Beach boys, Silkmen & pineapples called Pele

A mate recently put an advert up on a supermarket notice board.

“Dog for sale,” it read, before listing the pedigree of the animal. The price was £55 – a tenth of the true value. He then put the phone number of his 55-year-old work colleague, who doesn’t like dogs. He was inundated with calls and had no idea why.

I thought of that when I went for a run on the beach the other day. Word is that Brazil’s best girls come from the south, but I didn’t run into Alessandra Ambrosia or Gisele Bundchen sunbathing and looking for a big nosed Englishman to rub cream where their hands wouldn’t reach.

Bundchen: "Keep your hands where I can see them Mitten"

Nor were there donkey rides or stalls selling rock, though I did see a stall selling pineapples called ‘Pele’ – probably the world’s best player, who changed his name to ‘Pele in Association with Mastercard’ sometime in the 90s when he began travelling the globe and telling local journalists that the star of the local team in whichever city he was in was his favourite player in world football.

Back down on the beach I witnessed several games of football taking place as the massive Atlantic waves crashed nearby. I wanted to play so I stood at the side like a kid in a playground, wearing nothing but a pair of Manchester United shorts.

After a few minutes, a lad beckoned me over to join in. “Manchester,” he didn’t say, pointing to my shorts. “Colin Bell, The Kippax Street Stand, Forward with Franny and The Junior Blues.”

“That’s City,” I replied, correcting him. “They’re the other team from where I am from. I support Manchester United. Clayton Blackmore, Russell Beardsmore and Darcy Glazer?”

The lad shrugged, said that he’d never heard of "Unite" and beckoned me to play. Brazil are frequently World Beach Soccer champions and I was asked to play in a holding role in a rigid yet attack-minded 1-1-3 formation.

What actually happened was that one of the players called me “Neville” after a bit and it stuck. Unfortunately. And not least because Gary and I see eye-to-eye like Bosnian and Serb tennis fans in Melbourne.

The lads varied in age, but their skill level was outstanding: one touch passing, flicks and outrageous tricks. They reminded me of the Macclesfield Town team which won the Conference in 1997. I was a bit out of my depth, but I enjoyed it, as I did the last time I played Beach Soccer in Colombia 18 months ago.

Beach football in Brazil: A lot like mid-90s Macclesfield

Three of us had been in neighbouring Venezuela for the Copa America and we were at the end of the trip. My two travel partners were perfect for a journey to some dangerous parts.

Both were street-wise, wily, well-travelled and boxed – one had been a heavyweight in Northern Ireland, the other was more like Sugar Ray and was not unknown to the authorities.

Problem was, when a guidebook said: “Don’t go to Parque whatever as it’s very dangerous,” they took that as a challenge to go. Then I’d look the fool for being hesitant as we walked through the supposedly dangerous area and weren’t shot at.

They were in their element playing football, where locals called us "The English" to the annoyance of the Belfast boy.  

And I’ll never forget one kid coming up to us. He wasn’t mithering, but wanted to tell us about his friend, Wigan’s Ecuador international Antonio Valencia. It was mad hearing a Colombian say "Wigan Athletic."

But then try telling a Colombian that Oasis wrote a track called ‘Colombia’ only 20 miles from Wigan.

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