‘I didn’t breathe for the last 10 minutes’: how we watch the World Cup

Category: Beer Humor
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Photographer Christian Sinibaldi captures the joy and despair in British living rooms, as fans from Iceland to Iran, Serbia to South Korea, support their teams

When Christian Sinibaldi turned up at homes across England to photograph fans watching the World Cup, he was overwhelmed by every nationality’s hospitality. “And their food,” he says. “I’ve eaten a lot of crisps and beer, but also the traditional Brazilian dish of feijoada in north London, Mexican quesadillas and guacamole in Putney, and a lovely Moroccan tagine cooked on the barbecue in Letchworth.”

Sinibaldi sat with a fixed camera near the television screen and never asked anyone to pose: he didn’t need to. “Pretty much as soon as the match got under way, they forgot I was there.” He enjoyed watching the tension build. “Very few people left the room or changed positions throughout the game. They were glued to their chairs.”

It does mean that Sinibaldi has not watched any matches himself, because he has been looking the wrong way. “But I could nearly always tell when a goal was coming – I could see it in their faces.” There’s a reason he made time for the project this year: as an Italian, it’s one way of dealing with the fact his home side didn’t make the cut.

England 6 Panama 1


Cooper family, Milnrow, Rochdale, 24 June

Rick Cooper, 41, and wife Jo, 41, sons Leo, eight, and Aaron, four, Malc, 44, Alison, 72
Milnrow, Rochdale
Timing is everything at Rick and Jo Cooper’s house, where the family are on countdown for England’s second match of the tournament, against Panama. With excited shouts of “Half an hour to kick-off” drifting in from the garden, the smell of burgers on the barbecue waft into the front room where the floor is strewn with balloons, inflatable clappers and St George’s flags.

The country is in the early grips of a heatwave and little do the Coopers – grandmother Alison, 72, uncle Malc, 44, Rick and wife Jo, both 41, and their sons, Leo, eight, and Aaron, five – know that the sunshine will not be the only turn-up for England.

Stones’ header puts England 1-0 up eight minutes in. “I missed it!” says Rick, distracted by Aaron walking in with lunch. But no one misses goals two, three, four or five – including two Harry Kane penalties – all before half-time. “This is unbelievable!” Rick shouts. “Football’s coming home.” The noise from the boys’ vuvuzelas is deafening.

“The boys were too little for Brazil 2014,” says Rick, a Manchester United season ticket holder, “so I’m enjoying watching this one with them. I was obsessed with skiing as a kid. But France 98, where Beckham got sent off, that really got me into football and I’m mad for it now.”


His brother Malc says, “You always have that hope with England, and it’s always been dashed. I remember Gazza with the tears at Italia 90, watching that with my late dad. And Maradona’s hand of God in 86, watching that on holiday in Torquay, around a tiny black-and-white TV. The injustice of it. But we’re perennial optimists, and with this young team, there’s a different mentality.”

Their mother, Alison, is the only one who saw England triumph in 66. She says, “The country couldn’t believe it. My late husband, Henry, he loved the game. He always said: ‘If they play football, they’ll murder ’em.’ He’d have been thrilled with this one.”

Brazil 1 Switzerland 1


Kiki Machado and friends, Crouch End, London, 17 June

Cristina “Kiki” Machado’s house is a sight, and sound, to behold during the Brazil v Switzerland game, what with the yells of the 30 people squeezed into the living room, the guitar music from Kiki’s tenant Caco Barros (at front, glass in hand) and the green-and-yellow stars chalked on the pavement outside. “We drew six,” says Kiki (in hat), “because Brazil has won five times – we drew one more for luck.”

Kiki’s living room is packed out with her “north London family”, friends collected over 20 years in this country, from Brazil, England, Lithuania, Serbia and Italy. When she arrived, her godmother gave her the number of her best friend’s daughter, Luciana, who was living in London. She never called, but seven years later they met by chance in the local library at a singalong for their children.

“My family in Brazil said people aren’t celebrating there the way we are,” Kiki says. “It’s natural when you’re away from your country to find your people and cheer together.” She remembers as a child how everything stopped during a World Cup game, so when Martha asked if she could come home from school early for the match, she said, “Of course. Your teacher will understand.”

After their 7-1 defeat by Germany in 2014, Brazilians are approaching this World Cup with trepidation. “I’m in defence mode,” says Janaína Campoy, 44 (on right, wearing glasses). “That game was a tragedy. It came just as things were going badly for us politically and economically. We lost confidence as a nation.”

The self-esteem of an entire country seems a lot to put on 11 men, but they don’t let them down. After the match, they party until midnight, because that’s the Brazilian way to celebrate a draw. “When we won in 2002, that party lasted 24 hours,” Kiki says. “The hangover lasted a week.”

Senegal 2 Japan 2


Adama Karde and friends, Ancoats, Manchester, 24 June

The music and the chat don’t stop at Adama Karde’s city centre flat. Adama, 44 (in front of picture), a musician, came to the UK from south Senegal in 2008 and the green, red and yellow of his home country is all around his living room: on flags, posters and djembe drums.

Watching with his partner Neilum Singh, 43 (second from right), and friends Iain Dixon (far right), 40, and Lamin Conteh, 42 (far left), Adama cannot hide his excitement. “Senegal is like Brazil,” he says. “Everyone plays football. When I was a boy, my neighbour was manager of the local team. He taught me, too – I’m a good player.”

An early goal from Senegal superstar Sadio Mané sends them wild: the music and chants get louder, and the energy soars. When Japan equalise, Lamin booms: “It’s game on. Game on.” But when Japan equalise a second time, the mood deflates.

“I wanted more,” Adama admits at full time. “They got the opportunity to win, but there were a few mistakes. They need to change tactics now.”

For him, the World Cup couldn’t get much sweeter than 2002, when Senegal beat title holders France in the first game and reached the quarter-finals. He watched back home, crowded around a neighbour’s TV. “When Papa (Bouba Diop) pushed that ball inside, it felt as if we could beat anybody.”

Neilum agrees: “They love their sport in Senegal. Because people have limited access to technology, they’re forced to share a TV, sometimes outside, sometimes in a cinema. Watching football with West Africans is electric – it’s just fire.”

Morocco 0 Iran 1


Essakhi family, Letchworth, 15 June

Before most Morocco matches, Mohammed Essakhi, 54 (in cap), finds himself in the kitchen cooking nibbles for friends coming over. He’s a school head chef and caterer, focusing on Moroccan and Spanish food. For this game, his starters include hummus, tzatziki and stuffed peppers. The barbecue comes after, “because when there’s a football match on, we want to watch it”.

Balbair Chahal, 42 (pictured front left), works with Mohammed at the school; Phil Moore, 56, and Amanda Brosnan, 50 (centre), are friends and fellow Leicester City supporters. They watch the game with Mohammed’s wife, Rosalind, 56, his nephew, Kaeran Duff, 30, his son, Nizar, 16, who is training with Watford and hopes to go pro, and his daughter, Azza, 22 (far right).

The 1-0 loss to Iran is “a bit of a let-down”, because the team played well, says Mohammed. Azza points to an important difference: “Footballers in England are so famous – it’s good to see people from your own background compete on the same platform.”

“I would love Morocco to win,” Mohammed says, “but realistically, it’s not going to happen. What would really make me proud is seeing Morocco host the World Cup. We’ve been asking for about 20 years.” His best football memory is the 3-1 victory against Portugal in 1986: “I was still living in Casablanca, and I remember youngsters celebrating in the street. Nobody thought it would be possible. At that time, Africa had only two teams that had qualified.”

Azza, who recently graduated, is working in Morrisons, and is delighted to wear her Morocco shirt to work when the team play Portugal a few days later. “It was to raise money for Clic Sargent [a cancer charity for young people]; we pay a pound to wear the team shirt. It was a real conversation starter. That’s what I love about the World Cup: the unity. No matter what happens or what team you support, there’s a conversation you can have with anybody.”

Japan 2 Colombia 1


Nishi family, Acton, London, 19 June

Naohiko Nishi (on right) and his eight-year-old son Atsuhiko (next to him) have no special food or drink, hang no flags, have no good-luck rituals. What they do have is a Japanese guidebook to the World Cup, with detailed information about every player: how old they are, what kind of a player. This is consulted very regularly.

Today the Nishis – Naohiko and his wife Akiko (far right), their sons Atsuhiko, eight, and Takahiko, six (front right) – are watching the game with their friends Hiro and Shiho (on left), and their children Masa, 12 (on floor), and Iroha, nine (with giraffe). The children are keen footballers: Masa, Atsuhiko and Takahiko all play at the nearby Football Samurai Academy. Atsuhiko plays football three days a week, and says he hopes to play for Japan when he’s older. For him, the best moment of this game is Shinji Kagawa’s penalty, secured in the game’s sixth minute after a handball from Carlos Sánchez: “It was kind of scary before he took it – we were very surprised that we won.”

His father agrees: manager Akira Nishino was appointed just two months before the World Cup began. “To be honest, Colombia is much better than Japan. They got a red card, which was so lucky for us. Winning this match was a great moment – because in the 2014 World Cup, Japan didn’t get a good result.” Though they were the first team to qualify, Japan failed to make it out of the group stages.

For Naohiko, the joy of this competition has been watching Japan improve their standing on the world stage. “Japan didn’t join the World Cup until 1998. Only some of them played in Europe at the time – whereas now almost all the Japanese players play for Europe. The quality has got much better and their confidence has increased.”

The win against Colombia, and a subsequent draw against Senegal, will be hard to beat, though Naohiko still holds dear his memories of the 2002 World Cup, held in South Korea and Japan: he was able to attend the opening game – where he watched Japan draw against a “very strong” Belgium.

Iran 0 Spain 1


Shirin Azari and friends, Bromley, 20 June

If only Vahid Amiri, the Iranian striker, could hear the chant from the mothers, teachers and former students of Iyda, or the Intercultural Youth Development Association, a Farsi-speaking community in south London: “Vahid pa Talayii omide team e mayii (Goldenfoot Vahid, you are our team’s hope).” Sadly, his golden foot doesn’t save the day: Iran’s only goal in the game against Spain is offside and they lose 1-0.

It is a women-only party, organised by Shirin Azari (behind sofa, in white Iran T-shirt) with friends in Bromley. “We often get together for food and gossip and chat,” says her friend Pupak Navabpour, whose children learn Farsi at Iyda. Food is the focus at these events, and it is all set up before people arrived, “so you can eat with your eyes first”.

Shirin has made dolmas and Turkish burek, and serves them with rosebud and cardamom black tea brewed in a samovar, followed by gaz (almond nougat) and nabat (crystal sugar) on sticks. “That is what we do when ladies get together,” she says. “The group was singing Iran Iran by Arash, dancing and chanting in Farsi.”


“I think Iran are really good at defence, one of the best,” says Shirin, “but not attack. Even if they try to score, there’s nobody there; they keep themselves to their own goal.” Despite her criticisms, she is proud of her team, “because they don’t have the facilities or coaches that western countries have.”

Pupak agrees: “It was gutting that the goal was disallowed. They defended well and almost scored a few times – even though they lost, I think they did quite well.”

Pupak started taking Farsi classes as an adult when she realised she was beginning to struggle with her mother tongue. Now her children go every Saturday. “My youngest said, ‘But Mummy, I’m English.’ Even though I’ve spent most of my life here, I don’t feel that kind of belonging. When I watch Iran play in the World Cup, I suddenly feel that connection to home.”

Serbia 1 Costa Rica 0


Bogdanovic family, London, 17 June

On 17 June, Serbia won their first World Cup game in eight years. The more superstitious might have the Bogdanovics to thank for it: “We sit in the order we were sitting in 2010, when Serbia won against Germany,” says Deanna, 47 (on left). “We try to recreate exactly what happened that day, so we can win in the future.” Serbian snacks must be on the table and everyone must dress for the occasion.

Deanna and Brian, 47, moved to London 20 years ago; soon they will have spent more of their lives here than in Serbia. “Often you question where home really is,” Deanna says, “but the World Cup erases that feeling. I’m not usually into football, but the World Cup turns me into a completely different person. When we scored,” she says of the winning goal, “it was such an amazing feeling. I don’t think we breathed for the last 10 minutes.”

The only year-round football fan in the family is 15-year-old Vuk. Serbia haven’t qualified for the World Cup for more than half his lifetime, and he remembers being a small boy watching Serbia beat Germany. “Back then, Stojkovic was my favourite goalkeeper, and he saved a penalty. That was a proud moment.” His ritual during the game is never to jinx it by being overconfident: “Even if we were 3-0 up, I’d still keep my mouth shut until the final whistle.”

Iceland 0 Nigeria 2

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