Sunday 28 December 2014

Dion Fanning: Characters in host nations provide 'colour gold'

In Sun and Shadow – An Irish Letter from Brazil: Day 25

Published 06/07/2014 | 09:26

We call it colour gold. Those of us with diaries to fill are always on the lookout for those moments which can illustrate the tournament through an anecdote or at least get us to the end of the paragraph with a funny story.

During tournaments, we can walk into a room and tell immediately if we have uncovered gold.

In Germany eight years ago, my friend and colleague Liam Mackey and I got on an early morning train in Berlin, went to the dining car and saw what we quickly realised was the entire Croatian Federation heading out of town after their defeat to Brazil the night before.

Slaven Bilic was in one corner smoking moodily, other officials were unwinding.

We got talking, some of them wanted us to drink with them and took our refusal, even at that time of day, as something of a surprise.

We enjoyed the experience while all the time thinking that this was colour gold.

In South Africa four years ago, Daniel McDonnell and I ended up staying in the house of a woman who became our friend. We were treated like royalty but in her generosity she also provided plenty of colour gold.

One night, I was startled to hear some noises around 4am and, even though South Africa was proving to be a joyous host country, I was a little alarmed.

The next morning I mentioned this to our host and she was deeply apologetic, explained that her nephew and his friend were staying, had arrived home late from a night out and stumbled around on their way in. They insisted on providing me with a panic button.

The next day, a gadget the size of a cigarette lighter with a little red button on the top, the panic button, was handed over and it was explained how it worked. I could rest easy now, they said.

The security firm which patrolled this Johannesburg suburb would be on hand if I had any anxieties. I immediately decided I wouldn’t burden them with all my anxieties.

First they said they’d give a demonstration and the red button was pressed.

I assumed this was some sort of drill but seconds later, I heard a screech and the sound of a vehicle accelerating towards the house.

There was another screech and next thing six heavily armed men arrived, ready to deal with any emergency, looking like they were about to deal with any emergency.

After about two seconds, our host came out to the front yard where I was standing and explained to these men that she was showing me how the system worked, just to put me at ease.

To do this, it turned out, it was first necessary to terrify me. The men relaxed and I'd like to say I did too. But even in that moment of blind fear, I knew I had colour gold.

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