The German team celebrate their World Cup victory. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

After the World Cup final, the streets of Copacabana ran with urine and the bars ran out of beer

Even amid the camper vans and the seemingly anarchic raucousness of the beach, Sepp Blatter reigns supreme.

The World Cup ended, as it began, with angry white Brazilians calling for Dilma Rousseff, the president, to “stick it up her arse”. Or at least it did for about 30 seconds before Fifa’s propaganda machine got into action and banal synth-pop was blasted into the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the final surrender of this great stadium of the people to the corporatism in which the Brazil of Dilma and her Workers’ Party has been complicit.

The symbolism takes some working through. When the Maracana was built as the emblem of Getulio Vargas’s Estado Novo, it was conceived as the grandest football stadium in the world. It’s said over 200,000 packed in for the final game of the 1950 World Cup, people of all walks of life, rich and poor, professors and prostitutes, pickpockets and captains of industry.

It was a stage for Brazil’s self-projection. Now, tickets are so expensive, and distribution so controlled, that they are out of reach of all but a thin sliver of society. The populist, and in theory socialist, government of Lula and then Dilma, co-operated in the investment of huge amounts of money to put on an event that its natural supporter-base couldn’t attend, with the result that those who could attend, natural political opponents of Dilma anyway, were given a platform on which to abuse her.

Given the World Cup had become a focal point for dissent, the most obvious example of the corruption and cronyism that blights Brazil were effectively jeering Dilma during the final for having given them the opportunity to do so.

There had been talk earlier in the tournament that Dilma and Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, wouldn’t even attend the final for fear of the abuse they would receive, but both were there at the handing over the trophy - which, weirdly, these days seems to resemble Blatter; stick it in a suit and paint his head gold and it would be like Dr Evil and Mini-Me - even if the official cameraman seemed to be doing his best to keep the pair out of shot as Germany cavorted on the temporary stage.

Even more confusingly, Dilma’s popularity in the polls had risen from 34 per cent before the tournament to 39 per cent when Brazil won through their quarter-final.

Yet this was never an attractive or likeable Brazil side: led by the boorish Luiz Felipe Scolari, they played over-physical, cynical football and rode a tide of emotion that tipped into hysteria when Neymar suffered the back injury that put him out of the tournament. There was something almost comedic about Germany’s stony-faced professionalism amid the frenzy as Brazil’s stand-in captain David Luiz held Neymar’s shirt aloft before Brazil’s 7-1 capitulation to Germany in the semi-final. All those who insist that what England need is more passion should consider what happened next: no side has ever sung an a national anthem more stridently than Brazil did before that semi-final, and no side has then collapsed quite so spectacularly or brainlessly. Dilma will probably still win October’s election, but that humiliation will eat into her majority.

Along the beach at Copacabana the morning after the final, the vast caravan of Argentinian fans lay quiet. Some wandered over the sand, some boiled water on gas stoves, some sat on the steps of their vans or the bonnets of their cars. After defeat to Germany in the final the previous night, they were quiet, emotionally drained, their version of “Bad Moon Rising”, which had taunted Brazilians for weeks, notable by its absence.

What was up with Messi, wondered those who could be bothered to speak. Was he simply exhausted? Why had he started this season throwing up on the pitch? Given that he’ll be 31 by the time of the next World Cup, is that it for him and his hopes of following Diego Maradona in leading Argentina to the world title?

There was a sense that this was the true World Cup, these fans who had spent their savings to drive from Buenos Aires, just to be part of the event, knowing they had no chance of finding a ticket, or been able to afford it even if they had. Quite how many Argentinians decamped to Rio is impossible to say, with official estimates ranging from 100,000 to 200,000. What’s clear is that it was lots: they were nose-to-tail along the sea-front and they filled the sambapark with their camper vans. Occasionally, amid the swathes of blue-and-white, there’d be a flash of another colour. There were Chileans and Colombians, the odd Brazilian from outside Rio. One family, their car draped in dark green and red, had driven all the way from Mexico City, making the World Cup final the end of a journey across the continent that had taken three months.

For those of us who argue for football’s importance based on its universality, this should have been a scene of vindication. But Sunday night, after the final, was far from a carnival of nations. The streets of Copacabana ran with urine, bars ran out of beer and there was a sweaty fractiousness in the air. Actual violence was limited, but there were occasional clashes between Argentinians and Brazilians, angry enough to make you grateful that meant the two great South American rivals hadn’t met in the final.

And there is one final irony. The majority of those lining the coast road watched the final on one of the two screens on the beach. One of them had been erected by the local municipality, the other was part of the Fan Fest, a soulless monument to commerce, with face painting for £8 and bottles of Fifa wine for £126, that has been earning untaxed revenue for Fifa since 2006. Even amid the camper vans and the seemingly anarchic raucousness of the beach, Blatterism reigns.

Getty
Show Hide image

Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.