“Do you play?” inquires Pedrinho.
“Sort of,” I offer. “I have an unusual style.”
I decide not to elaborate further. More detail about my limited, rugby-esque, head down, rarely pass, commit-lots-of-fouls football technique surely wasn’t necessary at this stage.
“The tournament’s tomorrow. You’ll be on the Jamaraquá team, don’t let me down,” he adds with a smile.
In the meantime the inhabitants of this sparsely populated rubber tapper village on the shore of the Tapajós river, a tributary of the Amazon, have another soccer matter to worry about – the Copa América.
South America’s answer to the European Championships, this tournament is a big deal in Brazil. For weeks leading up to the event, the chat is about little else.
Poor performances have left the team needing a win or a draw against Paraguay to stand a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.
The generous family I am staying with invite me into their compact sitting room-cum-bedroom to watch the big game.
Nine of us cram into the sparsely decorated, mud -floored affair, where a television is the only luxury item. No matter how poor the family, in Brazil there’s always a TV.
The atmosphere is tense. Brasileiros are expressive, passionate folk and every pass is greeted with a roar of pleasure or a cry of anguish.
With a minute to go, the small crowd is near silent as the gold and greens find themselves trailing 2-1. The unthinkable prospect of losing to lowly Paraguay is becoming a possibility.
Even the small chicks perched in front of the TV are quiet. But then, with just moments to spare, a bloke called Fred slots the ball in the back of the net.
“Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooolllllllllll,” screams the commentator.
The family erupts. The chicks start pecking incessantly.
I am relieved. The win means the locals are in buoyant mood the following day for the village’s own tournament on a patch of sand about 100 metres from the river.
The rest of the players are all trainerless, but I take one look at their mangled feet and decide to stick to footwear. I don’t fancy trekking through the jungle on crutches!
Despite being late in the day it is still lung-burstingly hot and within 20 seconds I am puffing more than a chain-smoking dragon.
The locals seem unaffected by the heat. Being Brazilians they all want to be grevista (striker), which is fine with me. As the token, cumbersome Englishman I happily become the solitary stopper.
I think I do an adequate job of getting in the way and causing a bit of a nuisance for the opposition, although on several occasions I am humiliated by their skills.
In between games I am kept cool by a constant supply of cold beer which, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to improve my performances.
Let’s just say I’m not expecting a called from the manager of Flamengo anytime soon, but at least I didn’t make a howler.
After half a dozen 10-minute games everyone crowds around one of the goals for a penalty shootout. For some inexplicable reason they turn to me, the defensive (ahem) brick, to take the penalties (I suspect they just want a good laugh).
My tactic is to thump it as hard as I can.
This is surprisingly effective for the first four attempts but my final effort sails way over the bar – bringing back memories of Chris Waddle’s 50th row shocker in World Cup ’90.
Still, in the end no one seems to care and after a few more beers with the Brazilians I take the best post-match shower I’ve ever had – in the Amazon basin!