“Excuse me can I have a fag at this station?” cackles a woman on the bench opposite, as I ponder my day ahead of me on the platform of High Wycombe station. “Erm not sure” I respond, having never set foot here before. “Well I’ll blame it on you if I get fined” came the reply. Charming. A typically British start to my day, but one that was to get a lot more cosmopolitan as I meander from station to station; Wembley Stadium my destination.
My phone pings in my pocket. It’s Brazilian national team journalist Rupert Fryer who I’m set to meet, for I am joining him on his typical day following some of the world’s most famous footballers around the globe.
“I’m running 30 minutes late”
“When you get to Wembley I need you to take some cool photos of the stadium. I want to set the scene.”
“I’m on it”, I reply. My first task for the day. I’m travelling to Wembley the day before England welcome Brazil to the national stadium, and it’s the visitor’s training session which I am reporting on.
I alight at Wembley Stadium station and begin my way to the ground, the historic arch a prominent beacon guiding me on my way. No need for Google Maps today. The bitterly cold winds fail to deter the travelling Brazil fans; every now and again flickers of yellow and green shirts and scarves catch the setting sun, contrasting with the monochrome London skyline that swallows Wembley Way. These are mostly punters hoping to get a glimpse of the team bus arriving and seeing their heroes in the flesh.
I too, am hopelessly scurrying around trying to find out where the coach arrives. After asking an assortment of black-tie FA representatives who shrug their shoulders before sending me on my way, I hazard a guess and pick my place by the South entrance. No luck. I gaze up to Bobby Moore’s proud figure standing tall above Wembley Way; a centrepiece on football’s most emblematic table. I imagine he is probably laughing at me in spirit, having looped around his figure a dozen times in my haste.
I soon see Rupert and we exchange pleasantries before heading into the concourse to avoid the cold. As I walk through the media entrance, the dynamics completely change. The composition of journalists is almost entirely Portuguese speaking, all surprisingly upbeat despite the jet-lagged, sleep-deprived demeanour, having spent last week in France.
“The last ten days I have worked 20-hour shifts” admits Rupert. “We started off in Paris, before moving onto Lille. After the match against Japan we travelled to London to train at Craven Cottage and now we’re here. I’ve not slept for five days!” he says with a wry smile before confessing, in his fatigued state, he also – accidentally – ‘did a runner’ from a small French café without paying the bill.
We are escorted pitch-side and met by the glorious Wembley floodlights illuminating the immaculate surface. There is a different vibe when the stadium is empty, an eerie silence seemingly in anticipation for the spectacles it holds. Brazilian legend of commentary Osires Nadal, who is treated like folklore amongst the journalists, takes his place pitchside. For someone who has cultivated a career at the Maracanã with the Seleção, I even catch him gazing ponderously and philosophically at the national stadium, which manager Tite later described as a ‘heritage site for world football.’
Training soon commences with some light work. The players bask under the floodlights, enjoying a game of ‘El Rondo’, a quick passing drill. Willian is the first to fall victim with a skewed pass, and the players surround the Chelsea forward, each flicking his ear in punishment, to their own enjoyment.
Neymar pleases the gathering by getting revenge on Gabriel Jesus – The Manchester City forward went viral for nutmegging the Paris Saint Germain star two days prior, but this time it was Neymar out for vengeance. One member of the Brazil media team, armed with a Go Pro, catches the moment on our camera in glorious slow motion as ‘Ney’ pokes the ball through Jesus’ legs before reeling away in celebration, howling in laughter.
Meanwhile, self-acclaimed ‘Brasilophile’, and reporter Jack Lang, marvels at Firmino’s use of ‘professor’ to describe boss Tite. It’s common terminology in Brazilian footballing dialect, and much like their style of play, is far more elegant than the contemporary English ‘gaffer’.
We are taken to the press room to warm up and to muse about who will be captain for tomorrow’s game. Tite has a unique philosophy of rotating the captaincy from game to game, which comes after friction was caused by stripping Thiago Silva of the captaincy during Dunga’s tenure. Dani Alves is the man to wear the armband, and he speaks to the media which now comprises of a mixture of English and Brazilian journalists. He brands Jesus as ‘the new Ronaldo’ (Brazilian) before being ushered back down the tunnel.
The cohort of journalists remaining carry on working tirelessly, each writing up transcripts like myself, or broadcasting live on radio and television across the world. There is a notable buzz about the place as people race to reach deadlines for their respective companies. Soon enough people begin filtering out as their work for the day is done. Now on the itinerary is food, sleep, then back to work tomorrow.
I walk outside and look back towards the stadium now fully illuminated in the night sky. Tonight, Wembley sleeps, but tomorrow 90,000 people will descend on London to watch some of the finest footballing talent on show.