After two weeks in Sao Paulo, I found it very difficult to leave. What had initially felt like a sprawling, incomprehensible, daunting and intimidating mass of traffic, road networks and high-rise buildings had quickly begun to feel like a home from home, providing me with a magical experience that I will never, ever forget.
In being at the World Cup for a fortnight I comfortably managed to outstay the England side but while their disappointing performances were a blow, it was impossible to feel anything other than excitement at being part of what is already being heralded as one of the most entertaining tournaments of all time.
I attended England’s final two group games and while neither delivered the result I had hoped for, both provided me with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The atmosphere at the Arena Corinthians was superb, heightened in my case by being perilously close to the noisy Uruguay supporters. The game was make or break for both teams and the atmosphere positively crackled throughout; the day was breathtakingly exciting and ended in English and Uruguayan fans swapping shirts throughout the stadium.
By the time I travelled up to Belo Horizonte to see the final group game with Costa Rica, England’s elimination was confirmed, but the chance to see a World Cup fixture in the magnificent Estadio Mineirao was one I’ll cherish for years to come.
During my stay the host nation were in action three times, culminating in the pulsating penalty shoot-out win against Chile in the second round. Watching Brazil in Brazil is hard to top. The minute the sun rises on the day of a match, there is a special feeling in the air. The already hectic atmosphere of one of the biggest cities in the world cranks up steadily as the morning turns into afternoon; drums, horns and fireworks providing the soundtrack to the day.
The more important the game, the earlier the build-up starts and the later the celebrations continue, with the streets packed with yellow-shirted football fanatics. Moments of skill are met with rapturous cheers, with opposition mistakes mercilessly jeered. When victory is confirmed the earth shakes with the ferocity of the celebrations – the outpouring of relief and delight quickly manifesting itself in singing, drumming and dancing. Close your eyes and imagine Brazil – that’s exactly what you get when the host nation play and win, and it’s simply magnificent.
While the World Cup quickly became about more than just England, equally it was about more than just Brazil, too. Supporters from almost every conceivable nation had travelled to Sao Paulo to take in the tournament, including a healthy number from countries who hadn’t even qualified. It was this incredible cross-section of support that helped create the feeling of togetherness. Supporters partied together from morning to night, the language barrier overcome by a universal love of football and a shared understanding that we were all part of something special.
The most memorable moment of all came from an unexpected source. When scrolling through the array of mouth-watering fixtures, I’ll be honest and admit that Algeria v Russia wasn’t one that stuck out as unmissable. In looking at the result, a 1-1 draw, it’s likely that the game would be overlooked again.
In actuality, that match was a monumental one, ensuring that unfancied Algeria progressed to the knockout phase for the first time ever. I watched the game in the vast Fan Fest, an impressive arena that boasted a capacity of around 25,000 fans. As the final whistle went, a tiny knot of Algerian supporters, perhaps 30 or so, went wild.
Their celebrations were contagious, and bit by bit supporters from other nations joined in. The joy snowballed until the majority of the large crowd were celebrating with the small band of Algerians. They’d made history and the rest of us knew what it meant, instinctively understood their passion and supporters from Brazil, England, Spain, Uruguay, Chile, Croatia (I could go on, but you get the picture) were only too happy to help them enjoy it.
It was a genuinely magical moment, one that only football could provide. My team may have had a poor World Cup, but this tournament is about more than just a team, it’s about a shared love for the greatest sport on earth. Football.
Mike Parkin is a lifelong football fan, a season-ticket holder at Watford FC and a fervent supporter of the National team. Mike presents the popular Watford podcast ‘From the Rookery End’ and will be documenting his trip to the World Cup on the website: www.fromtherookeryend.com. You can also see Mike’s images on Instagram (RookeryEnd) whilst you can interact with Mike directly on Twitter by following @RookeryMike.