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.

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