Flint can check World Cup trip off bucket list

Former Gloversville High School boys’ soccer coach Jim Flint always wanted to see a soccer game in R

Former Gloversville High School boys’ soccer coach Jim Flint always wanted to see a soccer game in Rio de Janeiro.

He got his wish last week, as he and childhood friend Jim Davis took in three games at the World Cup.

“One of my bucket-list dreams was going to Rio de Janeiro,” said Flint. “The other was, if I ever got there, was to watch a game at Maracana Stadium.

“As soon as I found out Brazil got the World Cup, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to go?’ The problem was finding someone else who would be interested in going.”

That problem was solved when Davis came on board. Next up was the matter of obtaining tickets and putting together an itinerary.

“Initially, when I started looking, the prices were crazy,” Flint said. “For a place to stay, meals and getting around down there, it was going to cost something like $10,000 for a five-day period. And that didn’t include airfare.

“We got in touch with someone who said he could get us a place to stay, air fare, everything, for half of that.”

Flint, who ended a 30-year coaching career in 2002 when he became an administrator in the Gloversville district, and who retired five years ago, put his name into the FIFA ticket lottery.

Flint was more than happy when he was notified he would be going to the France vs. Ecuador at Maracana and Belgium vs. South Korea at Sao Paulo group games, plus a second game in Rio, a round of 16 contest between Colombia and Uruguay.

“We got all three games we wanted to see,” said Flint. “Especially the two games at Maracana.”

After an overnight flight, Flint and Davis landed in Brazil at 7:30 a.m. on June 24. They rented a car to get to their hotel, a drive that would introduce them to an idiosyncrasy of Brazil’s highways.

“We had looked at MapQuest, and it showed a little over two hours to Rio, then a little less than three hours to Sao Paulo,” Flint said. “It turned out that with traffic, getting to our hotel was more like 41⁄2 hours.”

Once they reached their destination, they got an introduction to Brazilian street signs.

“The street signs aren’t anything like we’re accustomed to. They don’t have street names, but names of sections of the city,” said Flint. “And the connecting roads weren’t really connecting roads.

“Once we got that figured out after Day 2, we got around really easily.”

Flint and Davis drove to their first game.

“When we got there, you couldn’t get to the stadium in your vehicle. You had to park and take the metro. I guess it was a security thing, and made it easier to control the crowd,” Flint said.

“The metro was fine. If you had a World Cup ticket, you got to ride the metro for free.”

The metro — like the stadiums, the Fan Zone and city streets — proved to be another multicultural experience.

“There were people from all over, dressed in their countries’ colors, with their faces painted. The atmosphere was very festive,” Flint said.

“Once they realized we were Americans, people came up to us, wanting to practice their English. I have a limited knowledge of Portuguese, and my friend speaks Spanish. We worked it out.”

One thing the two Americans were not looking forward to was the round-trip drive to Sao Paulo and back for Thursday’s game. Fortunately, they found a reliable local who was willing to serve as their chauffeur.

“The best thing we did,” said Flint. “He got us there, and was waiting when the game was over.”

Upon arriving at their seats in one of the upper decks at Estadio do Corinthians, Flint and Davis were engaged by some Belgian fans, who had informed them that the U.S. had qualified for the round of 16. That led to some good-natured banter.

“They told us that if the U.S. finished second [in its group] and Belgium finished first, we would have to face them in the next round,” Flint said. “They said, ‘You know what happened last time,’ knowing full well Belgium won that game, 4-0.”

The duo had their best seats of the week at Saturday’s Columbia-Uruguay game, getting an up-close look at one of the two goals scored by Colombia’s James Rodriguez.

“We were way down in front, in the corner of the field right where Rodriguez scored one of his goals,” Flint said. “We couldn’t have had a better view.”

Flint said the week in Brazil opened his eyes.

“You always hear that Americans are not well-liked around the world,” he said. “We saw nothing of that.

“And there was never a time where we got the feeling of ‘Uh, oh. We’d better get back in the car.’ ”

Flint had also heard the stories of how the venues, especially those built for the tournament and the 2016 Olympics, weren’t ready.

“The stadium in Sao Paulo is one of the new ones, and it’s not completed,” he said. “The walk from the metro to the stadium was about 20 minutes. Some parts of the stadium had metal scaffolding and wooden steps.

“But as far as having an impact on the game, the ability to see the game or get in and out of the stadium, it was nothing like that. There were no obstructions, no issues in the way of seating. You could see perfectly from where you sat. The impact on the game was very minimal.”

The trip also gave Flint an appreciation for the emotional investment other countries, especially the host nation, have for the sport.

“We watched the Brazil-Chile knockout game on the beach with 100,000 people. That was incredible,” said Flint. “Nothing can relate to it in this country. Every single person was hanging on that game as it was being played.

“Usually in Copacabana, traffic is bumper-to-bumper all the time. Around 20 minutes before the game, it was like they closed the streets.

“Everybody was in front of a TV, watching the game. When Brazil finally won the game on penalty kicks, it was almost like it wasn’t just a spontaneous celebration, it was more like, ‘Oh my God, we got through.’

“This was something I never knew if I would get to do. But what an unbelievable experience. It was very special.”

Categories: -Sports-

Leave a Reply