Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his black and white cat....all the birds are singing, the day is just beginning, and Pat feels he’s a really happy man. See A Darkness feels he’s a really happy man too, or at least he did last Sunday morning at about 8am. Little did it matter that it had been raining for the previous 25 consecutive days, or that he was coping with a low to medium level hangover. Serie D was back, and he was off to João Pessoa with 16,000 (16,000!) other tricolores to watch O Mais Querido’s first game.
Such journeys – to Maceió, Caruaru, Sobral – have become the stuff of legend, at least in SAD’s mind. This one does not start well – there are rumours of a collapsed bridge somewhere near Goiana, and cars are being turned back on one of the exit roads due to flooding, meaning an epic detour through Peixinhos is necessary just to get out of Recife. After that it’s pretty much business as usual – pleasant company, pleasanter still liquid refreshment, several hundred bathroom breaks and a little nap – mouth open, saliva pooling on the lapel - somewhere around Conde.
As mentioned last week, there is a special buzz in the air, because Santa are champions of Pernambuco, and have kept their team together over the long break between the state championship and Serie D for the first time in years. So it will be hello again and big sloppy kisses for old friends Wesley, Leandro Souza, Jeovanio, Memo, Thiago Cunha et al. Santa are also one of the favourites to win Serie D, or at least the nordestino part of it, alongside perhaps Treze of Campina Grande and Bahia De Feira from Feira De Santana, champions of campeonatos Paraibano and Baiano respectively. All this optimisim can mean only one thing – pain, suffering, and that familiar helpless, sinking feeling.
But if tragedy is to come it will not come quite yet. Santa negotiate their first obstacle on the road to Serie C without too much trouble, beating Alecrim 3-1 with two goals from centre back Thiago Mathias, Santa’s Terry Butcher without the blood, and one from Thiago Cunha, on whom, in the absence of Gilberto, much will depend if Santa are to go up.
It is not a spectacular victory but it is solid enough and there is plenty to linger in the mind – Zé Teodoro’s once again impressive second half tinkering, the sterling guard dog work of the redoubtable Jeovanio, Rodrigo Grahl’s aging legs (he has a turning circle wider than an articulated lorry, as I think Barry Davies once said of Niall Quinn), debutant Jonathan’s worrying timidity at right full back.
Before all that there is a sea of mud to be negotiated outside the Almeidão, and the usual appalling crush on the way in – children crying, women screaming, old men clutching their withered chests – proving once again that stadium authorities in Brazil don’t see their responsibilities in hosting football games as going much further than unlocking the doors. On the terraces things are muted by the constant rain, and long hours of bus bound boozing mean from time to time, fighting breaks out amongst some young and not so young tricolores.
It is only late in the second half, with the game in the bag, that SAD takes time to look all the way around the grim concrete bowl of the stadium and see just how many people are here. The thought strikes him that on a weekend when the coast of the nordeste has been battered by rain and floods, and at the same time as Brazil are playing Paraguay in the Copa America, there are more people here watching Santa in Serie D, three or four hours from Recife, than there are at the average Flamengo, or São Paulo, or Cruzeiro, or Internacional home game in Serie A. Thinking this, SAD feels quite proud of himself and his fellow guerreiros fieis.
But no journey watching Santa Cruz would be complete without a sprinkling of disaster (and that’s not a reference to the seleçao’s all-that’s-missing-is-the-giant-shoes-red-noses-and-flowers-that-spray-water penalty taking) because even in victory there must be sofrimento. Soon after the game the massive tricolor convoy rolls out of João Pessoa, horns a-pumping, flags a-waving. Soon after that the massive tricolor convoy grinds to a halt.
No-one seems to know what´s going on. Engines are turned off. People stand in the middle of the endless traffic jam, smoking and talking. There are rumours of assaltos – less scrupulous members of the Santa family are not above stealing the possessions of their brothers in arms. Four hours later or so SAD’s bus gets to the front of the queue. Goiana is underwater, is the information, and the BR101 motorway, the only real way of getting back to Recife, is closed. That familiar helpless, sinking feeling.
The only other option is a five hour detour via Campina Grande and Caruaru, an option only slightly more attractive than simply lying down in a ditch and wating for morning, or death, to come. The decision is made to go back to João Pessoa and wait it out, though no-one really seems to know what it is and why waiting is going to make any difference. At around midnight SAD’s van pals decide to head up the motorway and try again. Flip that for a game of soldiers, thinks SAD, and tells van pals that he will stay in João Pessoa for the night.
Which is a good enough plan, except that with the best part of 16,000 tricolores having had the same idea there are now no beds left in João Pessoa. SAD spends the best part of an hour being told there is definitely no room at various inns, before using his unwanted knowledge of The Village of The Damned that is João Pessoa and heading away from the beach and into the downtown district, where he finds what might be the only hotel room left in the city.
And that is pretty much that, except for the fact that the next day there are no buses from João Pessoa to Recife. It is late afternoon when the buses finally start running again, though at least the BR has opened again, and so it is early evening when SAD gets home, meaning that it has taken over 24 hours to make a journey of around 120kms. That familiar helpless, sinking feeling....