For Germany and Argentina, it was a tough journey to the iconic Maracana stadium, with a long qualification process and six games in Brazil required to reach the Final. For England fan Hugh Thompson, the passage was somewhat more arduous. In his 25th country and approaching kilometre number 25,000, the sight of the historic stadium in Rio de Janeiro was overwhelming for him. Thompson had been cycling for the best part of a year, fundraising across continents in order to touch down in Rio in time for the FIFA World Cup™.
“My last day I think was 170km and to see the Maracana in the distance was incredible,” Thompson told FIFA.com in Rio. “My last 50km coming through the favelas, coming up the main road, it was amazing. Having been through 25 countries and to finally finish - with my mate waiting with a couple of beers - it was a great moment.”
Thompson must have felt something akin to the German and Argentinian squads, rolling up to his final destination after a long and sometimes torturous journey with thousands of kilometres and hours of hard work behind him.
“When I was a young boy, there was always those dreams of going to Brazil,” Thompson recalled. “Even just seeing [the Maracana] from a distance, it’s the most incredible place. I was very lucky in that I managed to get to the quarter-final game [between France and Germany]. When I went into the stadium the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.”
Speaking in April, when he was completing the final legs of his journey in South America, Thompson thought the global finals would “remind people why we love football”. Now, in amongst the Brasileiros in their native country, what is his verdict?
My last day I think was 170km and to see the Maracana in the distance was incredible.
“There was a lot of negativity leading up to the tournament and perhaps at the start,” Thompson said frankly. “I think it’s a credit to what the Brazilians have done for that to be forgotten and for the country to get behind the team. They weren’t necessarily a great side and they have done well to get where they finished and got the country behind them. I’ve loved every minute of being here and the atmosphere has been incredible.”
The cycling football coach has relied on “the incredible kindness of strangers” throughout his epic travels, and upon reaching his 25th and final nation, he has seen more evidence of the goodwill of the human spirit.
“The whole country, the kindness and warmth of Brazilian people is amazing,” Thompson said. “I think I’ve paid for one night’s accommodation and I’ve been here for nearly a month and a half cycling through. They’re just incredible people, their passion for football, even when they lose, is amazing.”
Thompson’s own generosity is something of a marvel too. On completing such a mammoth task, raising thousands of pounds for football education charity TackleAfrica in the process, most people’s thoughts would instantly turn to rest. But this football fanatic, like most supporters after a World Cup has concluded, has his sights set on the next major tournament. Thompson has certainly earned the right to have a squad with him on his next journey, having cycled thousands of kilometres alone across six continents for his recently-completed task.
“I’m planning to run to the UEFA EUROs. It’ll be ten marathons in ten days for the Bobby Robson foundation. I want to do it for each club he played for or coached, wearing the shirt of that particular side. And hopefully I’ll be able to get some people to come and do it with me!”
You can still donate to Hugh's cause at: justgiving.com/ride2rio2014.