26
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels: Chaos runs supreme

By Jamie Trecker, FOXSoccer.com

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL

Belo Horizonte descended into chaos Wednesday night as protestors clashed with police throughout the town. The Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Uruguay saw over 100,000 people attempt to break the security cordon set up one mile around the perimeter of the Estadio Mineirao, and police and protestors traded blows. One serious injury was reported, and police announced that 15 people had been arrested.

The scenes – with raging fires that claimed businesses, and smoke and tear gas billowing over the sides of the Mineirao – seemed better suited to a war zone than a soccer tournament. Army forces reinforced the police, and ten helicopters were deployed above and around the stadium, creating an eerie scene as kickoff approached.

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Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

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24
Jun

Trecker’s Brazil Travels: Games, protests take time off

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Photo: Jamie Trecker/FOX Soccer

By: Jamie Trecker, FOXSoccer.com

 BOA VIAGEM, BRAZIL

It’s the Festa de Sao Joao this weekend here on the Brazilian coast. Up and down the miles of beachfront, people are setting off fireworks, lighting bonfires, roasting various meats and generally being silly.

The Festa de Sao Joao is nominally a religious holiday. In Portugal, the Feast of Saint John is a major occasion on the calendar; apparently the same day stops traffic in Goa, India. Here, it is a mid-winter party also called the “festa junina,” which translates exactly to what you think it does. Up here, it is a two-week carnival – it rivals Carnival in importance in the state of Pernambuco – and it is celebrated with country festivals and large outdoor concerts. People also dress up in a simulacrum of “country” attire, which in the cases I’ve seen, means wearing hats with fake pigtails and penciling on freckles.

While there may be some religion involved here this weekend (and I am perhaps the wrong correspondent to ask about such matters) what I have seen is go-for-it, hoedown partying. Saturday, horse-drawn carts carrying stacks of firewood came into the center of Recife’s beach neighborhoods, and dumped cords right onto the sidewalk. Some of them remained there, to be set alight after sunset. It’s a bit jarring to walk by a blaze on a sidewalk, especially when it’s right outside a welding supply store, but that’s apparently all cool this weekend. They did look festive.

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13
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels, Day 2: Architectural colossus

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

BRASILIA, BRAZIL

Raymond Chandler portrayed Los Angeles a sun-blasted city where dreams were scorched away. He could have been writing about Brasilia, a modernist fantasia where the heat and the light are unrelenting.

It’s winter, and the sun sets just after 5:30 here – but this is the hottest time of the year. There isn’t a trace of humidity in the air, and the red clay throws up whorls of dust that cake the streets and the buses. At noon, it is 27ºC and cloudless. Lucia Costa’s grand esplanades sweep five lanes of traffic to the Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge on the Eastern end, past the Cathedral, past the museum, and past the vast plazas of raw concrete.

Brasilia’s architect, Oscar Niemeyer, was many things: a genius, a modernist, and also, it appears, a brutalist. His expanses are meticulous, and his designs are awesome in the truest sense of the word. They are also unrelenting in the afternoon, with the heat reflecting off the white facades and up that perfect Roman surface.

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12
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels, Day 1: Appropriate starting point

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

BRASILIA, BRAZIL

Dawn. The city lies below the 757, an outpost on a craggy steppe. It looks like a toy, or maybe a prop until the plane descends further. The arcs of the city form two giant wings – or perhaps Orion, clutching a bow and firing an arrow toward Brazil’s coast.

Brasilia was to be Brazil’s great leap: a city that erupted whole cloth,  perfectly planned. It was to be a utopia of sorts, but it is not. It is, however, an architectural marvel, a modernist edifice that fifty years after its construction has the power to shock and amaze. It is also one of the places I had always wanted to visit.

I’m here because the Confederations Cup, something of a modernist construct itself, will kickoff here this Saturday. There is a lot of pressure on the hosts both on and off the field. Brazil’s staging of the 2014 World Cup has been somewhat star-crossed; budgets have been blown, strikes have been waged, protestors have marched and there is a weary sense that the government funds have been looted by this tournament.

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25
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Sixteen: Rain, Rain, Go Away

Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

Maxwell J. Lieberman was a desk editor at the Hartford Courant, back in the 1950s and 60s, and a special breed of man. Desk editors are a reporter’s secret weapon: they are by nature patient and meticulous, with a clear grasp of how to get from A to B. They make us look sober and sensible. But they are not reporters: we a far more reckless breed. Sadly, the desk man’s affliction is the burning desire to be out in the field, where he imagines the romance to happen.

Courant legend has it that Liberman got his chance. It was a slow news day in Hartford and he was sent out to recap the Elizabeth Park lawn bowling tournament, about as tame as you can get. Unfortunately, his first line was: “It was a beautiful day…” and no one remembers the rest, because the editor in chief came down, ripped the story out of the paper and told Mr. Lieberman in fragrant terms that he was not going to lead the sports section with a weather report.

I’ve been thinking a lot about poor Max, because it’s so difficult not to lead with the weather here. It’s awful. London is experiencing its coldest spring in 37 years. On Wednesday night at the women’s Champions League final, you feared pleurisy; it rained so hard that the normally packed Covent Garden was empty. At Inverness Market, the vendors didn’t even bother to set up the stalls. I guess there are German fans here, but they are so bundled up in rain suits that it is hard to pick them out.

My colleagues saw a few more Germans over at Stratford, where the fan fest kicked off on Thursday. But at Trafalgar Square, where luminaries such as Cafu were supposed to be offering “lessons” of one sort or another, the artificial pitch had puddles several feet wide. Most decided they’d rather see that exhibit at the National Gallery after all.

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22
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Fourteen: All quiet

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

LONDON - The city is quiet, pummeled into depression by a spring that has been anything but spring-like. The markets that line Camden Town and London Bridge, selling summer dresses and tank tops, have been despairing of takers. Most of their time has been spent sitting about, smoking cigarettes and swearing baroquely.

The Germans are coming, or so the papers tell us each morning. The problem is, they aren’t here yet, and when they get here, it’s unclear exactly what they will do. For reasons known only to UEFA, the Champions League fan fest won’t open until Thursday, and it is about as far from Wembley as one can get – it’s across London in Stratford. And news about the tournament? Well, once suspects that since no English team is in it, the less said the better.

In Trafalgar Square, across from the National Gallery, one of the viewing boards was just being put up. But there was little hint of any of this in Wednesday’s papers. The news was of Tony Pulis’ departure, Wayne Rooney’s curious choice for a baby name and the tale of Manchester City’s latest foray abroad. (The Sun, never one to miss a chance to put the boot in, had Frank Lampard doing just that in an “exclusive” interview about Rafa Benitez. Go on, Frank!)

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

The fact is, London doesn’t seem very cheery about the prospect of this Champions League final. We heard tales of how 200,000 fans were going to descend on the city – and then little else. Did they not come? One enterprising vendor set up a stall with Germany’s national treat, the currywurst, only to find that at high noon, he was left reading the newspaper with a lot of left-over sausages. He and his cart had vanished by the time I returned this afternoon.

It all feels a bit anticlimactic. And yet, there is a game even further under the radar.

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18
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Twelve: The Fall

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By: Jamie Trecker

LONDON, ENGLAND

Shanna called me from the States yesterday. It was her birthday and it was hot in Chicago, 86ºF and rising. Unfortunately, it’s still October here in London, and I have been dodging the twin plagues of downpours and frost. Anyway, she wanted me to get her a nice gift.

So, I did what any sensible person would do: I looked in the NME, and then headed out to Clapham Junction to see The Fall on the twin grounds that it is always warm in a pub and the Fall are freaking great.

For once, I was not the oldest man at a punk show. This is due to the band’s longevity: they’ve been about since the late 70s and are currently touring in support of their 30th LP, “Re-Mit”. Their core audience –- anorak-wearing record collectors suffering from varying stages of male-pattern baldness – is almost sweet in its uniformity. All of us in that bracket got there right at 7 when doors opened, and then dutifully went right to the merch table. Greybeard after greybeard bought the band’s newest album on vinyl, some for the second or third time, and then held onto those purchases for four hours during the show.

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10
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Six: Writer’s bash

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Photo: Action Images

By Jamie Trecker

LONDON, ENGLAND

Last night Gareth Bale completed his sweep of the awards circuit by collecting the Football Writer’s Player of the Year Award here at a posh hotel off Kensington Gardens.  It is the most prestigious of the awards, and a throwback to the days when the relationship between the media and the players was very different than it is today.

It is one of the few times of the year that the people who play the game and the people who cover it get together and act chummy. Most of it’s off the record, a lot of it is fueled by alcohol. In years past the, the gala was notorious for its punch-ups and the sheer volume of hangovers it could produce. It’s a very English event: several hundred unwashed scribes poured into the cleanest possible suits, all with exactly the same rep tie. The aim is not to stand out (advice ignored by the American, who was put into his suit by his partner and foolishly wore a bow tie) to avoid embarrassment and then get pissed.

There’s lots of back-slapping. Glasses of lager are sloshed, and it’s a badge of honor to get the next round. If you’re unwary, you can end up holding six pints inside five minutes. The players and managers walk about freely.  Rafa Benitez was eagerly explaining, well, something, to anyone in earshot. Andre Villas-Boas was extremely polite. I ended in the urinal next to Roy Hodgson.

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8
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Five: Bank on it

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Photo: Getty Images

By Jamie Trecker

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND

Bank holiday. It’s the hottest day of the year to date in England. Shops are closed. Englishmen, and their dogs, are recumbent across the nation. There is absolutely nothing going on, and that’s exactly how this nation likes it.

I took a walk from Salford round Manchester’s city borders and back. Greater Manchester’s about 500 square miles, but the old city, bordered by two rivers – the Irwell on the west and on the east by the Medlock  — remains compact. Even an out-of-shape writer can go from Deansgate to the Rochdale Canal, then back from Great Ancoats through the Northern Quarter in a couple of hours.

Just across the river, tucked into a small neighborhood just across the river, is Castlefield, the old Roman heart of the city. A small reconstruction of the fort – which was originally made out of timber – stands on the site, dwarfed by the neighboring bridges. Some folks walked around to see it, but Castlefield is better known today for its vibrant weekend market and burgeoning bar scene. That Market starts on the edge of what once was called Mancunium in two weeks time.

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