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.

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