling in the Belo Horizonte stadium, these Argentinians could not believe what they were seeing. And to be fair, not even the cruellest among them seemed to be enjoying themselves as the full extent of Brazil’s nightmare became clear.
Who would wish that on their worst enemy? Who would not wish it was they themselves inflicting it on their worst enemy? At moments like this a specialised branch of journalism – “meta-journalism” – comes forth. Journalists interviewing journalists, interviewing journalists, interviewing journalists.
You only have to stand up to stretch your legs to become part of this giant Russian doll of global communications. “Would you have a minute? Can I ask you some questions about Brazil? Why do you think this happened?” Ideal interviewees, journalists answer questions exactly like they’d like to have them answered.
I went down the main SãoPaulo boulevard the next morning to shoot some video of a poor, sad, hungover city. In a newsagents booth I arranged the day’s papers for a clip that would capture the nation’s reaction to the disaster. Covers of sad people weeping – that sort of thing. Suddenly, a microphone was thrust under my nose and a TV camera pointed in my face. People filming me filming newspapers.
Fifteen hours earlier, back at the SMC, with Brazil’s tonking just completed, Argentinian journalists were waiting for Alejandro Sabella’s pre-match press conference to begin. Argentina had made what seemed to be a pointed decision to arrange their training during the other semi-final.
What would Sabella say about Belo Horizonte? We waited for the first question, and a journalist with an American accent piped up: “You have had a great defence, and Holland have a great attack, can you tell me . . . ” It went on for about 30 seconds. People looked around at one another: can you believe this guy?
When that was out of the way Sabella was asked about the 7-1 and delivered a nice, poetic answer about football’s beauty: “Sometimes things happen that you don’t expect, and that is why it is beautiful.”
When the business was done, everyone piled up the stairs to write the Sabella story in the concrete room. Checked Twitter for Brazil reaction. Stuffed the cafe’s fatty pastries into their mouths to get energy levels over the line.
Football’s beauty, you say? In Belo Horizonte, yes – but alas, tonight, not here.