It’s well known that there is no second chance to make a first impression. That’s certainly true for the way I came to follow the World Cup.
I have a vivid memory, as an eight-year-old boy, tuning into black-and-white TV broadcasts during warm afternoons. The year was 1982. I had been a football fan for a while, and an important part of my sentimental education had comprised of learning by heart the name of every single player of the Lisbon team Benfica, and shedding tears with both their many triumphs and few defeats. But now I faced a problem: the most anticipated competition of all was about to start, and I had no national squad to follow. Portugal had failed to qualify; that bewilderment was my first impression of a World Cup.
I went through my formative years (rightly) thinking that the whole reality could be encapsulated in the dramatic tension arising from the clash between eleven superheroes (Benfica’s players) and their opponents. I felt no need to become a Star Wars geek or get interested in Marvel comic-book characters. For me, football matches provided all answers. Benfica became my idea of morality and, aesthetically, I believed that nothing could overcome Chalana’s dribbling skills or Nené’s swift pace. That’s the boy I was then, and still is a major part of who I am today.
In 1982, I was also facing a dramatic quandary. There were no Benfica players involved in the World Cup, so I didn’t know which team to support.
Before the start of the tournament, I had been religiously collecting Panini stickers as a way to navigate through a reality I couldn’t entirely grasp. Was it morally acceptable to suffer for a team other than Benfica?
I can’t remember exactly how I overcame this dilemma, but I know why I did. I was quickly delighted by the romantic approach that Brazil coach Telê Santana brought to the game. For an eight-year-old kid, nothing could beat the idea that the best players should be the ones called to play. With so many over-talented attacking midfielders on offer, Telê courageously decided to play them all together. I became a Brazil supporter.
By then, I had learned morals and aesthetics watching Benfica. Now, the time to learn some poetry had arrived. That was what I got from a team that romantically played Zico, Falcão, Cerezo, Sócrates, Júnior and Éder at the same time. Brazil ended up losing against Italy’s more cynical approach to the game. The tears that I cried that day most probably mark the last day of my childhood. But that was also a formative moment. I learned that defeats could look victorious, and the way I watch football today was defined.
I have to admit that, for me, football is essentially a team sport. Even now that Portugal regularly qualifies for World Cup finals (something that didn’t happen between 1966 and 1986), I cannot detach myself from my first impressions. I support the team that plays with the biggest number of current or former Benfica players. I still have to check, but it looks as if Argentina will be my team this time. And I keep searching for the magnificent romantic playing that Têle Santana offered to the world. That was back in 1982, but, to my childish way of following World Cups, it looks exactly as it does today.
*As told to Africasacountry. Pedro Adão e Silva is a researcher at the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa.