Monday, 16 August 2010


Night falls on Recife in a soft blaze of burgundy and ochre and once again Santa Cruz are staring into the abyss. The team have not won a home game in national competition in over two years and they are drawing now with Potiguar, a team from Mossoro in Rio Grande Do Norte. When Santa played in Mossoro earlier this year the game was delayed for twenty five minutes because someone had supposedly stolen electric cable from one of the floodlight towers, though no-one really believed the story and assumed that Potiguar did not have enough money to buy the cable in the first place.

Potiguar have not won a game in this year´s Serie D. Santa have won one and if they do not win today they will be eliminated from the competition because their main rivals, Confianca from the state of Sergipe, are winning against CSA, who have already qualified for the next phase. Serie D is structured like the World Cup though it is not like the World Cup in any other way other than that both are competitions that involve football.

There are about thirty minutes left and it is goaless and I make my way up to the very top of the big concrete bowl of Arruda and I look out over the city. From here I can see far away in the darkness the lights of Olinda up on the hill and also the docks and further out ships strung out along the horizon. Below me there are 30,000 people crammed into the lower deck of the stadium and all of them are screaming and staring up at the sky and crossing themselves and covering their eyes because they cannot believe that it is going to end like this again. I watch the ambulance crews racing round the perimeter of the stadium pulling out people for whom it has all become too much. In a spell of about three minutes I count six. The wind is swirling round the stadium and carries flurries of ticker tape back and forth above the players´ heads. The banners of Santa´s torcida organizada, the Inferno Coral, are hung upside down in protest at the team´s incompetence.

I have lived in Recife for three years and I have been watching football matches for twenty eight years and I have never felt so much desperation and so much love and so much hate for a football team in the one place. This is Santa's second year in Serie D and no-one can bear the thought of a third. The team have already missed a penalty and a hundred or so other chances and things are desperate so I risk a quick glance up at the sickle shaped moon and in that moment Elvis crosses from the left and Joelson heads home and the place explodes with a great gust of joy and relief.

Then comes the remarkable news that Confianca are first drawing and then losing to CSA. Towards the end Santa score another and two Potiguar players are sent off. After the second goal and then at the end the great gust of emotion comes again and then all of us, exhausted, head off to drink and talk and remember the game. Santa meanwhile have not achieved anything much except win at home against poorer opposition but perhaps that is achievement in itself.

Now they need only a draw against CSA in the last group game to qualify for the second round and after that they will need to survive four more rounds of knockout games and then they will be promoted to Serie C, which again is not much but is a lot better than Serie D which is probably the most awful and terrible and dispiriting and impoverished football competition in the world.

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