It is such a pleasure to start with acknowledging Stoke City’s special “Marvellous Matchday” in honour of former kit man Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin. Stoke-On-Trent came to a rare standstill, along with the rest of the country, when BBC2 premiered the part biopic part musical drama, Marvellous. It was the most sincere, heart-warming and tearful ninety minutes of television I have ever watched, simply, it was splendid! The delightful portrayal of Neil Baldwin’s story enlightened us to the experiences of a man unconsumed by self-consciousness and with perpetual optimism that left viewers moved and inspired. I certainly took a moment to reflect on the many positive life values and morals that can be learned from Neil. Here’s to you Nello!
Bosnia’s Brazilian Adventure- Part Three
Having eventually arrived on the team plane, destined for Sao Paulo, we sat back in our seats surrounded by the staff, players and family. That was when everyone’s conversation, focus and thoughts turned to Game Two: Bosnia v Nigeria in Cuiaba in six days time. Upon landing, the team were swiftly whisked away on the official team bus flanked by the now customary security; armed military soldiers. I often reflected and observed the parallels of the armed guards and the players, both ‘soldiers’ for their respective professions.
Many hours later on the family bus, having driven through what seemed like the Amazon (apparently it wasn’t) we arrived at our hotel. It was a few minutes drive away from the team base hotel, and thankfully a little more luxurious then we expected. Driving though the traditional and small, beach-side town of Guaruja, it was clear to see that a World Cup team being based there was the biggest thing to happen there in a long time. No expense was spared as Bosnian flags we displayed on every space possible and even the efforts extended as far as investing in a three-story high inflatable team jersey that stood proudly, day and night, signalling to those passing by that this was the ‘official’ Bosnia team hotel. The sense of event was inescapable and certainly added to the Brazilian flare we experienced throughout the trip.
During the months and months of planning, we had envisaged that our arrival in Brazil, especially Guaruja, would be the start of a beach holiday with a little bit of football thrown in. Instead is was a test of expert logistical skill and planning as we travelled relentlessly across the enormous country with a few rainy days at the beach in-between.
The story of “4 cities in 1 day” is one of my favourite to recall, as it was one of the most memorable experiences, for the good and the bad. The day of the game where Bosnia faced Nigeria began for the family at 4am in Guaruja as we departed on our trek through the “Amazon” to catch an early flight to Cuiaba. The chaos that we met at Sao Paulo airport was overwhelming that morning with the huge crowds of people travelling, from regular tourists and locals now being magnified with the scores of football fans moving around the country.
After a short flight North, now a little bit closer to the ‘real’ Amazon, we exited the plane and were immediately hit by the extreme heat and humidity of the midday sun. It certainly was a welcome reprieve from the persistent monsoon weather we had been experiencing for the last week in Guaruja. Little did we foresee the negative effect these weather conditions would have on the Bosnian team. Some would say that the game was lost even before the anthems and handshakes had ended. By kick-off, even the fans in the stand were finding the extreme heat and humidity unbearable so one can only imagine the effect on the players. I will never forget as the camera panned across the Bosnia players during their national anthem, that they all had beads of sweat pouring down their reddened faces to their sweat drenched jersey’s, signalling to those watching that they were certainly feeling it too.
The game ended in a 1-0 defeat for Bosnia, with Stoke and Nigeria International striker, Peter Odemwingie, scoring the only goal of the game, ending Bosnia’s World Cup campaign. I, along with many of the team’s family members, hadn’t considered what would happen if Bosnia lost so we were all taken a little by surprise. A very depressing flight through the night on the team plane to Salvador, the most dangerous city in Brazil, awaited us upon our departure from the stadium.
Having arrived in Salvador in the early hours of the next morning, we found half our suitcases had gone missing, but eventually they were located at the team hotel having been collected by mistake-Phew! As it happened we were residing within the same resort complex as them team right next to their luxury hotel (minus inflatable shirt), and wait for it, our very own roach motel. Not what you need when you have been up and travelling for over 24 hours, so with our remaining suitcases in tow and delirious from sleep deprivation, we arrived at the gates of the team hotel with intent and purpose to find accommodation within their base. This of course was an unwelcome development for the Bosnian FA, but we didn’t have any other choice, especially with security within our accommodation being paramount. Thankfully and gratefully, they allowed the families to move into the team hotel which had been reserved exclusively for the squad so there was plenty of room, but we did not have access to the usual amenities that one would expect from a luxury hotel.
With little else to do to occupy ourselves, being confined to the safety of the heavily guarded hotel, our days there were centered around the player’s meal times, as we only had access to the food that was left over from their meals. We did have the last laugh though, as we endeavoured to obtain contraband in the form of wine and chocolate from said neighbouring ‘roach motel’ to enjoy in the evenings, of course once the players departed to their rooms for rest. It was a sort of antiquated experience; similar that of the ‘Downton Abbey’ social divide of ‘upstairs, downstairs’. It wasn’t all that easy either trying to remain invisible to the staff and team, so as not to be deemed a disturbance, but we managed well enough.
The final group match against Iran in Salvador was one with a good and friendly atmosphere with both teams having already exited the World Cup. It was just pride left to play for. The 3-1 win for Bosnia was a historical first win at a World Cup so it was welcoming to leave with a positive result. After the game, the players departed back to their base hotel before continuing onto their home destinations. That night, we headed to a well recommended Brazilian restaurant in the local area where we feasted on a delicious banquet of local delicacies before commencing the long journey back home, which for us started the next morning. I must admit that one or too many Caipirinha’s (Brazils’ national cocktail of course) were consumed that evening.
From Salvador to Rio, then onwards to London Heathrow, and having landed within an hour of Asmir’s inbound flight, that was where we rendezvoused and our Brazilian adventure ended. Not of course before we made the trek back to the Midlands whilst excitedly discussing our plans for a quiet get away before Asmir re-joined Stoke on pre-season. And before you knew it, we have started this process all over again with the commencement of Euro 2016 qualifiers!