Thursday, 16 September 2010

My heart – I thought it stopped, writes Amy Hemple in In A Tub, and sometime around 5.30pm on Sunday I knew what she meant. 5.30pm is important because it was about then that Guarany scored their second goal and everyone knew that the game was up and Santa were out of Serie D again, and not out of Serie D in a good way.

It started in a bad way – at about 11am on Saturday I crashed my car at the junction of Avenida Mascarenhas De Moraes and Rua Antonio Falcão, near the airport. It was mostly but not entirely my fault – the nose of the car was sticking out just a little bit when it was front-end scraped by a passing juggernaut. And then when I left the house at about 4pm the first thing I heard was, over the radio waves, the unspeakable Sport taking the lead against Guaratinguetá down in São Paulo. Perhaps I should have known.

In the absence of any real tragedy – the kind caused by the contracting of a terminal illness, the death of a loved one, the springing of a leak in the toe of a favourite shoe – the death of a football team comes as close as anything else to plunging us (at least those of us who care about football) into grief and mourning.

And why shouldn´t it? Football, or even sport in general, apes the great trick of life so very well, the one where we tell ourselves it´ll be so great when. It´ll be so great when I get promoted. It´ll be so great when I move into the new apartment. It´ll be so great when I shag Sharon Blenkinsop.

It´ll be so great when Santa win on Sunday, because then they´ll play at home again in the next round, and there will be another 55,000 people at Arruda, and what a day we´ll have, and we´ll be on the national news again, and then we´ll win that game, and after a few more rounds we´ll be out of pissing Serie D forever, and back playing (almost) proper teams in (almost) proper stadiums.

The only problem with it’ll be so great when is how we feel when we know when will not now come. Football dangles the carrot just as life does, and while we should probably be a bit smarter about it, and realise that footballing baubles and trinkets are even more transparently meaningless than promotions or apartments or Sharon Blenkinsop and her earthy charms, we aren´t, and that we fall for all of it is what makes life so very good when it´s good, and obviously, so very bad when it´s bad.

For Santa Cruz, now, it is very very bad, surely in fact worse than it has ever been for any middle to big sized football team anywhere in the world. The team are effectively bankrupt and next year will begin their third year in Serie D of the Brazilian Championship. Their season is over now in September (it has lasted eight games) and as there is no money to pay wages all the players will be released and a new team will be jumbled together in December in time for the Pernambuco state championship. The manager has already gone and Fernando Bezerra Coelho, el presidente, (once Santa´s Barack Obama, now more like Conrad´s Mr Verloc - he had an air of having wallowed fully dressed all day on an unmade bed) has said he will bring forward elections, as it’s time for a new broom (no we can´t is a good early bet for winning campaign slogan). Serie D itself is an Alcatraz of a competition from which there seems no possible escape. In short Santa have just been eliminated from competitive football for the year, have no money, players, manager or president, and not even that much realistic hope that things will be any better next year.

All this is very hard to understand or accept for anyone who cares about Santa Cruz Futebol Clube. While financial inequalities make it very difficult for teams from the norte or nordeste of Brazil to become powerhouses on a national level Santa are still a big enough name nationally – until recently consistently either a Serie A or top half of Serie B side – and famous for their huge support (as regular readers will know almost 55,000 turned up for Santa´s last home game, and the team have the highest average crowds anywhere in the country this year). On a regional level they are either the best or the second best supported club in the geographical three quarters of Brazil that lie north of Belo Horizonte (Bahia are their only real rivals).

But by 6pm on Sunday it was all over and I was standing by the side of the bus drinking one beer after another very fast and smoking cigarettes just as fast and staring at the long dirty grass around my feet and not thinking of anything at all apart from how awful everything was.

We had driven over a thousand kilometres to get here – here being Sobral, a mid-sized industrial town three hundred kilometres or so west of Fortaleza where on a spring (to the extent spring exists in the nordeste) Sunday like this the temperature tops out at about forty degrees in the shade. It had taken 17 hours. Now we will drive over a thousand kilometres and 17 hours back again. We left on Saturday tea-time and we will get back on Monday morning and all we have done in the meantime is sit on a bus and then watch a very bad game of football. Our team, which of course is Santa, has lost the game, horribly and miserably.

Really the damage was done the week before at Arruda when Santa, rampant at the time, let Guarany score a silly third goal in a 4-3 tricolor victory. This was then compounded by 30 year veteran coach Givanildo Oliveira commtting tactical errors best described as several years less mature than infantile – deciding to play for the draw with three centre halves and a six man midfield and only fly-weight forward Joelson up front. As a result Santa did not have a shot on goal and Guarany had about fifteen, of which they scored two.

Now all around me there are people – men – stumbling about and looking lost. Some of them are kicking things, some are swearing angrily. Some of them are very large and very black and wearing Inferno Coral t-shirts, which make them the kind of people from which most respectable Brazilians would run screaming in terror, and some of these men are weeping silently and without any sign of stopping.

What makes things worse is that this exact same thing has happened for the last two years – in 2008 it was at home against Campinense, when Santa were eliminated from Serie C (and subsequently relegated to Serie D). Campinense equalised in the last minute. Last year it was at home against CSA, when another draw eliminated* O Mais Querido from the bottom division. And now it is happening again this year, and no-one can really believe it.

Then it is time to get back on the bus. There is some fighting between the police and some of the people and a prone Inferno member is slung on a flatbed truck and rushed to hospital. There are flashing red police lights everywhere. And then finally we are clear of Sobral, and only a thousand miles (more romantic than kilometres) from home, and the last word on Santa can only go to Roger Angell, by way of AE Housman – the laurels all are cut, the year draws in the day, and we´ll to Arruda no more.

As for this blog – like Santa, it will keep on going, trying to get better, trying to escape from the Serie D of blogs, hoping that one day things will improve, not even that much, just a little.

* For those fortunate enough not to know much about such things, Serie D is structured like the World Cup – starting with group stages and moving on to knockout rounds. As such, and unlike most domestic league divisions, it is all too possible to be “eliminated”.

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