Five of us arrive at the magnificent Maracana by taxi. Three men, two women - all of us football fans. It's only an hour away from kick-off on one of the biggest derby days of the Brazilian football season.
Vasco De Gama are playing Flamengo and we need tickets. There are hundreds of boisterous Vasco fans in white shirts. We must stand out as foreigners. A couple of fans come over and ask in English if we need help. They are genuine but the atmosphere is intimidatory.
We find the ticket office but there are two queues; a very long one and a short one. We join the short one until a local who speaks English tells us it's a big mistake. "You'll be on the lower level and people will throw things on your head". We join the end of the long queue, behind at least 200 people. This turns out to be a bigger mistake.
Our backs are against a high steel fence while high up in the stadium behind us are a group of Flamengo fans waving one arm in the air whilst grabbing at their crotches. The insults are aimed at the river of Vasco fans down on the street in front of us. We're stuck between the two.
Mounted policemen decide to arrest someone and gallop down the street after him. I notice we've taken up a defensive position around the two girls. Our arms are folded and chests puffed out, as are all the men in the queue. It seems we've subconsciously reverted to our caveman days.
Two gunshots are fired from behind a tree to our right. I can't see who holds the gun but I see the smoke rising into the leaves. The fans above continue their goading; in front of us bangers bang and batons crash. More horses clamber past. A massive explosion just a few feet away sends smoke and debris into the air. I'm deaf. I notice we're all cowering, when we realise we puff out our chests again.
A policeman in riot gear appears and fires another stun grenade. We are stunned. Now we're ducking bottles. What can we expect inside the stadium? An ambulance fights its way past. Then suddenly they're gone. The white shirts have passed, the red ones above us are back in the stadium and the touts are in our faces again. One guy sells a ticket, undoes his shorts, fishes it out of his y-fronts and replaces it with a roll of banknotes. Nice.
The queue is moving again. We reach the front. They've sold out but have room on the lower tier (where they throw stuff at you). What the hell, we've come this far. A girl and her boyfriend behind us show us where to go. We follow them up a ramp, get frisked, go through a turnstile and there it is. The pitch. The Maracana. One of the greatest stadiums in the world, once the largest stadium in the world. Our mood is transformed.
The atmosphere is carnival. A maelstrom of colours swirl in the floodlights, the sound is overwhelming. Completely renovated, the Maracana is all-seater and is full to capacity. The teams are out. Eighty-eight thousand feet stomp on concrete and the stadium vibrates. We grab a beer and a seat each (you can sit where you like) near the half-way line.
Kick-off. Vasco in white have swagger. Flamengo in red and black (like AC Milan except in horizontal) look less confident. Who do we support? We look around. Seems we're in the red end. Come on Flamengo!
The beer tastes tinny but it's ice cold and we're in the tropics. I notice nobody in this section is drunk. The banners above us swear allegiance. A player is booked, the crowd sing something in Portuguese to the tune of "the referee's a w****r". Guess that's globalisation.
The man in front sits on the back of his seat. I can't see but don't complain. Flamengo miss a chance. The man in front turns and screams his opinion at me. I wave my arms in agreement. We're friends now.
The referee makes the first of many bad decisions; he sends off a Flamengo player. Ridiculous. Forty thousand men, women and children loudly question his parentage. Why do people want to become referees? They shoot referees in Brazil, or is that in Colombia or Mexico? Half-time and it's 0-0. Flamengo are rubbish in front of goal.
It starts to rain. A tropical downpour descends like a net curtain in the floodlights. It doesn't obscure one of the strangest spectacles I have ever watched at a football stadium. An old man (looks about 80) steps onto the turf and begins to do keep-me-ups. He walks the full length of the pitch, turns around and walks it again. He does this for the whole interval and not once does the ball touch the grass. I'm told he has being doing this for forty years then I remember they showed him on Soccer AM once.
The breeze on the pitch doesn't reach the back of the stands, it must be 35 degrees in spite of the rain. We hardly notice, our senses are overloaded. The deep concrete ditch that protects the pitch from the fans is now a moat. Second half, everything is drenched. Vasco score early. I realise we're not segregated. Should I worry? Pockets of fans in white sing and dance and wind-up those around them. The man in front watches them quietly. When they have finished he begins to sing and is joined by forty thousand others dressed in red. The sparring is merely musical.
The sendings-off continue, six in total. Must be a record. Vasco score again. My friend kicks his seat, his friend waves at God for help. Not this time. It ends 2-0. What a game, what a night.