Sunday, 5 September 2010

A week like any other at Santa only at the same time a week not like any other. Léo, the team´s most complete player, who last year stirred the loins of Botafogo and, surreally, CSKA Moscow, is injured and gone for the year. Brasão, to the relief of absolutely no-one, has declared himself “not jealous” of the three new arrivals from points south, Alexandro, Paulinho Pedalada, and Alysson. President Lula says he doesn´t understand why Santa are in Serie D, to which 40,000 or so tricolores might reply that it´s time he came to Arruda and took in a game, for then he would understand all too clearly. The club website announces with some kind of pride that wages have been paid on time this month. A players’ representative, with worrying humility, thanks the directors. And, most thrillingly of all, by close of business on Saturday Santa sell close on 40,000 tickets for today´s game against Guarany de Sobral from Ceará.

These are real ticket sales – Santa´s miraculous crowds (an average of 37,000 per game) in the same division last year were boosted by the government todos com a nota scheme, which gave out free tickets to anyone who could produce r$100 of shopping receipts. This was meant to provide a boost to the needier elements of Recife society, as well as giving a helping hand to the city´s football clubs, not to mention functioning as a type of tax inspection. But the tickets usually ended up in the hands of the touts who would sell them on for three or four reais.

This year the tickets have been replaced by electronic swipe cards and on-line registration, and as many Santa Cruz supporters are unfamiliar with the intricacies of modern technology take up has been slow. Less than 5,000 have registered, which means almost all the tickets sold for today´s game are legitimate sales, costing fifteen or twenty reais. More remarkable still is that they´ve been purchased in advance, for recifenses are not always slavish followers of forward planning.

And now it is Sunday and in a few hours the streets around Arruda – the ones that run alongside the stinking canal and the ones on the other side of the ground that are boxy and probably a little more sinister – will be thronged with thousands of men and women and boys and girls, and it is impossble now not to think of Roger Angell and his chronicling of the heaving masses that swelled the Polo Grounds in New York back in 1962 to watch the Amazin´ Mets –

Even before we arrived it was clear neither the city subway system nor the Mets themselves had really believed we were coming. By game time there were standees three-deep behind the lower deck stands, sitting-standees peering through the rafters from the ramps behind the upper deck, and the opportunist standees perched on telephone booths and linng the runways behind the bleachers. The shouts, the cheers, and the deep, steady roar made by 56,000-odd fans in excited conversation were comical and astonishing; just by coming out in such ridiculous numbers, we had heightened our own occasion, building a considerable phenomenon out of the attention and passion each of us had brought along for the games and for the players we were to see.

The Mets were terrble then and Santa are terrible now, but of course none of that matters, because the Mets (at least those Mets) and the Polo Grounds are long gone, and as for Santa, all the other teams in their division are terrible too, and Santa just might be less terrible than the others.

What does matter, again, always, is the crowd. The devotion and delusion shown by tricolores today and over the last three years has been more impressive than that of the Mets´ Go-Shouters – the Mets were a new team in those days, and without history, whereas Santa have a semi-glorious past to live up to, and the miseries of the current side might be taken as an afront to such past and used as an excuse to turn one’s back. Put shortly – there is more reason to be angry.

But that has not happened, and like Mr Angell says the prescence of the crowd creates its own phenomenon. Nautico won on Friday, and Sport, who seem to be gathering steam, won yesterday, filling the city with tootling car horns for a few hours. This Santa fan felt briefly vexed, before putting things in perspective – how trivial and foolish are such things as football results and wins and losses, for what matters, again, always, is the crowd.

It is the crowd that will thrill today, the size of it, that so many people want to watch a club that so little deserves their love but that gets it anyway. It is this that has always drawn me to football – how the game represents communities, cities, countries, in a way that lonely, self-adulating sports such as tennis and athletics do not.

Fifty or sixty thousand people will come to Arruda today and when they look around the stadium they will be amazed and be proud, and they will be proud of what they are part of, because they, one by one, have contributed to it, and very many of them are people who have difficult lives and do not often have much to feel proud of.

Note: Video clip of Arruda before the game can be found below - see link entitled The feeding of the 55,000 - no loaves or fishes, plenty of cachaça and charque

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