Monday, 28 February 2011

Sherlock Holmesinho paced restlessly around the studio, occasionally stopping to examine some trinket or other that, given he had been enjoying Senhora Hudson’s excellent hospitality for a number of years now, he must have seen a hundred times or more.

“‘I’m bored, Watsão, so dreadully bored,” he moaned, peering out the window into the blazing summer afternoon for the twentieth time. Suddenly he stiffened.

“But wait,” he said, “I fancy I won’t be bored for long, for here comes something highly interesting, if I’m not very much mistaken!”

Holmesinho was right. A few minutes later a Senhor Gustavo Dubeux was announced. He was a thin man, with a pinched face that inspired neither trust nor confidence. Holmesinho studied him carefully.

“Don’t say a word, Sr. Dubeux. You have suffered greatly, I’ll warrant, and for a number of years. You have been accustomed to great success in your own, fairly limited field, and yet you feel snubbed and excluded at a higher level. Am I right?”

“Why, Sr. Holmesinho, you’re right. How the devil did you know?” Dubeux spluttered.

“Elementary, Sr. Dubeux. Your nose is rather elevated and yet your eyes have a downward cast, telling me that you are familiar indeed with the vocabulary of arrogance, and used to sneering at those less fortunate than yourself. And yet your back and shoulders are hunched in posture, suggesting tension and resentment, for clearly you are not as successful as you think you are or would like to be.”

“Exactly right, Sr, Holmesinho, you’ve got me down to a tee!” said Dubeux. “But let me tell you why I’m here. We are a wealthy family it’s true, by Pernambuco standards, and the pride of our household has long been a bauble we earned in 1987. And now,” and here Dubeux let out a heartrending sob, “it’s been taken from us. They’ve stolen it!”

“You refer of course, to the Campeonato Brasileiro of 1987, do you not?” said Holmesinho.

“Right again, Sr. Holmesinho”.

“And you say it’s been taken from you?”

“It has.”

Holmesinho’s face darkened. I have seen such an expression many times, and know that it means only bad tidings for those on which it is turned.

“Do you think me a fool, Sr. Dubeux? Do you think I have nothing better do to with my time than listen to such tales?” he growled.

“But what do you mean, Sr. Holmesinho? Why do you speak to me in such a way? Am I not the victim here?”

“No, Sr. Dubeux, you are not the victim, not by a long chalk. Even Sr. Watsão here can tell you that much. With one hand you take the money of the Clube Dos 13, and use it to bully your neighbours here in Pernambuco, and on the other you howl and complain about how our wealthy cousins in Rio torment and humiliate you.”

“But, but...” protested Sr. Dubeux.

“But nothing. Sr. Watsão will escort you out. Though before you leave, Sr. Dubeux, answer me the following, if you will. How can you be robbed of something that was never yours in the first place?” Holmesinho’s eyes glittered in triumph.

Now it was the turn of Sr. Dubeux’s face to darken. He had no reply to Holmesinho’s question. It was only a few seconds later, as he stalked away down the street, that we heard him muttering, as though possessed, the strange, meaningless refrain of cazá, cazá, cazá.

Holmesinho stood and watched him go, shaking his head sadly. And then he resumed his restless pacing.

“I’m bored, Watsão, so dreadfully bored.”

For those entirely baffled by the above, the backstory can be found here.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The writer of I See A Darkness sits on the sofa and reaches for another biscuit, while smugly patting himself on the back at the same time (the difficulty of which should not be underestimated). The reason for all this self congratulatory behaviour is that he is currently not standing in the drizzle in Caruaru watching Santa lose to Central, having driven two hours up the BR232 to get there and facing a further two hour drive back to Recife after. Everyone knows that not going to games like this is always the sensible option (the game is live on TV and Santa haven´t beaten Central in Caruaru in over seven years), but, like smoking, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs, the sensible option doesn’t always call the loudest.

Watching football on TV gives a different perspective to standing on the crumbling terraces of football grounds across Pernambuco. The first impression one gets is that Central are much better than Santa. This shouldn´t come as much of a surprise, given that a week or so Patativa humiliated O Mais Querido 3-0 in Recife, but cool critical judgement isn´t always that easy when surrounded by all the sturm und drang of a recifense football crowd. But Valnei is the best zagueiro in Pernambuco at the moment (closely followed by Nautico´s Everton Luiz), Wilson Surubim a coolly clever volante, and Danilo Pitbull, breaker of tricolor hearts last year while at Guarany De Sobral, a dangerous striker.

Santa, on the other hand, are fairly terrible. With lessened emotional investment the team’s failings become more readily apparent. The chief problem seems to be decision making – Santa players head into more cul-de-sacs and blind alleys than suburban teenage drug-dealers on mountain bikes. I See A Darkness considers offering his services as trainer/psychoanalyst, passing on such pearls as don´t pass the ball to the other team / don´t shoot from inside your own half / don´t just put your head down and run until you crash into the advertising hoardings.

Still it´s not all bad. 20 year old Natan, told to give up football as a teenager owing to a heart defect*, and collector of minor and mystifying injuries ever since, is as bright a promise as the Arruda has seen in a while. Possessor of marvellously swivelling hips and neat control and with a baffling habit of doing the right thing with the ball (which more often than not also tends to be the simplest thing), Natan makes Santa a better, more intelligent team.

After half an hour or so odd things start happening. Santa, normally so profligate in front of goal, score a penalty after Natan is bundled over in the box. Waldemir Mathias, the refereeing analyst in the commentary box waits to see the replay of Natan being blatantly pushed over while in full control of the ball three times before giving his unasked for (and probably rubronegro) verdict - no penalty. Guffaws from the sofa. Central are missing chance after chance.

Things continue in a similarly odd fashion in the second half as the light fades from the afternoon. Santa’s defensive blockade assumes Trojan proportions. Natan keeps picking up loose balls and giving them to teammates, though the teammates usually give them away soon after. At the Ilha Do Retiro, over the radio, Sport open the scoring against Petrolina then concede a pantomime equaliser. Cheers all around, though Recife's Most Unwanted will come back to win. Santa are ten, then five, then two minutes away from going top of the table again. I See A Darkness starts wishing he was in Caruaru, until he remembers that if he was, Santa would be losing.

And then it’s over, and Santa have won and the big tricolor travelling support and players celebrate like they’ve won the World Cup. The poor, dreaming fools, I See A Darkness thinks, full in the knowledge that he’s a poor, dreaming fool himself.

* Joining a long list of similarly afflicted footballers. Such players are almost always described as brave, though perhaps there is a better adjective for someone who when told continuing to run around a football pitch for 90 minutes might kill him, responds with a sure never worry, doc, I’ll be fine.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Never judge still water by its cover, goes the saying, and godonlyknows I See A Darkness should have learnt his lesson by now, for if proof of this was the cast of a Broadway musical the theatre manager would be hunting around for extra chairs to squeeze everyone onto the stage.

To start with which serpent lurking under which rose in which Scottish castle garden? The blowsy blondes of Salford, land of council flats with boarded up windows and petrol stations with bullet proof glass in the windows? Stack-heeled, Lilt-snorting Cruella´s from Swinging London? Muddy skinned and bendy as Play-doh Brazilian princesas? All have promised much but in the end let I See A Darkness down in one way or another, though not half as often as he’s let himself (and everyone else) down too.

And yet, as Deus himself must ponder on a daily basis, why do we never learn? Why do we continue to traipse after the fur tomara que caia and no calçinhas glamour pusses though we know heartbreak awaits? And at the same time, why do we remain blind and immune to the hidden charms of the peg-legged and boss-eyed mini-coxinha guzzler lurking quietly in the corner? Why must nice girls finish last? Why do we want both the mutton and the lamb? Is it thus we are doomed to suffer eternally?

Probably. But if we will not learn we can at least apologise.

A few weeks back I See A Darkness passed judgement on knock-kneed Santa Cruz centre half Leandro Souza on the basis of 90 jittery minutes against Ypiranga - ineffective will soon prove to be too kind a word.

And then last Sunday, Santa, who had lost three out of the previous four games ( victory over Sport providing the only relief), travelled to the Estado Gilení De Carlo in Cabo de Santo Agostinho, a spot better known for being the gateway to the beaches of Pernambuco’s so-beautiful-it-gets-boring-after-a-while southern coast.* The stadium might have been better designed by a deckchair man too, but it was packed to its badly put together rafters.

And with twenty minutes left buckets and spades were being chucked out of prams among the Santa support. Gilberto had given O Mais Querido an early lead, but as is becoming common the team had wilted soon after and with ten minutes or so left Cabense were 2-1 up. Then from a corner Leandro Souza jumped higher than everyone else and thumped in a header and Santa could go home with the feeling that it could have been better but it also could have been a lot worse. Such a show of derring-do would do no end of good – Santa Cruz beat the same Cabense team 2-1 at Arruda on Wednesday, as the second half of the Pernambuco championship started, and now sit two points behind leaders Central, who they play in Caruaru on Sunday.

Leandro Rosa Souza is a fine example of your modern Santa Cruz player, in that before he arrived at Arruda no-one in Recife had ever heard of him. Picked up from Arapongas Esporte Club, of Paraná, who I See A Darkness has also never heard of but who if nothing else possess a pretty nifty website, he is 24, weighs 80kg, and is 1.87m tall. He has previously played for Avai and Atlético-PR, and was born in Rio. That is about all the information available on the internet about Leandro, which suggests that the modern phenomenon of the endlessly twittering footballer has not reached the lower divisions of the Brazilian game.

I See A Darkness would like to add that he looks a bit like Lance Reddick, who played Cedric Daniels in The Wire, though with his free-spirited wanderings up the field a better comparison might be Lestor Freaman. Anyway, Leandro was immense against Sport and heroic against Cabense, and, because of his sterling work in helping steer Santa through their recent mini-crisis, is now one of I See A Darkness’s favourite tricolores, which he would no doubt be very pleased to hear, if he ever did. Or something. And I See A Darkness would like to apologise too, because as it turns out Leandro Souza is not ineffective at all, and he might even be quite the opposite, except that effective isn't really that much of a compliment.

* Which explains the photograph of the beach accompanying this piece.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The familiar helpless sinking feeling experienced while watching football has grown so familiar now that anything else feels almost unimaginable. Late United goals to break not so stout City hearts in Manchester clássicos are as inevitable as death and taxes, as are Santa Cruz second half collapses against Sport, Nautico or previously unheard of Serie D opposition from the dustbowls of Ceará.

Which is why, after this, for tricolores today feels as miraculous as 8/5/45, 9/11/89, whatever day it was when Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star (a Tuesday if memory serves), or this, while for Sport fans it probably feels more like 10/9/2001.

Trying to talk about the game seems rather redundant, given that it was a game of football like any other – 22 men chasing a ball around a pitch, a referee and two little flags, two goals (Thiago Cunha and Renatinho), and 46,000 people baying from the stands. The after effects are perhaps more telling – Santa back on top of the Campeonato Pernambuco, 7,000 unhumbles skulking out of the ground with their tails between their legs as three quarters of the stadium bellowed O Arruda é meu, quem manda aqui sou eu, and Sport coach Geninho resigning after the game.

And while toasting victory in downtown Recife after the game, the bar bursting into a few verses of tri, tricolor, tri tri tri tricolor, smiles and hugs and pats on the back all around. Woo-hoo, as they say in these parts.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The trick is to be like Roger Angell in Taverns In The Town, where he watches the games of the 1963 World Series in different bars across New York, and so catches the city’s reaction to Sandy Koufax’s humbling of the Yankees in a way that he could not have done squeezed in amongst the diehards at the Stadium.

Only the difference between Roger Angell and the writer of this piece (along with writing ability, insight, grace, fame, 42 years, and so on and so on) is that Mr Angell is a professional journalist, and therefore does not care, or at cannot be seen to care, who wins. For the non-professional journalist or writer, particularly the non-professional journalist or writer who supports Santa Cruz, and more particularly still for the non-professional journalist or writer who supports Santa Cruz on the day of the Clássico Dos Multidões, such coolness of heart is an unattainable grail.

But even a non-professional journalist or writer can still go out and about and get a taste of the city. Riding a bike from centro to San Martin seems like a good enough way to start (I won’t go into the reasons why). It is summer and it will get very hot later so at six in the morning the Sunday morning kickabouts are in full swing, and the parched pitches in San Martin and Jardim São Paulo are dotted with Santa and Sport and even Nautico shirts. In the bars on the other side of the street the 24 hour party people blink blearily at the sun. No shirts of any kind here. It is still cool enough that there is shade under the trees, and the ground is covered with jambo fruit, crushed underfoot.

Really there is not much evidence that it is o dia do clássico, but then why would there be, it being only six in the morning on a Sunday. It seems I am the only one imagining Thiago Cunha barrelling through the middle and brawling the ball past Gustavo in the Sport goal, sending the Inferno masses into delirium. My companions at this hour are either imagining their own Rivaldo moment or dreaming of a set of sturdy thighs and child bearing hips to rock them off to sleep, or their next drink. Until I see, at the bus stop, a fat man with a big moustache peering up the street, two Santa flags rolled up and tucked under his arm. A believer!

It will all be different in a few hours. The police will march 4,000 Jovem Sport over from the Ilha Do Retiro to Arruda, where they will join another 4,000 unhumbles in the away end. The odd one will lose his bearings and find himself in a street filled with tricolores, and then if getting chucked in the canal is his only fate he will think himself lucky. Santa vs. Sport can be horribly violent, though the violence is usually outside the stadium and as much a result of Brazil’s social ills as a football problem.

And while I know it is A Terrible Thing To Say, of course, and not something that Roger Angell would ever condone, it is this threat of violence that makes the game so spine-tingling. While I See A Darkness is firmly against violence of any sort (unless perhaps Gary Neville is the victim) the hatred between Santa and Sport is as ferocious as at any derby game in the world, and this adds a certain spice to the occasion.

The papers are predicting a crowd of more than 50,000, which would already be the largest crowd in Brazil this year by some distance. They won’t get it, because while half of Recife will be following the game on the radio or on TV in one of the city’s five hundred thousand (at least) bars, it’s Sunday, and the lure of a snooze after lunch, and then an afternoon of beer and cachaça, is as strong as the call of the aforementioned sturdy thighs and child bearing hips. It’s hard work going to football in Recife, with the threat of a smack in the mouth from a bunch of overexcited Ibura teenagers, and the endless queues, and the crush on the way in and out, and the reeking toilets.

Plus the authorities have made things worse by trying to better organise the ticket sales, meaning Sport fans had until Saturday to buy their tickets and tricolores until two o´clock on Sunday (the game is at four). An admirable thing, but this is the nordeste of Brazil, where things are sold door to door or on the street or in bars, and authority and organisation are not always to be trusted, and where people don’t always like to arrange things too far in advance. Touts, as long as they don’t charge too much, are seen to provide a useful service, like ambulance drivers or soup kitchen workers.

Santa will lose, of course, because I See A Darkness has almost given up expecting Santa to win any of the really important games, or ever bring anyone much joy. Slow creeping progress is the best that can be hoped for, for now (although this might be kidology along the lines of say you´ll lose and you might win). O Mais Querido have lost their last two games, their Alamo at Aflitos being followed by a miserable reverse against Porto in Caruaru, while Sport have recovered from their early season woes with two wins on the trot. I hope I’m wrong, but the terrible feeling is that Santa’s dreams will end up like so much jambo fruit, crushed underfoot again.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

That familiar helpless, sinking feeling....Santa lost on a muggy Sunday afternoon, a 3-1 scoreline not telling half the story. Duelling banjos at the start as 3,000 tricolores outshouted 16,000 alvirrubros in a sell out crowd and things got louder when Thiago Cunha neé Capixaba scored for O Mais Querido after three minutes. After that Nautico, driven on by their best player, Niélson Nogueiro Dias, dominated. That Mr Dias was wearing a blue referee's shirt hardly disguised his impressive commitment to the Nautico cause.

Ricardo Texeira equalised, Evérton kicked Mário Lucio while the Santa player was lying on the ground and was punished with a wink and a cheeky smile, Thiago Mathias had his standing leg hacked away while preparing to shoot a yard from goal, Derley went up the other end and thumped in a cracker, Texeira stepped on the fingertips of Santa stand-in goalkeeper Zuba and was rewarded with a penalty, and two Santa players were sent off for running around too much.

Afterwards, the FPF (Federação Pernambucana Do Futebol) rather harshly described Mr Nogueiro Dias's performance as 'disastrous' and suspended him for three games. This seems terribly unfair, as from a Nautico perspective he had an excellent game, but might be kinder than Santa president Antonio Luiz Neto's verdict of 'calamitous'.

For those brave enough to face the horrors of recifense local sports coverage (which for glitz and polish makes UTV look like CBS's Monday Night Football), highlights of a sort can be found here, after the goals from Sunday's Caruaru classico matuto (or hick's derby) between Porto and Central.

For the more timid, the slicker dressed Sport TV has the goals. Even if they do, rather strangely, show Santa's goal at the end and describe it as a consolation. Conspiração!