Night Crawler

Corner Kicks
It's Wednesday. 7:30 a.m. The Market Street crowds are deeply lodged in workaday muck. Battling rush-hour traffic with 16 ounces of hot caffeine wedged between their thighs, the commuters try to ignore the unusually warm early morning sun and the nursery-blue sky -- and the brightly clothed folks gathering outside the Bahia Cabana for the opening game of the World Cup. Brazil vs. Scotland.

"It's a beautiful day," says Paulo, a young recording engineer with high cheekbones and hair the color of rich clay, "and we will win the opening game. There is no question. After that, I can go to work with a smile on my face. If I go to work at all."

Behind Paulo, four female students stand in a tight cluster, looking like parakeets decked out in the bright yellow and green of their team. They, too, are adamant about victory, though their too-frequent smiles divulge coltish nervousness about the noneducational surroundings. Someone bellows "BRA-zil," which sets them to giggling excitedly.

"Soccer is like dance or gymnastics or martial arts," says Jo‹o, a 52-year-old language instructor with his country's flag proudly emblazoned across the back of his jacket. "It's arduous, but it can look amazingly fluid. It's a very exciting game to watch even if you don't win. But we will win."

In 1994, this block of Market exploded with music and dance as fans poured out of the Bahia after Brazil's World Cup victory. Women took off their shirts and danced topless down the street; men poured booze over one another's heads; strangers were offered beer and sweaty embraces, regardless of nationality, as drums beat late into the night. During that day, I stumbled into a throng of devoted English football supporters, surprised to find them grinning and swilling to Brazil's victory. The explanation was simple: Brazilians celebrate well.

"If you're going to support a losing team," was the sage council given me by a beery-eyed sportsman with a Coventry parlance, "it's best to lose to Brazil."

But don't say that in a roomful of Scots. Not on the first day of the World Cup.

"Scot-LAND," announces a kilt-wearing supporter standing in the doorway of the Edinburgh Castle. The word is spoken low, like a greeting between friends, or a quiet bit of advice. Rubbing a hand over his newly cropped hair, he flicks his cigarette into the street and steps inside. For the hundreds of devoted fans crushed into the dark environs of the Castle, tenacity must substitute for hubris.

"We haven't been in the finals since I was a girl," says Pip, an expatriate quite willing to lose her job as a waitress in order to see her countrymen play live. "You can have no idea what this is like for us."

A small handbill distributed by the Edinburgh Castle gives an idea: [D]on't miss the glorious Scots shocking the world with a footballing display that will redefine the game of soccer, and give hope to the millions of downtrodden, small, forgotten peoples of the world in their struggle for acceptance and glory. On the other hand, they'll destroy us, and we can resume our distinguished record of perpetual humiliation and defeat.

All eyes are riveted to the screen, mouths slack from concentration, pints clutched in hand, nearly (but not quite) forgotten. The strain is palpable, relieved only by group moans and bouts of bagpipe music. When Scotland ties the game with a penalty shot, there is an explosion -- pogoing, clapping, chanting, shouting, more bagpipes followed by continuous shouts of "Scot-LAND." After the tumult, the tension doubles. With the possibility of winning, a white-haired grandmother and a man with a flag painted across his face find themselves in a state of equally mute anxiety. Folks fortify themselves by slagging off the American sports commentators. And then ...

Then a Scottish defensive play unwittingly scores the winning point for Brazil, and the bal-loon bursts.

A stream of colorful profanities is hurled at the screen, but no pint glasses. Folks down their last swallows of morning lager and hurry off to work under a cloud of smarmy grumbling.

"We just gave it to them. The dirty bastards," says Jerry leaving for his house-painting job two hours late. "Oh well, fuck it. If we'd won, I wouldn't be going to work at all."

A derelict few soccer die-hards watch Morocco vs. Norway at noon, which leads in nicely to the Edinburgh Castle's evening festivities: "Mad Bevvy and Smart Words," a night of verbal soccer hooliganism organized by writer and bar manager Alan Black.

"I have only three words for today's match: Lucky. Brazilian. Bastards," begins Black with typical Scottish fractiousness. The largely soused crowd gathered in the tiny upstairs theater agrees heartily, waiting to plunge into reminiscence about real soccer culture.

The first to speak before this crowd is Al James, a Brit who excuses himself with a Scottish grandmother. Although his story is rich with hysterical wordplay ("Rarely has my flabber been so fucking gasted"), James' story has little to do with soccer culture. Still, it includes a lovely man named Billy the Cunt and a good, old-fashioned bricking, so everyone is well pleased.

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