And so it begins again. And, ironically enough, it begins again in the same place (roughly) where it all began the first time around, three mostly happy years ago. Life turns full circle, as shifty ex-Santa midfield genius and full time merry tippler Rosembrik (aka The Skinny Wizard) might once have said, though he probably didn’t.
Such geometric waffling is all down to the fact that on July 9th 2008 See A Darkness’s more sensible (and more pretentious, if such a thing were possible) older sister blog, Your Life Is An Impossibility, published a piece loosely entitled Planes, Trains and Automobiles. This told of See A Darkness, then a mere twinkle in YLIAI’s eye, making a what seemed at the time epic journey to Campina Grande, Paraíba, to watch Santa lose to Campinense in the opening game of that year’s Serie C. There followed a few more starry eyed but inherently doomy articles on Santa’s plight, before howls of derision from YLIAI’s handful of readers forced football of the menu entirely. And thus See A Darkness, the world’s only English language Santa Cruz FC blog, was born.
See A Darkness himself was then only a mewling toddler amongst the grizzly tricolor veterans. These days, after tours of duty in Caruaru, Vitoria Do Santa Antão, Maceio and Sobral, (it is this last that still gives him the thousand yard stares) not to mention four years of loyal service on the footslopes of Arruda, he considers himself an equally grizzly veteran.
But what makes football special, for all its endless foolishness, is that every new season makes hope spring eternal. It will be different this time, tricolores everywhere are telling themselves. It’s not all cheery – musing over Santa’s prospects in a Recife bar this week, See A Darkness was struck by the following thought, both stirring and terribly gloomy at the same time: Santa should go up this year. They have the players, the manager, the fans, to do so easily. Followed by the punch line: Therefore, if they don´t go up this year, they´ll never, ever, ever go up again.
The optimistic part is well founded. Santa are champions of Pernambuco, and to become champions they breezed past three teams from Serie B over a long, pontos corridos league season, then four bitter knock out ties. They beat São Paulo, with Rogerio Ceni, Lucas, Dagoberto, Alex Silva et al, at Arruda, and only narrowly lost the second leg. In doing all this they unearthed five real prospects in Renatinho, Memo, Gilberto, Natan and Everton Sena. At least three veterans brought in from unsalubrious locales played football that would not have looked out of place in the upper reaches of Serie A – goalkeeper Thiago Cardoso, zagueiro Leandro Souza and midfielder Wesley. Manager Zé Teodoro showed himself to be exactly the type of manager needed in a situation like Santa’s, which is to be five managers at the same time – a clever tactician, a firm disciplinarian, a matronly nanny figure, a rousing cheerleader to the tricolor masses, and a savvy media spinner. Santa became a team this Recife summer, and they remain a team today, with Gilberto the only major departure.
There are new arrivals, of whom Dutra is the best known. 37 years old and ex-Sport might not exactly seem like every tricolor’s dream signing, but Dutra is, and probably always has been, the epitome of class both as a player and a man. See A Darkness predicts that he will be Santa’s Kevin Keegan’s Man City era Stuart Pearce – swashbuckling his way to the by-line when given the chance, terrifying in the tackle when doing his day job at left back.
The immortal Flavio Recife (née Flavio Rat Hunter) and Porto’s strapping Kiros have come in to replace Gilberto, and will scrap it out with Rodrigo Grahl and Thiago Cunha for the starting spots up front. None are as good as Gilberto, but none are as bad as Landu. A combination of any two might make Santa more dangerous up front than they were during the Pernambucano, though as ever with striking double acts, gelling is the key.
Grahl and pointy-headed midfield schemer Teti give See A Darkness hot flushes – both arrived last year amidst a fair bit of hullabaloo. Both got injured soon after, and did not much of anything after that. But Grahl is a big name at this level, after years of service at Gremio and elsewhere, and Teti, based on a few brief, shimmering, flashes at the end of the year, might – might – blow peoples’ socks off.
Perhaps best of all, this is the first season opening when See A Darkness will not be forced to clutch a wrinkled piece of paper in his sweaty little hand as he heads to the ground, the names of eleven utterly unknown jobbing footballers scrawled across it in shaky penmanship. To put it another way – Santa have, for the first time in what feels like years, managed to retain the side that played in the Pernambuco, right through to the national championship.
All this writing nice things about Santa and their players feels slightly odd. Looking back at those old YLIAI articles one comes across names of players that are hard to remember, even though it wasn’t really so long ago – Rafael Mineiro, Edmundo, Gonçalves and Paulo Rangel, to name a few. See A Darkness can’t imagine writing much that is nice about any of them. Santa have a good side now. See A Darkness types the words. Reads them again. Remembers the golden rule of living in the darkness. Pride comes before a fall, and then another fall, and then another fall, and then...
One thing will not change, though players and managers come and go. Just when See A Darkness thinks he is growing blasé about the derring-do of Santa’s marvellous, marvellous supporters, he gets slapped around the face with a wet fish and is forced to cry out, what, no, really?
On the first day of sale (Tuesday) Santa sold over 3,000 tickets for the trip to João Pessoa on Sunday. One of the twenty or so coach trip organisers complained on the TV news that he´d already filled four buses and would have to lay on a fifth. If things continue even a little like this over the next four days See A Darkness imagines that between 10,000 and 15,000 will converge on the somnambulant Paraibano capital, two hours or more from Recife, on Sunday. For a game in the Brazilian 4th division. What, no, really?