The Dark Underbelly Of Brazil's Football Obsession

It might all be sold to us as dancing girls and thronging, singing crowds, but Brazil's obsession with their national team has a dark edge. It's all just a sad diversion...

Last Updated: 07/07/14 at 09:55 Post Comment

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Talk about pressure. Brazil don't just want to win the World Cup, they appear to almost physically and spiritually need to win it. They seem to be in a state of psychotic madness, so great is their lust to win it.

But what will happen if they don't win it? You fear for the players, you fear for the collective sanity of the nation. They want it so badly that defeat seems impossible and yet we know this Brazil side are merely surviving on the last fumes of past greatness, and defeat in either of their next two games is very possible, indeed quite likely. If they do get beaten there will not just be sadness, there will be fury. Nobody dislikes seeing a bunch of jiggling Brazilian's dancing into the night but the intensity over the football team is just too much. It is way, way over the top.

This is a country not unused to proper tragedies, ones where lots of people die and legions of people live in appalling squalor and without opportunity and hope. Neymar being injured ain't that. He also is not a 'warrior' as the President, doubtless touting for votes, called him. No warrior has hair like that, unless he's just dressed as a warrior on Top Of The Pops in 1982.

We see the fawning and vaunting of players in England, but nothing on the scale of deification that a star like Neymar has received. It is as though he is above the status of mere human. While he seems able to cope admirably with it, you have to wonder at the psychic health of those who would pour such worship on any man. It can't be some innate passion or love of football that drives this, it is something else beyond football.

The sight of the stadiums filled with yellow, giving the appearance of a giant bowl of lemony custard, is certainly an impressive thing, but this is off the scale expectations and demands. I know it's unfashionable to say it is 'only' football, and that to say that is to hugely understate the civic and cultural importance of the game. But, all the same, it IS just a game. Greater and more important things exist than Neymar's third vertebrae. At some point it's hard to think that Brazil haven't lost their collective minds.

This almost vicious football obsession is usually portrayed in our media with a few lingering shots of a beautiful woman dancing, giving the impression that basically life in Brazil is one long football-themed party where the drinks flow, the breasts are large, the hips are curvy and the thongs plentiful. It is sold to us as a good thing but if adults in England behaved in this kind of bonkers manner about football, we rightly condemn them as over-grown children who have lost perspective on life.

Of course, life isn't one long party at all for many millions of the Brazilian people. Perhaps that is why they're all so crazy for the football. Like drugs and religion, its main purpose is to take the mind off a terrible existence and the fear of your own mortality. The hysterical worship of and clinging to football and footballers is a consequence of the poverty and gross inequality. The football madness isn't because they're a nation of gorgeous dancing girls who like to party, dude. No. It's because life is awful and what else are you going to do when you live with, in or around heinous deprivation? It is very understandable but no less awful for that.

If Brazil win this, the nation will climax in a mass yellow orgasm of ecstasy, quite at odds in its scale to the importance of winning some football matches. But in being amazed by it, we shouldn't forget what drives it, nor forget about it as soon as the football road show leaves town. There's only so much you can or should care about any football team - Brazil's fans have crossed that Rubicon, and then some.

John Nicholson - he's on Twitter

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