Ok, so let's recap up to this point, as - from today - this here thing is going up on the TalkSPORT website as well as in my little corner of the inter web.
- Myself and Her Majesty's press pack following England are staying at a hotel on Copacabana beach called the 'Lemmy'. No one as yet has been Killed By Death (in joke for headbangers only)
- I've done my Graham Taylor impression on our coach travels at least 10 times, and at the moment everyone still finds it funny.
- My early morning broadcasts with journos from my room here in Rio caused a rumpus as the whole floor was woken by our rich insight into the game. Ahem. The organisers have since found me what resembles a 'panic room' to work from that will disturb nothing except perhaps my own psyche
- The mantra of the tour so far is variations on a theme of the line "We are flying down to Rio!!" from Roxy Music's 'Virginia Plain', which John Richardson from the Sunday Express started off and is now firmly stuck in my brain.
Today's variation on that was initially "We are f*****g stuck in Rio!!", as a snap strike was apparently being called by airport workers here as we prepared to set out for Manaus 2 days ahead of England's opener. Thankfully, as I type, I'm sitting at the departure gate and it seems our 0730 flight is on schedule. Others, including two down to São Paulo where Brazil play Croatia in a few hours, have been cancelled. That said, things don't look quite as chaotic as they might.
There are Aussies everywhere here, outnumbering even the locals as they mill around the concourses, hoping to get to Cuiabá for their first game tomorrow night against Chile. They can't be far behind the Americans in terms of tickets bought by travelling supporters for this World Cup (US tIcket sales are far and away the highest of all visiting teams to Brazil).
I spoke with a couple from Sydney who are resigned to going home early from a group also containing the World Champs and the team they beat in the final 4 years ago, but they don't mind "At least we'll get to see Spain, the Netherlands and Chile!" they chirped with great enthusiasm. Bless em. We also shared our mutual love of Stan 'Skippy' Lazaridis (BCFC legend) who's out here with Mark Bosnich to cheer on his boys. Stan paid for his own flights a couple of years ago to attend a Blues dinner for the squad that attained promotion in 2002 - I'm sure none of the other players will dispute that the loudest cheer of the night back then was for Stan when I announced his name.
5 Chilean fans arrived at our gate in full-throated voice wearing red, white and blue plastic Gladiator masks. Different. They'd obviously had their 3 Shredded Wheat and went through their entire repertoire for our listening pleasure as we waited to be called...couldn't quite make out the gist of the lyrics if I'm being honest, but they might've snuck 'She Wore A Yellow Ribbon' in there ;)
There's almost no such thing as twilight in Brazil at evening time - the sun sets and VOOM!! it's dark almost instantly - but in the mornings it does seem to take a while for the sky to wake up. But soon, the mountainous landscape that flanks the runway comes into view and the first shafts of sunlight bring everything out in its own kind of pastel shade. It really is a wonderful sight.
The Twitter pedants are out in force at this World Cup, taking any and every opportunity to abuse, criticise and generally trying to provoke a reaction out of you that they can then brag about to their mates. I don't block very often - why give anyone the satisfaction? Your instinct also tells you who is utterly insignificant & thus who to ignore - others present more of a challenge as you can detect some intellect that's almost worth debating with. Mostly though, you just calmly shake your head about what's being sent in your direction. There are some really angry people out there...glad I'm not like them. If there's one thing the last 12 months of my life has taught me, life's too short to waste on negative energy.
Almost as funny as the Twitter pedants are those online who are convinced that they are a leading authority on your life situation and think they know everything about you. Some examples I've read recently are so woefully wide of the mark as to be laughable. As if my life is of any real interest to anyone else but those close to me! I learnt a while back on social media not to give too much of myself away - sometimes I read the drama in others' Facebook statuses or Tweets and wonder why they persist in being so open.
Shaun Custis from the Sun is sat next to me on this flight to Manaus with a dreadful cold and barely a squeak of a voice. No pressure if the same thing happens to the broadcaster alongside him whatsoever!!!!...hope he's ok. Can't be nice to feel ill thousands of miles from home, never mind thousands of feet in the air. Actually, we got talking (well I talked, he squeaked) and it turns out he's a huge rock music fan, bought 2112, went to all the Monsters Of Rock festivals, saw U2 at Derby Assembly Rooms and The Police before they were anywhere near famous. I couldn't even mark him down for his Pet Shop Boys anecdotes. Top bloke. I think the nostalgia trip at high altitude cheered him up a wee bit.
Coming into land at Manaus, we got our first look at the Amazonian jungle which surrounds this city 4 hours north & west of Rio. It's a staggering sight. Lush vegetation spreads as far as the eye can see in any direction, and then there's the Amazon river itself - cutting a huge swathe through the jungle landscape, more like an estuary than a river at times, such is it's untamed width. With such greenery all around, it makes you wonder how they can't grow a decent playing surface at the Arena Amazonia. But there you go.
We boarded our coaches to be told that the strike had hit Rio airport moments after we left on our charter flight - a major stroke of luck. However you have to think that we'll be on the wrong end of a similar decision somewhere down the road/runway in these coming weeks. Bet things are proper chaotic there now.
Preparations at Arena Amazonia are a little on the chaotic side having visited this afternoon as soon as I'd thrown my bag into my latest hotel room. The stadium itself is new and looks well constructed, although evidence remains in the bowels of the stadium of a lot if clean up and tidying work to do over the next 48 hours.
The pitch is indeed an extremely poor one. As poor as I'd expected. Very sandy in the left hand goalmouth, although not especially uneven. It looks marginally worse from our commentary position having dashed up a few flights of stairs to take a peek. It's certainly nowhere near World Cup standards - it's allegedly being sprayed green in the same way those first few pitches at the new Wembley were a few years back before they got things right!
I would imagine that, unacceptable as it is, England and Italy will be the luckiest two teams to use this surface. Others such as USA, Portugal, Honduras and Switzerland will probably find it worse for them if it cuts up as I suspect it will. Both Hodgson & Prandelli will doubtless be pressed for their opinion on it tomorrow. They may tread a diplomatic line, if only to stop the mayor of Manaus getting his knickers in a twist once again over adverse publicity for his city's stadium.