SBC News Ed Nicholson: Notes from a brief World Cup

Ed Nicholson: Notes from a brief World Cup

Unibet‘s Head of UK sportsbook marketing & product Ed Nicholson is in Brazil enjoying the World Cup, but he found time to keep the folks in the UK updated on his escapades.

Monday 23rd June 2014

As I walk along Ipanema Beach towards Copacabana Beach I quickly realise Rio is probably one of a few places in the world where you have to be careful not to get run over by bikini clad roller skaters.

If they don’t get you it’s the bikini clad skateboarders and then the hierarchy elevates to the many joggers, cyclists, motorbike riders, cars, small tucks, bigger trucks and buses that all utilise the long road that runs next to the stunning beaches. And a lot of these vehicles are driven by women wearing bikinis. Brazilian ladies like to wear bikinis.

But when Brazil play football later in the day the streets are deserted. No roller skaters, no skateboarders, no cars, buses or bikinis – Australia’s Melbourne Cup is said to ‘stop a nation’, but the World Cup in Brazil stops Rio folk from partying – and that takes some doing.

It’s eerie. A hitherto noise ridden, horn blowing, people filling street is deserted at 5.15pm when Brazil have been playing Cameroon for quarter of an hour.

And no one’s around – they are all watching the match in bars, at home in parks – it’s even difficult finding a taxi going past – but I manage to grab one and I’m off to my destination. By the time I get to my bar, its’ 1-1 and the atmosphere is nervous – but Brazil soon start to pepper the Cameroon goal with shots and a victory is guaranteed long before Fernando Luiz Roza scores Brazil’s final goal on 84 minutes to make it 4-1 to the hosts. Unibet now make the hosts 3/1 favourites to win the trophy.

unibet-brazilpartyAnd then the party begins. It’s only 7pm in Rio – a long night is anticipated. Just as the streets around us turn into a sway of Samba dancing celebration, a delegation of Mexican fans descend upon us with many playing the stereotypical maracas, wearing sombreros and ponchos.

It’s like being at a fancy dress party – but these guys are celebrating as well and both sets of fans embrace each other in the knowledge that both are going through to the next stages of the World Cup. Memory making moments.

I then get invited where the beautiful people get to go in Rio… and I feel a tad old, not to mention less than handsome!

Budweiser have, at a cost of £3 million, branded – and I mean completely branded – a local hotel on the front of the Copacabana Beach; turning, among other things, the rooftop swimming pool into a nightclub that Ibiza would be proud of – where Fat Boy Slim and other popular and well known DJ’s play banging dance music until the early hours. I spot at least four A-list celebrities as well as many ex Brazil legends like current BBC World Cup pundit Juninho, who actually won the World Cup in  2002.

Trouble is all you can drink is Budweiser.

I leave early at 10.30 as I have an early 5am start on Tuesday – I’m off to see England play Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte, my first ever World Cup game.

Tuesday 23rd June 2014

Day starts badly. Brazilian taxi drivers are not known for their punctuality – the events company I know out here tell me sometimes they turn up, but mostly they are at least late, and many times just don’t turn up at all! My taxi driver decided not to turn up at all. So, I have to flag one down and off we go to Rio’s domestic flight airport, Santos Dumont Airport.

The flight takes me to Belo Horizonte, and at just an hour it’s an incredibly easy affair. Upon arrival I find a bus that is taking England and Costa Rica fans to the Estadio Mineirao, and after another hour I am at the ground.

Well, I’m not so much at the ground as a mile away where we are dropped off. I don’t have a ticket and my phone battery is running down fast! I need to make contact with the guy with the ticket before I have no juice left – otherwise I’m stranded in a city where hardly anyone speaks English!

First problem is that no one’s answering their phones! Second problem is that the army (who are controlling fan flow into and out of the ground) won’t allow me through to anywhere near the stadium without a ticket! A farcical 15 minutes ensues, where I am passed from one man in uniform to another each one asking me a further pidgin English question. Eventually I am escorted down a narrow barracked avenue. I worry what the hell is going to happen – but to my amazement he just lets me through… without a ticket! I must have a non-threatening face. Or he couldn’t be bothered!

unibet-ednicholson-brazilMy phone beeps and informs me ‘battery at critical level’ –  I then see two guys painting an England shirt onto each other’s naked bodies. One has Lampard on the back, the other Gerrard – so I approach hoping these English guys have a phone charger only to find they are Brazilians coming to support Roy’s Boys! Later, when my bald pate is suffering from the sun in the stadium, I wonder how long the paint kept on them – the temperature was sweltering.

Just then my ticket man phones, and we agree to meet – half an hour later I am inside the magnificent stadium. The colours, vibrancy, energy and anticipation is great to see, hear and feel. I am sitting next to 60 year old Emmerson from Brasilea. Emmerson likes taking selfies. He continues to take selfies for at least 20 minutes into the game, at which point he asks me how long a game lasts and then makes about four phone calls! It’s fair to say he is not really there for the football, but he was a nice enough fella.

At one point the cameraman comes and stands right in front of us and the immediate crowd goes wild thinking it’s their time for global stardom.  Emmerson takes the opportunity to audition for what seems a World Cup version of ‘Britain’s (Brazil’s) Got Talent’. He seems not to notice that the cameraman is really after clips of the gorgeous Costa Rican girls a row behind us. The cameraman eventually gets annoyed with my mate Emmerson’s gesticulations and moves away. Mind you that was more entertaining than the 0-0 game. Costa Rica top the group and then we hear that Uruguay have beaten Italy. England finish bottom of the Group D.  Los Ticos are now 50/1 with Unibet to win the World Cup eighth favourites – but they would give their eye teeth not to lose Luis Suarez!

But Suarez looks like he’s bitten off more he can chew this time – FIFA are sure to come down hard if he is found guilty of biting Giorgio Chiellini. And we’re offering odds of 100/1 that he bites someone else during this World Cup and 14/1 that Chiellini presses charges!

By the way, I meet Phil Neville at Belo Horizonte airport on the return trip back to Rio – he’s in the queue for food and I hear him asking for a pie… seriously… but he doesn’t get one and has to settle for a toastie instead. What isn’t true is that the lady serving him feel asleep while listening to his commentary of the toastie’s formation and performance.

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