Feature

The unforgettable sea of blue and white

Argentina fans at the Maracana (Getty)

After a major tournament, the global media fly off home with brutal speed. There is little chance of catching up with old friends and mulling over what has happened – Brazil 2014, then, was like a good meal when you are unable to prolong the experience with a leisurely chat over coffee.

Around me, Brazilian football has moved on.  The local first division resumed on Wednesday, just three days after the World Cup final.  And it is a matter of days before the national team name a new coach – at the time of writing there is some media speculation that it might be a second chance for Dunga, who took the team to South Africa four years ago.  Tell me that I'm dreaming!

Far more comforting, then, than dealing with reality is dwelling on the past few weeks.  For me the World Cup was something of a blur – great fun, but endless work and precious little sleep.  In the future I will enjoy recalling the competition in a state of calm.  For now, I would like to highlight one of the standouts of the tournament – the South American fans.

It was the first World Cup held in their continent since 1978, and they came in their thousands.  According to statistics released on Friday, the total number of visiting fans from South America was 364,092 – more than Europe and North America combined. 

And the numbers fail to tell the entire story, since a significant portion of visitors from the United States were in fact Colombia fans. Countries that had not even qualified, such as Peru, Venezuela and Paraguay, sent more fans than Spain.

This South American invasion (Latin American if we include the Mexicans and Costa Ricans) was very interesting to observe. 

It is a phenomenon that points both forward and back.

The futuristic part comes from the realisation that this is here to stay.  Over recent times the region's middle class has grown appreciably. The World Cup, as the splendidly lucid sociologist David Goldblatt has pointed out, was their coming out party.

For all the proximity, Brazil is still an expensive destination for those that flew around the country staying in hotels and eating in nice restaurants. The fact that so many from outside Europe and the US were able to do so is clearly worthy of note.

It was fun to observe this together with a colleague from England.  He got the message. "This really is a World Cup," he said, before adding that there was no inherent reason that regions such as the Middle East should not be allowed to stage future tournaments. Football is a global game in an increasingly multi-polar world.

But if the new Latin American middle class shows the way forward, the past was well represented by the travelling hordes from Chile and, especially from Argentina.  Many of these were not the kind of people flying, staying in hotels and eating out.

Rather, they took advantage of proximity to get into beaten up cars and camper vans, throw some old mattresses in the back and rough it.  They caused the odd problem – there was occasional trouble between Brazilians and Argentines, and a group of Chile fans briefly turned the World Cup into the Copa Libertadores when they staged an invasion of the Maracana stadium before the game with Spain.

But they also created a magnificent atmosphere.  The Argentines (who with 166.772 visitors sent considerably more than any other country) stole the show. 

They had all the best songs.  Their chant to the tune of 'Bad Moon Rising', the old Creedence Clearwater Revival hit, was the soundtrack to the tournament.

This was old style, working class football support, a reminder of what the game was like in pre-sanitised days.

Of course, there have been pluses and minuses with the changes that have taken place in football in recent times.  Stadiums have become more inclusive – for those who can afford to get into them. 

One of my bugbears is the piped anodyne music played in the ground before the game. I have always loved it when the atmosphere is created organically, by the fans themselves – and that is what often happened when Argentina played.

The stadium music was drowned out by the bounding, boisterous blue and white striped hordes – one of my favourite memories of Brazil 2014.