This week saw me muffle up and head to Wembley Stadium to watch England play Brazil. It’s often said that football is the new religion and as I stepped off the tube and into the 88,000-strong crowd it was as if I was being swept back in time to when I visited Nepal’s Pashupatinath temple for the holy Shiva’s Night festival.
It all came flooding back. The long, dark walkway towards the inner sanctum lined by food stalls issuing pungent smells. A cluster of striking architectural features lit in an other-worldly glow. People jostling and besieging me for money (albeit to buy black market tickets rather than for baksheesh). Music playing, drums beating, men chanting, dancers in outrageous headgear and whiffs of wacky baccy.
And there, at the end of the Olympic Way, was the god of English football himself. While Nandi the giant bull presides outside Pashupatinath, here was a double life-sized statue of Bobby Moore bathed in golden light. I didn’t see any flowers or offerings at his feet, but I can’t imagine that cuddly toys and other trinkets aren’t left here from time to time.
You might guess from this that I’m not a regular football fan. But I rate a visit to Wembley a must for the experience and emotion alone. I was lucky because on this occasion I saw some elegant footwork and high drama, especially when Joe Hart saved Ronaldhino’s penalty. Plus there was the rarity value of England winning against Brazil for the first time since 1990, with a score of 2:1.
I’d always imagined it would be impossible to get hold of one-off tickets for a Wembley match. But you don’t have to subscribe to bag one for a “friendly” such as this. The whole evening was quite uplifting and I walked away with a spring in my step, knowing it was an event I won’t forget – just like Shiva’s festival, another February night some years ago.