Friday, 21 January 2011

On summer nights in Recife the windows are left open against the heat and the sound of radios drifts down to the street. The same radios play from taxis idling at traffic lights and beer and cigarette stands on street corners, and the huts of dozing security guards and night porters. On Wednesday nights from January to May the radios are tuned to the local news and sports stations, JC/CBN and Radio Clube, and carry news of the night´s football and of the adventures of Santa Cruz and Nautico and Sport in the Pernambuco championship.

This year it is not just on Wednesdays. Due to the Planner´s Dream Gone Mad that is the fixture list of the Pernambuanco this year, Santa Cruz and Sport started their seasons on Tuesday last week, played again on Sunday, again on Tuesday, and again last night (Thursday). Nautico played on Tuesday and Sunday and Wednesday and will play tomorrow (Friday). No joke when opponents away from home include Petrolina (734km from Recife), Araripina (690km) or Salgueiro (518km), which might mean a game on Tuesday, a Wednesday travel day, and a game on Thursday. Temperatures in the sertão can hit 35 degrees or higher in summer.

Such a schedule remembers baseball, as does the romance of listening to sports on a crackly radio – forty four New England stations poured out the news from the Fenway...Maine lobstermen pulling their traps of Saddleback Ledge called the news of the previous night´s game from boat to boat through the foggy dawn air. The moderator of an August town meeting in Andover, Massachussets, interrupted a hot budget debate to cry, ‘The Sox are leading, 2-1, in the sixth!”. Three hikers descending the Brook Trail on Mount Chocorua, in New Hampshire, caught the afternoon score from a transistorized ascending climber.* But football is not baseball, and footballers run a lot more than podgy outfielders. Pernambuco physios and medical departments are puto da vida (really quite angry indeed).

Radio has not always been a friend to Pernambuco football. In the 1940s Rio based Rádio Nacional began to broadcast the games of Flamengo and Vasco and the other Rio and São Paulo giants across Brazil. This did not overly concern torcidas in Recife and other capitals of the norte and nordeste, where Santa and Sport and Nautico (and Bahia and Vitoria and Remo and Paysandú and so on and so on) were long established and possessors of massive popular support.

It was a different story for the often very poor residents of the interior. The vast distances from the sertão to the capital meant that in those days Recife could seem as remote as Rio. There was no special bond with the teams in Recife, and the lure of Garrincha and co and 200,000 crowds at the Maracaná (jumping forward a bit) was strong.

The results can be seen today. According to recent supporter polls (a great favourite in Brazil – when dubious** market research showed that Sport had more supporters than Santa the unhumbles from the Ilha Do Retiro erected a giant billboard commemorating the fact) 54.8% of the population of Pernambuco, or 4.82 million people (such research assumes that everybody supports somebody) follow Santa Cruz, Sport or Nautico. Which means that almost half the population of Pernambuco supports a team from outside the state. And the vast majority of the outsiders dwell in the interior (with apologies for lexicographical ironies).

It was this that governor Eduardo Campos spoke of earlier this year when launching the todos com a nota free ticket campaign. Todos com a Nota can bring the poorest supporter to the stadium, he tubthumped. We know that football is an important part of the culture. In the interior, this means the prescence of our supporters in the stadium. We need to bring this to the masses, because it reflects upon our own self-esteem. In the nordeste, only Pernambuco continues to mount strong resistence. We are in a trench, and we need to be an example with the growth and valorisation of local supporters supporting local teams. Those of European bent might be more used to such words coming from the mouth of a man with a moustache, beret, bicycle, stripy shirt, string of unions around his neck and machine gun in his hand. If it was 1944.

Tricolores will not care terribly about any of this upon waking to a rainy Recife this morning. Last night a goal from Thiago Mathias (as previously mentioned, captain, inspirational central defender and joint leading Santa goal scorer – if he strongly resembled a menapausal housewife there would surely be no separating him from Steve Bruce) gave O Mais Querido a squeaky 1-0 victory over Araripina in the sertão. After four games Santa are now two points clear at the top, and more importantly five ahead of Sport and eight ahead of a floundering Nautico. Radio Ga-Ga!

To close, a tribute to JC/CBN´s Santa commentator, Aroldo Costa, describing Santa´s goals against Ypiranga last Sunday.

* Roger Angell. Who else?

** Brazilian footballing headcounts generally involve a man standing in the street asking people who do you support?, meaning that an 11 year old girl (with apologies to 11 year old girls) from Amapá (with apologies to Amapá) who has never been to the Maracaná or heard of Zico carries the same weight as a 20 year season ticket holder. Perhaps she should. I don't know.

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