Sunday, 30 January 2011

Brought up on the old maxim that two’s company, three’s a crowd, Recife’s bizarre love triangle takes some getting used to. Blues v Glens, City v United, Galo v Cruzeiro – cities divided down the middle like a big fat sponge cake, the haves and the have nots (and never wills), that’s the way it should be.

But throw a cuckoo into the nest and things get more interesting. By rights Recife should be Sport and Santa, the two clubs with the biggest support and the greatest rivalry. Nautico, despite being the oldest club in the city, are something of an afterthought, with their cute little doll’s house of a stadium nestled in one of Recife’s leafiest bairros amidst Japanese restaurants and juice bars. Nautico’s supporters are apple cheeked and bursting with well-fed health, and their torcida organizada, Fanautico, would fail to quicken the pulse of defenceless little old ladies even in the darkest of alleys.

It’s all a far cry from the wild west arquibancadas of Arruda. Interest in this Sunday’s clássico dos emoções, as the Nautico v Santa derby is known, is so high that there is talk of moving the game from the cosy confines of Aflitos to Arruda’s wide open spaces. They can’t do that, protests a Barbie (Nautico’s not entirely favourable nickname) loving friend, what about the Nautico supporters? I suppose Nautico would be the home team still, I say, and get the majority of the ground. Oxe*, says the Barbie, do you think I’m going to Arruda? Are you mad? Scruffy Beberibe, where Arruda lies, is a geographic mile and a cultural universe away from Aflitos.

In recent years Santa v Nautico has fallen down the pecking order of Recife clássicos. Nautico v Sport (the clássico dos clássicos) has claimed top spot as Santa have tumbled into Serie D and Nautico and Sport have battled together in Serie A. The clássico dos multidões holds eternal sway for the pure, unabashed hatred that swills amongst the Santa and Sport hordes, and of course the accompanying ultra-violence. Santa and Nautico sometimes has a feeling of being o clássico junior.

But not this year, in what is quickly shaping to be the most tumultuous Campeonato Pernambucano of recent years. Stirred by Sport’s quest for the hexa (six championships in a row) and Nautico’s obsession with preventing such feat (Nautico are proud owners of the only previous hexa back in the 1950s), cash has been thrown around like it’s Monopoly money. Sport have signed Wellington Saci, Carlinhos Bala, former Nautico goalhanger Bruno Mineiro, and have Marcelinho Paraiba on the way. Nautico have grabbed chubby goalkeeper Douglas, storming defensive midfielder Derley, Eduardo Ramos (ex Sport midfield tinker), and Palmeiras midfielders William and Deyvid Sacconi. There has even been talk of bringing back former Sport defensive dreadnought Durval, earning Serie A wages as a Santos first team staple.

Even with all this largesse, Santa’s motley crew of journeymen have rolled off six wins on the trot and lead the table, while Sport have struggled mightily. Nautico started slowly but seem to be clicking into gear, which makes this afternoon’s game all the more gripping. Timbu have more on paper, while Santa hope stout hearts will make up for fragile psyches and ill-fitting boots.

The first clássico of the season always causes a tingle in the bones. Out in the early Sunday morning with the dog and the streets of downtown Recife have a rare freshly washed feeling, as if even the city has made a bit of an effort. It’s still cool enough, though by four this afternoon the air will feel like hot soup and Aflitos will be bouncing. As you might expect, this particular albatros has never seen Santa win at Aflitos – a 2-1 defeat in 2007, no game in 2008 due to Santa being unable to qualify for the second round proper of the Pernambucano, a 2-2 draw in 2009, and two defeats in 2010, one in the league phase, the other in the semi-final knock out stage. Slim pickings, as always.

And so while the cariocas and paulistas may rouse themselves from their early season torpor for São Paulo v Santos and Flamengo v Vasco today, the most fun to be had will be in the nordeste, where Ceará and Fortaleza butt heads in Fortaleza, and where in Recife Santa will cross fingers and toes, once again, and hope for just a little bit of validation, or at least that if defeat comes it’s not too wrenching.

It probably will be, though. It usually is.

* Only slightly infuriating nordestino expression of surprise.


  1. Wonderful post! 'Dreadnought' really is the perfect description of Durval!

    Great blog, keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks Jack, I´ll put a link to your blog on here, liked it! If you wanted to put my blog on your site list too that would be great, it might boost my miserable hits total. I also write on Brazilian football for The Dirty Tackle (the Scottish not the American one), have a look there if you've time. All the best and keep in touch.

  3. Have added a link on my blog now!

    Até mais!