Wednesday, 27 October 2010

It is a thankless task, everybody knows. And it is more thankless at Santa Cruz than anywhere else. At Santa Cruz everything is more difficult.

Home games, which should of course be the easiest part, are gruelling enough. Getting to Arruda is easy enough. I can take the Boa Vista – Alto Santa Terezinha or the Boa Vista – Beberibe bus from just outside my house. And it’s nice enough outside the ground before the game too, with thousands of people congregated around the beer stands, singing songs and eating bean soup and chicken and bacon grilled on the barbecue ranges. The fetid canal that runs along the side of the ground is merely an eyesore, though it gives off a powerful whiff when the wind blows the wrong way.

You put it off and you put it off because the beer is cold and the sun is warm and also you know what’s coming. But when it gets to half past three there’s no putting it off any longer. It doesn’t make any real difference whether you are going on the arquibancada (the cheap seats) or up in geral (the even cheaper seats). The queue for both is the same and it is enormous, and the only police are down at the gate pushing everyone belatedly into line. Up here at the back of the queue, then, it’s pretty much a free for all – most days the line in front of you will magically grow by a few thousand people by the time you get to the gate.

As you go past the police you lift your shirt to show you don’t have a gun tucked into your waistband and then you go through the turnstiles where often a pushing and shoving match will have broken out because someone has tried to get in without a ticket. If you are arquibancada you are almost in your spot but if you are geral you will have to climb your way up a narrow staircase (maybe three or four people across) along with perhaps ten thousand other people, all of whom are in a terrific hurry to get to their places and watch the game. On big games I have seen women faint and children carried out and I have only survived myself by putting both my feet and my hands against the side wall and pushing back against the crush.

Then when going through the entrance that connects the tunnel that runs underneath the stands with the terracing above it is a good idea to put your hands in your pockets as many young recifense entrepeneurs see the crush and the crowd as an opportunity to replenish their stocks of wallets and cell phones.

But then you are through the gate and onto the rim of the huge concrete bowl with the big green brightly glowing space of the pitch below, and the favelas and the high rises lit up if it is a night game beyond that and the grey sea beyond that again, and the only thing you have to worry about is the foul flooded toilets at half time and the same crush again on the way out.

Oh and on your way home you might get robbed if there is an arrastão by one of the gangs of teenagers from Ibura or maybe Santo Amaro who call themselves Inferno Coral but are not really. And the bus you take on the way home – particularly if it is the Rio Doce / CDU that goes through Peixinhos and Complexo Salgadinho might get stoned by boys from Jovem Sport or just boys who have nothing really to do. You might if you are unlucky get to your stop with all the windows busted out and people bleeding next to you.

But if all this and no other bad things happen then you might look back and say it was one of the best days of your life.

Away games are difficult in a different way – they are different because you will have to travel six or seven or even seventeen hours to get to where you are going and then the same again on the way back. Unless you are rich enough to afford plane tickets or a car that is good enough to drive that far across cracked and dusty roads you will go by bus, and the bus will break down at least once. Sometimes it will break down more than once, and sometimes it will break down permanently and you will have to wait for three or four hours in a sugar cane field in the middle of the night until another bus can be found.

Probably Santa will lose and you will spend the entire six or seven or seventeen hours of the return journey wishing you were back at home in Norn Iron with your mammy and that she was just coming through the door now with a mug of Ovaltine and some chocolate fingers.

Then there is a fresher hell even than this which is to become a socio, which is a system whereby you give money to Santa and receive absolutely nothing in return. Or not absolutely nothing – you get half price entry and a nice plastic card to carry around, only if you´re a student or a teacher you get half price entry anyway and in any case you have to pay for the nice plastic card.

You do it because you want to help, but when you try and pay your montly subscription on the internet it doesn’t work and the ticket office is not open after games and often if you drive up to Arruda during the week it will be closed too, and you can’t pay by credit or debit card, all of which makes giving money to Santa Cruz while expecting nothing in return more difficult than it probably should be.

This is all a round about way of saying that on Thursday 28th October Santa Cruz will elect a new president, and that president will be either Sergio Murilo (who is the opposition candidate) or Antonio Luiz Neto (who is the candidate of outgoing president Fernando Bezerra Coelho and who is rather oddly campaigning on a “continuity” ticket).

This blog supports Sergio Murilo, not just because Fernando Bezerra Coelho has proven himself to be a marvellous politician but an utterly incompetent football director during his time at Santa, bringing the Seleção to Arruda while leaving Santa hopelessly marooned in Serie D and uncompetitive in the Campeonato Pernambucano.

More importantly, Murilo is the only candidate who seems to be concerned about Santa owing three months wages to its players and seven months wages to its other employees, including ticket office and laundry room workers and cleaners. The players can go hang, as far as I See A Darkness is concerned, because few of them can really say they’ve earned their cash, but to not pay minimum salary workers their paltry earnings for seven months is a far greater shame upon the name of Santa Cruz Futebol Clube than playing in Serie D will ever be.

NB: The Sergio Murilo pictured is not, obviously, the same Sergio Murilo mentioned in this piece, perhaps unfortunately, but the picture proved irresistible.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Brasão, Tutti, Menezes, Jackson, Leandro Cardoso, Paulo César, Gilberto Matuto – the flickering heroes and villains of Santa’s disastrous Serie D campaign are gone now, their memories as hazy as Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the phantom baseball players who came creeping in from the corn in Field of Dreams.

It is the strangest of diasporas. Santa have no proper football left to play this year and therefore no crowds and therefore no money, but with wages still to be paid on contracts that run until December or beyond. Renegotiation is a swift process –the day after the defeat to Guarany de Sobral the players are back at Arruda haggling over their exit deals, in return for which they allow their contracts to be cancelled and Santa freed from further obligation.

And then the players are off to points east, west, south and north. Brasão, who has moved to Vitória de Setúbal in Portugal, seems to have struck shiniest gold, switching running around like a headless chicken against Potiguar in the Estádio Leonardo Nogueira, or the Nogueirão, for running around like a headless chicken against Benfica in the Stadium of Light. It is an odd career highpoint for Brasão, whose CV until now has included stints in India, South Korea, Fluminense (Bahia) and Atlético Goianiense.

It is a sad moment too for I See A Darkness, for it looks now as though Ivan Fíel Da Silva will not be back at Arruda any time soon. For all his faults (referring to himself constantly in the third person, a penchant for De Jong-esque chest high kung fu tackles, not scoring very many goals) Brasão’s short time at Santa was nothing if not memorable – from his awesome debut against Sete De Setembro (scored one, created three, and thumped two against the bar) to his thrilling late double in the clássico against Nautico, without forgetting his constant chest thumping, Hulk impressions and tearful eulogies to Santa’s baying support. He will be missed, which is not something that can be said for many of ex-tricolor alumni over the last few years.

Many have gone in job lots – Tutti, Matuto and Osmar all found the triple-strength lure of playing for ex-Santa coaching prodigy Dado (Doogie Howser) Cavalcanti, Natal´s beaches, and the biggest cashew tree in the world irresistable and upped sticks for América, currently battling against relegation from Serie B. Far from ageless veteran Jackson, reportedly a major influence on the career of Garrincha when the latter was a youngster, couldn’t bear to be left out of all the fun and signed for city rivals ABC.

The lure of charque and dobradinha is strong – Dedé is another who has decided to stay in the nordeste. He will play for Icasa (Ceara), the team who battered Santa twice in a week back in 2008 and practically condemned O Mais Querido to the bottom division. Joelson has headed for Nautico, which shows that maybe Santa aren´t quite as far behind their Recife rivals as they might have thought.

It is an odd time of year for hundreds of players linked to teams eliminated from Serie C and D. These divisions become knock-outs in October, leaving players from the losing teams with time (if not a lot of money) on their hands until the state championships start in January. Their own impoverished teams rarely want them to hang around – it´s hard to pay wages with no gate receipts. And so they cast themselves into the footballing winds, usually being forced, rather than choosing, to take the road less travelled.

As for Santa, at the moment the future is youth, in the shape of unpolished diamonds Natan, Everton Senna and Renatinho. A few hangers-on still hang on – centre-back Sidrailson, who hardly played after coming back from China in mid-season, the permanently injured Léo, skittish midfielder Elvis, and Osmar, sent back from Natal with his tail between his legs after falling foul of transfer regulations that prohibit a player from playing for three clubs in the one season. Add to that the signing of Juninho Silva, who dazzled during Santa’s other disastrous Serie D campaign in 2009, and there are at least a few breadcrumbs scattered around an otherwise entirely bare cupboard.