Recife dawns dank and drizzly, but today none of that matters. See A Darkness wanted to get something down before 4pm, which of course is when Santa Cruz play Sport at the Ilha Do Retiro in the first leg of the final of the Campeonato Pernambucano 2011, because life being as it is SAD expects only the worst from this afternoon's fun and games.
Childhood flat-track bullies Linfield aside this long suffering journal has never seen a trophy lifted, never seen a victory lap. Because of this SAD knows that today will probably be no different. There will be the nervy march to the Ilha, the vein-popping shouty-shouty at the start, then the familiar helpless, sinking feeling when it all goes wrong. Not because Sport are better, not because they´ll deserve it, but because that's the way life goes. We are all, like Santa, honest triers, doomed never to get our grubby mitts on the golden chalice. SAD isn't complaining. It's the only way to be. After all, what do you do when you've won it all?
But none of that matters now, because it is before, and not after. On Wednesday morning a car drove past the flat. A Santa Cruz CD bellowed from the stereo - commentary of past glories, the team song, terrace anthems. Probably the driver will have listened to the same CD for the last four days. From the apartment building five Santa Cruz flags have sprouted from apartment windows like the first shoots of spring. SAD queued for more than an hour on Thursday to get his tickets for the game. Once again, Santa and Sport seem to be all that matters.
But win or lose, this Santa team deserves applause. For the two victories over Sport and the epic battles with São Paulo in the Copa Do Brasil, and for so many hard won mid-level triumphs in between. Many have made their names - the remarkable Thiago Cardoso, Leandro Souza, Memo, Wesley, Gilberto, Natan, best-coach-in-the-world Zé Teodoro. This might be the swansong for some, already - Gilberto will be off to Corinthians, probably, Cardoso might not hang around to play in Serie D.
And so as a slightly bizarre tribute, SAD reproduces here a piece (from older sister blog Your Life Is An Impossibility) on a less-loved but equally valiant tricolor side, when things seemed even darker than they do now:
Goodbye to all that, said Robert Graves, and after Sunday, 9th August 2009, the supporters of Santa Cruz Futebol Clube are left feeling as if they’ve just spent a couple of years in a WW1 trench. Goodbye then, to Santa for another five months, out of Serie D after six games, and goodbye to the Serie D galaticos, Neto Maranhão, Gobatto, Juninho, Alexandre Oliveira, Thiago Laranjeiras and the rest, all of whom will pack their bags now and wander off in search of a game somewhere else. Cruel as a cat baiting a mouse, it was, on Sunday – the 30,000 inside Arruda raising the roof four times – twice for Santa goals, twice for Central goals far away in Sergipe. When the last Central goal, the winner, came in the last bloody minute, when Santa’s game was 2-2 and there were still ten minutes left, the old republicas fairly shook – of course we’re going to win now, look, it’s fated.
And Juninho hit the bar, and Paulo Rangel headed softly to the goalkeeper when he couldn’t not score, and in the very last minute everything pinballed around in front of the CSA goal, and a woman in front of me screamed, and (I learned later on the radio) another woman in the expensive seats suffered a minor heart attack, and one of the CSA supporters fell over the wall up in the anel superior and broke if not his neck then at least his hands, and fingers knees and toes, knees and toes, before the ball plopped gently into the hands of the CSA goalkeeper. And then the referee blew his whistle, and everyone just stood around looking at each other, thinking no, no, this can’t be right, we haven’t scored yet, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Before drifting home, silently, silently.
A final word, then, on tricolores and the Inferno Coral. Three home games at Arruda saw approximately 120,000 people roll up to watch Santa, the highest average crowd in Brazil this year. More than Flamengo, Sao Paulo and Corinthians. 6,000 followed the team four hours down the coast to Maceio. Another 3,000 went further still, to Sergipe. 7,000 hopped the short trip over to Caruaru for the away game against Central. The Inferno and Brazilian torcidas organizadas in general have a tremendous reputation for ultraviolence, but other than a small kerfuffle on the terraces in Caruaru, in Serie D Santa´s fans have given an impeccable demonstration of how to support a football team with great heart and passion and vibrancy (and could teach the fans of big European teams a thing or two about this) and without violence or mass destruction (despite, of course, the performances of the team providing much incentive for both).
I will remember all of it, for a long time. I will remember standing mouth agape as Arruda shook under 90,000 feet against Central. I will remember the bus trip down to Maceio and the six hour bus trip back and standing in the rain outside a sugar cane plantation somwhere in southern Pernambuco after the bus broke down, drinking cachaça and eating clube social crackers. I will remember the big iloveyouido party between the fearsome Inferno Coral and C.S.A´s hardcore Mancha Azul in Maceio (the two being allies under the Brazilian football mafia’s complicated we like them but we don´t like them network). I will remember other things too, but I can’t remember them now, because that’s the way memory works, at least for me.