Andy Smith at Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
All photos courtesy of Andy Smith, unless otherwise noted.
Let’s just assume we’ve all had enough on-the-road experience to know the grind of typical traveler small talk: “Where are you from?” or “How long are you traveling for?” we mechanically ask each other, most of us just on the same backpacker trail with a few detours. This isn’t the case when it comes to Andy Smith, or, as he’s known on the road: Smudger.
The 35-year-old Englishman has spent the last five months on a 5,500-mile whirlwind assault, dubbed Smudger Samba Cycle, to all 12 stadiums in World Cup host cities spread out around Brazil. With the world’s largest sporting event now in full swing, the lifelong Watford FC supporter is finally getting off his bike to attend all of England’s matches.
The journey’s wide media buzz has helped Andy spread the word on his commendable charity campaign, as he raises donations for Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and Watford FC’s Community Sports and Education Trust. In the words of Smudger himself, “they both provide community sports-based projects for people that need activities, training, education, and positive aspirations.”
I had the opportunity to meet up with the football-crazed fan in Salvador, where he joined me on my free walking tour. And now I’m chatting to him again as he approaches the last leg of his bike journey in Manaus. You can read more of his stories on his blog.
SF: You’ve kind of become a mini-celebrity in some parts of Brazil. Is it strange being recognized? And let’s be honest, are you tired of answering the same interview questions yet?
AS: Yeah, I’ve been recognised a lot when cycling on the day or two after leaving cities where I had local, or even national, media coverage. It’s weird, because I’m just a normal guy from England, so nothing like this happens to me back home. But I’m really glad the Brazilian people like my journey. And, no, I’m not tired of answering questions yet. I just hope I get across how amazing Brazil is to people reading about it for the first time.
You said you knew Brazil 2014 was your dream World Cup before even stepping foot in the country. Why?
I think it’s fair to say that this country loves football more than any other, so combine that passion with the beautiful landscape, people, music, and culture here, and how can it not be a dream location for any football fan? I can say for sure that every World Cup host city is different in unique ways, so the fans will love exploring whichever destinations they visit.
You used to call yourself a Management Accountant. Do you ever think about your desk back in London?
I’ve been told a lot that I’m ‘brave’ to quit my job in London and travel across Brazil alone, but I think it’s the most sane decision I’ve ever made. I wasn’t happy doing what I did before, so I made a radical change in order to do something that I’m passionate about instead. So no regrets at all.
You’ve stayed in an abandoned ‘horror-movie’ house, a fairy castle, and, ‘by accident,’ you stayed overnight in one of Brazil’s infamous love motels. Tell us what really happened there.
Some days I don’t know where I’ll stay overnight until I get there, and so sometimes bizarre things happen. The love motel was hilarious, since I twigged what it was whilst checking in but carried on anyway since the sun was setting, and therefore I didn’t want to cycle any further that day. I felt very self-conscious pushing my bike — ironically named Legover at the time — along the corridor to ‘our’ room, but once inside I decided to make fun of the situation and started posting photos and comments on Facebook, which got lots of replies from friends around the world.
You seem to be good at finding yourself in some weird situations, like being in a religious cult theme park and a town crazed for UFO spottings. What’s the oddest thing you’ve encountered so far? Did you join a cult or see any UFOs yourself?
I think the oddest has to be the religious community at Vale do Amanhecer because they’ve created such a unique and colourful place with all the strange buildings, costumes, and ceremonies. I’ve never seen anything else quite like it. And I may be unfair to call it a cult, but since they apparently recruit new members by bringing homeless and ex-alcoholics here, then I think there’s a form of brainwashing going on, since it’s easier to make desperate people into believers. No doubt they have a better life here, though, so I’m not criticising.
So you’re currently single. Do you think all the international media coverage might have boosted your dating profile when you return to London?
I doubt it, since no one apart from family and friends seems to be taking much notice of my adventure back home, judging by the charity donations so far. Also, I doubt the bushy beard is helping my image with the ladies.
How do you feel about Brazil’s preparation for the World Cup? What are your expectations for the tournament?
Let’s be honest, the preparations are far from ideal. I was pretty shocked by the unfinished stadia I witnessed in Curitiba, São Paulo, and Cuiabá, but the main issue is the related infrastructure around the stadia that hasn’t materialised in many host cities, which is a great shame. However, the international fans arriving soon won’t know any different, and they’ll have an amazing time in Brazil enjoying the fantastic cities, carnival atmosphere, and exciting football.
Is England going to win?
England will lose on penalties in the quarterfinals, as per usual. I predict a Brazil versus Spain final with the Europeans breaking the hosts’ hearts by retaining the trophy.
There’s been lots of controversy around this year’s Cup. Despite that fact, can you feel the football fever gripping the nation?
Of course I’m here to celebrate this World Cup, so it’s been difficult to see people protesting against it, but during my journey I’ve learnt a lot about the reasons for these protests. And of course I understand their fundamental argument that it cost far too much public money to construct the 12 stadia. But I really do feel the excitement building now amongst the vast majority of Brazilians, and hopefully the political debates can be put to one side for the next month, and everyone will come together to enjoy an incredible World Cup.