Tuesday, 24 August 2010

It has long been the view of this writer that suffering is good for the soul and makes one a finer and more rounded person. This would certainly be true in terms of suffering in a footballing context. Where is the space for the emotional growth of the Chelsea or Manchester United fan, his plump bottom nestling comfortably in his ergonomically sculpted flexo-plastic seat, politely applauding his team´s nth victory of the season and not troubling himself unduly over their handful of defeats, because he knows they´ll probably win next week?

This is a convenient argument of course because heartbreak and suffering seems to be rather a common leitmotif amongst teams to which I am drawn (most particularly Santa) and so straws must be clutched at and there must be some way of defending the loss of so much time and money (I hesitate to say the waste) following such doomed adventurers.

This is particularly true when it comes to away games. After many years and many long trips to watch many heavy defeats there is always a vague prescient feeling before setting off – so much money and time! The whole Sunday lost and you have to work tomorrow! Exhaustion, frustration, and thumping defeat! Don´t do it! You can still change your mind! But the voice is never listened to because if it was it would have been listened to already and the decision to go would never have been made and tickets would never have been bought.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it can be very good indeed, as it was on Sunday. Bus breakdowns and four hours of earsplitting forró notwithstanding*, this was the day on which all Santa´s dread and doom faded away, at least temporarily. 5,000 or more tricolores from Recife rolled four hours through the sugar cane plantations and floodlands of southern Pernambuco to see it and once inside it was duelling banjos as the raucous blue and white CSA hordes on one side battled it out with the invading tricolor army on the other. There were 15,000 in the neat little stadium and it did not feel like Serie D.

For once Santa did not disappoint. After a patchy start Jackson, Leo and Dedé began bossing the midfield. Jackson seemed to be trying to prove something - he had been booed off the pitch in Santa´s last game and had spent the last week dodging newspaper suggestions that perhaps at his advanced years dominoes might be a better way to spend his Sunday afternoons than football. Paulo Cesar, the skittishly nervous left back brought in from Santa Helena in Goias at the beginning of Serie D, suddenly became swashbuckling and threw himself happily into challenge after challenge.

But as always Santa were missing chances. The folclorico Brasão spent most of the game running around without the ball and shouting. Brasão puts one most in mind of the 80s comic strip where a man´s head is home to a gang of thirty or so little people who operate various switches and levers to make said man function and have meetings and arguments and power struggles which affect our hero´s day to day life. Sometimes the cool, calm professional athelete team are in control of Brasão´s head, sometimes it is the rag-tag shouty bug-eyed lunatic team. Either way, confusion reigns, most of the time.

Then Santa scored. Jackson crossed from the left and Joelson threw himself forward and his head hit the ball with the strength of an angry man walloping a punching bag and it was 1-0. That was fine until CSA equalised with a goal by aging local hero Catanha, who had been sacked by the club in pre-season for indiscipline then reinstated when they realised they couldn´t much do without him.

It was still fine though because after last week´s victory Santa only needed a draw, and anyway Confiança (who needed to win to eliminate Santa) were drawing against whipping boys Potiguar. The sun began to set and the game dwindled away – Santa were in charge but no-one was really trying that hard.

Then the stadium announcer bellowed out that Confiança were winning 3-0**, which meant a goal by CSA would eliminate O Mais Querido. Both teams redoubled their efforts. The Inferno drums beat out, everyone sang the lyrically excellent ooooh-oooooooh-ooooooh-ooooooh-Santa! without stopping, and in the last minute Paulo Cesar skipped into the box and was brought down. Brasão smacked in the penalty and the final whistle blew.

Predictiable pandimonium in the stands, and the team complied, running the length of the pitch and throwing their shirts into the throng. A minor pitch invasion ensued and Brasão led a victorious lap of honour. The celebration was worthy of the Libertadores even if the occasion was not – Santa´s achievement was to qualify for the second phase of Serie D. Which if nothing else might prove the vague point that was made at the start of all this – that the lower you sink, the more you value life´s small triumphs.

*More details of this journey can be found at www.yourlifeisanimpossibility.blogspot.com

** They weren´t – it was hometown mischief making. The final score was Confiança 2-0 Potiguar, which would only have been enough for the sergipanos if Santa had lost by two goals.

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