Mark Steel: Hairdresser's basement beats Brazilian bar for authentic Samba sensation

Fan's Eye View
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The most spectacular venue for watching the World Cup, probably throughout Britain, is a Brazilian club in the West End of London, where a thousand glowing yellow Brazilians samba through the match, including half-time, which means they manage to dance to the beat of Mick McCarthy's expert comments.

This was the perfect setting for the match against Chile... but I couldn't get in.

So I rushed to a tiny Brazilian bar in South London, with room for 30... but it was full.

So they sent me to their "overflow" room, a basement under a nearby hairdresser's they'd opened for the football, where the screen was a tablecloth, on which the game was shown from a projector held by a string basket dangling from a hole in the ceiling.

Two teenage lads had been put in charge, and they broke at least seven world records for confusion. "Can I have a beer?" I asked, confusingly. To help I pointed at the dustbin full of beers next to them. "For beer," one of them said, "you must go downstairs, then we come and take order for beer, then we come and fetch beer from bin and bring to you."

Downstairs the screen froze around every 15 seconds, so it felt as if Sue Barker was about to say "And what happened next?" before revealing "Let's take a look – yes a giraffe wanders into the centre circle." Then the lads would come down and take orders for beer while standing in front of the tablecloth and the 12 of us tried to follow Robinho's runs into the box on the backs of their trousers.

Each time one of the lads reached the top of the stairs, they'd come straight back down to the front of the screen, impressively unaware of the game and say "Sorry, I forget your order," until you expected him to return with a hoover and say "Lift up feet, we must tidy room."

The 12 of us there included Lucian and his family, who made the mistake of ordering food, which set in motion a series of journeys back to the main bar, and each time the lads returned they'd say "Sorry what you order again, I forget?" It was during one of these consultations that Brazil scored the first goal, and to his credit, as the Brazilians screamed and danced and chanted "Bra-sil Bra-sil", he carried on without missing a beat to tell Lucian he'd run out of meatballs.

Then the screen went blank for a whole minute, and it felt this must have been what it was like watching the World Cup in the 15th century.

As the second half began the lads ran backwards and forwards along the pavement between the two buildings with plates of food, each time arriving, then saying "Aaah no, no" as they realised they'd brought the wrong thing, and running back again, so that if they were making a Brazilian version of "Fawlty Towers" the director would say "Tone it down a bit, that's TOO incompetent."

But somehow, even through the flickering interrupted images it was clear Brazil were becoming Brazil. As they dominated every aspect of the game the huddle expressed the sentiment unimaginable to English supporters, of utter assured confidence. It doesn't occur to them that they might lose. There are no shrieks when it comes near their goal, and Dora, whose entire being including her fingernails were painted yellow, green and black, led the singing of "Loleo loleo Bra-sil". I asked her what "loleo" meant, thinking it must be something like "The spirit and freedom of our people", and she said "It is Brazilian for 'Olé'.

As the game neared its end there came a process I've witnessed before with Brazilian football supporters, where the different bits of drumming and singing and whistling from inside and outside come together in one joined up rhythm, as if a conductor's arrived and made them into an orchestra. And this rumbles up to the final whistle, even if it's only 1-0, like a Brazilian version of the last moments of New Year's Eve. Because for them winning is certain, just as no one assumes at a Hogmanay party that a commentator will say "Oh my goodness, that's a dreadful mistake from the calendar and we've gone straight through to January 2nd. What a disappointment."

Then outside the samba drummers drummed, and Dora led the mesmerising dancing. In the West End the carnival will have begun, but maybe the more authentic Brazilian spirit was here, making a semi-carnival on a grubby South London pavement, led by the multi-lingual glamorous dancing Dora, who had to be up at five to start her job as a cleaner.

And even as people drifted away a voice could be heard saying "Did someone order the chicken?"