“It was extraordinary,” Marivaldo Francisco da Silva, gesticulating rapturously, told FIFA.com after returning from Sao Paulo, where he received the FIFA Fan Award. “It was a moment I will remember every day for the rest of my life.”
Yet Marivaldo, who won the prize for walking 60 kilometres to every home Sport game, wasn’t rhapsodising over receiving the prestigious trophy from an 84-times-capped former Brazil midfielder. He was talking about stepping on to a plane for the first time in his 48-year existence.
“I’m poor – I’m not complaining because I’m happy, but I’m poor,” he explained. “I’ve never had the money to dream about buying a motorbike, yet alone a car. I never even dreamed that one day I would fly on a plane. It’s something way beyond someone like me.
“It was better than my wildest dreams. I remember walking up the steps. It felt like slow-motion. Then when I stepped on to the plane it was extraordinary. What a feeling!
“It was different to how I imagined. The moment you take off is thrilling. The views up in the air were spectacular too.
“I remember getting off and walking towards the airport, I was trying to take everything in but I just kept thinking, ‘I’ve just been on a plane flight’.
“We got picked up and taken to the hotel. What a hotel! It was state-of-the-art. All posh, stunning paintings on the walls.”
Marivaldo’s trip was about to get better – a whole lot better.
“You know how much I wanted to receive the trophy – you must be sick of me asking you about it (laughs). Even though I won the FIFA Fan Award, holding it in my hands was something I desperately wanted.
“Obviously [COVID-19] stopped everything. I would have been at [The Best] FIFA Football Awards with Cristiano Ronaldo, [Lionel] Messi, [Robert] Lewandowski. That is my biggest dream – to one day go to the FIFA Awards ceremony.
“But we couldn’t travel and that’s the way it is. I was worried I wouldn’t get the award, but then suddenly I got a phone call telling me I would receive it in Sao Paulo.”
Marivaldo travelled to the metropolis with two members of Sport’s media team. Unbeknownst to them, FIFA arranged for former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich ace Ze Roberto to hand him the prize.
“Just before I was going to receive the award someone from Sport told me a former professional player would be presenting me with it,” said Marivaldo. “I thought, ‘Really cool’, but I thought it would be a lower-league player, someone I’d never heard of.
“Suddenly I saw Ze Roberto coming towards me. I froze. Ze Roberto is someone I have watched on TV, playing in the World Cup, and there he was in front of me, Marivaldo. I couldn’t believe it.
“I was very emotional. I had to try hard not to cry. It was difficult to get my words out. But he was really nice to me. What a wonderful guy. Everyone at FIFA was so nice too.
“Ze Roberto gave me the award. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Since I was announced as the winner by [Ruud] Gullit, I have thought about that incessantly. It was the best day of my life. This was the next best and I can’t stop thinking about such an unbelievable day.”
“From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank every single person who voted for me. I can’t tell you how grateful I am. Things like this don’t happen to people like me.
“I didn’t start walking to Sport matches for any of this, for any fame – absolutely not. I did it because Sport is my biggest passion and it was out of necessity. I didn’t have the money for the bus fares and, besides, I think walking is one of life’s big pleasures.
“But flying on a plane, staying in an incredible hotel, and being presented this beautiful award by no less than Ze Roberto… that one day was worth ten years to me. It was beyond anything I could have imagined and I will remember it every day for the rest of my life. Thank you. Thank you everyone.”