Monday, 11 June 2012

France and football often make for bad news

I have two issues with the French football team. One is that they beat Brazil to win the 1998 World Cup, and I hate them for that. The other is because they were partly responsible for one of my most nightmarish crime shifts from the time I worked at Jornal O Dia, in Rio.

Watching the Euro 2012 match today brought back memories of the 2006 World Cup quarter final, the match where Thierry Henry destroyed our dream of, well, winning the trophy yet another time.

It was July 1, 2006, a Saturday. I was working the weekend shift. This was a while ago, so I can’t remember exactly what time my shift started, but I think the match was scheduled to start at 3pm, Rio time.

I arrived in the newsroom, met the photographer and the driver, and the news editor, Hilka Telles (a crime-reporting genius – will write more about her soon), sent us all down to a French restaurant in Ipanema called Olivier Cozan.

The homonymous chef had set up a giant screen where he projected the game for a small Franco-Brazilian community, and I was supposed to cover their reaction to the match for that Sunday’s paper.

It was all going well - we were given some food, the guests were nice people, Brazil was resisting France’s attacks - until at 57’, Zinedine Zidane (known in Brazil as “Carrasco” or executioner) took a free kick. The ball found Thierry Henry and, subsequently, the back of the net.

I am a very proud Brazilian supporter and having to stand there, clutching my notepad, whilst the French guests (and our host) jumped up and down, was horrific. I couldn’t say a word, of course – I was working. I couldn’t drink either, but I may or may not have had a beer.

By the time the match ended, I was livid. The French were laughing at other Brazilians who happened to be there too, and like me, looked miserable. I went outside to call Hilka and give the news desk a quick update on the reaction, and was about to summon the snapper to go back to the newsroom. She picked up and I started reporting to her, and while I did, someone started shouting in the street.

A guy appeared out of nowhere, running after another guy on a bike, shouting “catch him, catch him, he’s got my bag”. Then this other guy standing next to me – he had been at the restaurant with his children and wife, watching the match – ran across the road and launched himself onto the robber, who was cycling on the pavement and got knocked off his bike. He hit the shutters of a closed shop on his way down.

By that time I had already scanned my side of the pavement to check if the snapper was there. When I looked again at the two guys, the robber had drawn a gun (looked like a revolver, but it all happened a bit too fast) and was about to get back on his feet.

That was about the time all hell broke loose. I was half perched behind a car, too excited to care whether the guy was going to shoot in our direction or not, shouting at my snapper “take a photo, take a photo now”.  The man’s wife was hysterical, and other people carried her inside with her children. What happened next, to my utter amazement, was that instead of taking pictures the snapper grabbed me (she was much bigger than me) and pushed me inside the restaurant too.

After the guy drew the gun, I’m not so sure what happened. There weren’t gunshots, as far as I can remember, but the guy who tried to be a hero probably had to run away for a while, because it took him about 10 minutes to come back to the restaurant. Unscathed.

I was inside for about two seconds, when I realised the news editor was still on hold on my mobile phone. She had heard the whole thing, so I explained what had happened. She asked me if everyone was ok and if the snapper had taken any pictures, and I had to tell her the truth. I got a little bollocking, even though it wasn’t my fault, but that was how Hilka rolled.

Looking back at it now, I probably should have at least hidden all of myself behind the car, but I don’t regret staying out and watching the scenes unfold at all.

I do understand the snapper’s reaction though. Photographers at Jornal O Dia risked their lives pretty much every day, and still do, next to lunatics (police and criminals) waving guns, and she probably thought it wasn’t worth it that day. I was angry for a while, but I don’t blame her for not wanting to take a bullet for nothing.

Half an hour later, we went back to the newspaper feeling deflated and upset. Brazil had been eliminated and we didn’t deliver what would have been an incredible front page story.

Even though I didn’t feel it at the time, I now understand her fear. But I sometimes still wish we had nailed that story and made that horrible day a little bit better.

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