Former Bury Town and Needham Market midfielder Michael Steward is enjoying the World Cup in Brazil — he sent us this report from Manaus.
If the English press articles about Manaus beforehand were to be believed, I’d be walking around in a tropical jungle metropolis alongside a tall Amazonian population and large mosquitoes that attack with a venom much greater than an English mosquito ever could.
In truth, it’s a large regular city, quite European in its style and without a great deal to see. A bit like Birmingham. And I’ve hardly been bitten once.
The people, although certainly not Amazonian in size are particularly friendly and eager to flog all their World Cup souvenirs to every ‘gringo’ in sight.
I manage to pick up a 100 per cent unofficial England shirt for 20 Brazilian Real (a fiver) but in the very hot and humid weather, I’m more worried that my sweat will rub off the three lions. At least I think they’re lions!
The atmosphere in the week leading up to the game is fantastic.
Lots of different nationalities enjoying the excitement that only a World Cup can bring.
Manaus isn’t blessed with a whole lot of bars so most nights sees Armando’s pub near the main square packed out.
An older Brazilian gentlemen plays some guitar out front and there’s a great mix of English, Brazilians and Colombians drinking and dancing in the street.
Moving stylishly around the outside seating area, the Brazilians and Colombians most definitely have the upper hand in the dancing stakes!
Having not seen hardly any Italians leading up to the game, I am surprised when entering the stadium to see that probably three quarters of the 39,800 crowd seem to be behind the Azzuri.
Speaking to a Brazilian in the ground, I find out that all the locals are supporting Italy due to Roy Hodgson’s comments about not wanting to play in Manaus. Nothing like holding a grudge!
My fake England shirt with Rooney 10 on the back attracts some attention as I anxiously wait for kick off.
Some from England fans taking the mick but mostly from foreign film crews.
I speak to both Chinese and Slovenian TV and I offer my very best views of how the game will go.
Unfortunately, I end up talking solely in football cliques with things like ‘It’s gonna be a tough game’ and ‘The first goal is important.’
Taking my seat in the second tier, I am surrounded by both real Italians and Brazilian Italians and ‘ITALIA’ can be heard bellowing around the stadium prior to kick off.
It can also be heard when their first goal flies in and leaves me fearing the worst.
Sturridge’s equaliser brings renewed hope however and despite Balotelli’s winner in the second half and the final result, it was one of the better England performances I can remember in recent years.
Chinese TV nab me for a post match interview and still a little bit aggrieved not to have taken at least a point, I nearly bite the poor girl’s head off when she asks ‘Are you satisfied with the result?’
Slightly begrudging the Italians their celebrations, I decide to head home to watch Ivory Coast against Japan.
At the door of my guest house I am met by the owner, a lovely Brazilian lady called Leonarda who looks solemn and says ‘Oh Michael, I am so sorry for your loss.’
You can never accuse a Brazilian of not taking their football seriously!