Friday, 20 August 2010

This is really the wrong day to start. It is the wrong day because on Sunday Santa beat Potiguar, from Mossoro in Rio Grande Do Norte, 2-0 (see previous article). So if you start reading today you will think that it is normal for Santa to win their home games, that Santa are pretty much like any other football club, that there really isn´t much that is interesting to write about Santa. But before Sunday Santa hadn´t won a home game in the Brasileirão (the Brazilian national championship) in two years, during which time the team were relegated from Serie C to Serie D. During the same period, an average of about 30,000 people per game turned up at Arruda to watch Santa lose.

Of course it´s not that unusual – there are plenty of big teams with big support who have struggled terribly and ended up in the lower divisions of their respective leagues where they find themselves playing teams that have their dressing rooms in portakabins and are sponsored by the town mini-cab firm.

But perhaps Santa feels worse because everything around the club feels worse. Peter Robb wrote that the nordeste of Brazil is the largest gathering of poor people in the Americas, to which I would add that Arruda on match days is the largest gathering of poor people in the nordeste. People beg outside the ground to be able to afford the very cheap tickets and there are lots of young boys inside with no shirts and no sandals. The great crumbling bulk of the stadium rises up like the spaceship in Close Encounters of The Third Kind out of a sea of favelas. The club are R$70 million in debt and cannot often pay players wages. Last year they were sued by a group of former players for millions of reais in unpaid salary and were ordered to sell off the floodlight towers and team bus.

Four years ago Santa were playing in Serie A against Flamengo, São Paulo, Internaçional and the rest. On one memorable Sunday they beat a Corinthians team featuring Tevez and Mascherano 1-0 at a rambunctious Arruda, part of a run of four consecutive victories. But then they were relegated and then they were relegated again and then they were relegated again and now they have spent two years in Serie D and it doesn´t seem like they will ever get out, unless it is by shutting the doors one last time and admitting that it was fun while it lasted but well, everything good comes to an end. As Tom Zé puts it sadness has no end, but happiness ends all too quickly.

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