Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Nothing in Serie D became them like the leaving of it, is how half of Pernambuco hopes this story ends up. And if this was See A Darkness’s last jolly in Brazil’s football gloomy basement for a while, then it wasn’t all that bad a way to bow out.

Sunday in Recife dawns grey and muggy, and Ray Winstone of Piedade’s formidable organisational skills are responsible for the nordestino miracle that is a minibus leaving on the dot of 8am. Even more miraculous is that these tricolores’ inner protestant wins out over more natural catholic laxity – the first can of Skol isn’t cracked open until 8.30.

For a last splash there aren’t many landscapes as thrilling as this – up the BR101 through Pernambuco before hanging a left at Goiana (ironically enough), and then on through specks on the map such as Juripiranga (town motto – the bird that sings, for some reason) and Itabaiana (the queen of the valley)*.

The prehistoric (geologically and culturally) landscape of Paraiba stretches out towards the horizon – great rolling plains broken by stark splinters of granite jutting up towards the clouds. There is the occasional lone donkey wandering too close to the road, a place where the town cemetery seems to be the major tourist attraction (and it’s no Père Lachaise), and locals everywhere giving it the thousand yard stare by the side of the road, the caravana tricolor seemingly big news in these parts. Whatever the landscape it is hard to imagine that there will be a football match anywhere near here today.
Speaking of prehistoric, there has been much puffing of pigeon chests in the Treze camp in the days leading up to the game. Club president Fabio Azevedo expressed misplaced doubts over the ability or otherwise of Santa to bring many fans to Campina Grande (a bit like criticising a Muscovite’s proclivity for vodka ice-pops, considering O Terror Do Nordeste took 16,000 to nearby João Pessoa just a few weeks ago), and sent only the CBF minimum of 2,000 tickets to Recife. When it transpired that Treze weren’t going to be able to sell their 17,000 allocation (as Santa striker Thiago Cunha put it, Campina Grande is a town where folk are more likely to watch Fla-Flu on TV than turn up to support their local team), more tickets were hurriedly sent. But they arrived late on Friday afternoon, making it almost impossible for Santa to sell them in the few working hours left before Sunday’s game. Common or garden lower-reaches nonsense, in which the only people who suffer are the players and managers, distracted from more important matters, and the fans, as always in Brazil, in the dark until the last minute.

But the Amigão is nearly full, as is the Santa section, and the atmosphere crackles. Courtesy of Mr Sylvio Ferreira, poet, assessor to Santa President Antonio Luiz Neto, and as fine a man as you could wish to meet, and bus-pal (and equally fine) Big Carlos, SAD wangles his way into the posh bit, such as it is, where one of his neighbours turns out to be Renatinho, Santa wunderkind meio-campista on his way back from injury. SAD discovers that while endless blog buffoonery might be a strength, Frost style insightful interviewing is probably not. Cheers mate is as about as far as it gets.

On the pitch Tricolor confidence is as fragile as ever. Treze are two time Paraibano champions and in the first knockout round easily elbowed aside Evil Twin Santa Cruz from Rio Grande Do Norte, who had beaten Santa into second place in the group phase. Even more remarkably, in Marcelo Vilar the team has had the same coach for over two years, whereas the normal life span for a Brazilian coach, particularly at this level, is about two months.

And lest we forget, Santa’s Serie D campaign has been agonizing. Apart from that opening day 3-1 win over Alecrim in João Pessoa, all the team’s six victories have been by a single goal, and have followed a similar pattern – a host of missed chances followed by last minute hanging on for grim death. A place in the knockout phase was only achieved with a narrow final group game victory over the same Alecrim at Arruda. Coruripe were eliminated in the last round via a painfully difficult 1-0 win at home, followed by a grueling 0-0 in Alagoas. A rodizio of strikers – from Cunha to Kiros to Flavio Recife to Ricardinho to Ludemar to Fernando Gaucho – have been tried and have largely failed. The memory of Gilberto looms large, still.

Things start well enough, though it’s hardly pretty. Briefly, Santa seem to be bossing things – quick enough in the tackle and able to hold on to the ball when they get it. It’s the best I’ve seen Santa start a game in Serie D, says Sylvio Ferreira. A few seconds later Everton Sena stumbles comically, putting in ex-Santa pest Cléo, who passes to Dodo for a 1-0 Treze lead. Jesus wept.

Tricolor nerves jangle louder than ever. Things start to get ugly in the boxes and Renatinho, presumably not enjoying hearing his friends and colleagues being roundly abused, scurries off. Then on 22 minutes Cléo crosses from the left and Tiago Cenedesi heads home courtesy of more dodgy defensive positioning. All around darkness descends and the ghosts of Sobral stalk the land.

SAD can take it no more. If it is going to end like this (again) then it should end in the cheap seats, amongst the firecrackers and the desperate howling and the occasional fist fight. He apologises to Sylvio Ferreira and Big Carlos, heads down the steps and out of the ground and then in again at the geral entrance, waving his unused original ticket at the bored doormen.

The cheap seats, then, where in the second half, the times may just be a-changing. Zé Teodoro, mindful of the fact that his first half tactics were a pig’s ear, throws on Eduardo Arroz in place of Everton Sena and, later, Bismarck and Fernando Gaucho in place of Natan and Ludemar.

It looks like someone, too, has reminded the players that this is it, and that if they get hammered here then there will be no way back, and Serie D will be over for another miserable year, just like it was in Sobral twelve months ago, and the Pernambucano title win and the victory over São Paulo and everything else will be forgotten.

Whatever it is, Santa are transformed, though sincere thanks must go to Treze goalkeeper Lopes for throwing the ball into his own net at the start of the second half. Even when Cléo sets up another Treze goal soon after, putting Tigrão in, Santa are undaunted.

Thiago Cunha puts in Fernando Gaucho for the second on 61 minutes and then, with ten minutes left and the crowd baying them on and evening turning hazily into night, and the Recife end ablaze with red and white firecrackers, Gaucho prods home after what seems like a dozen attempts and Santa have fought back for a precious away draw.

And that, for SAD, perched on a fence in a dumpy stadium in the middle of Paraiba, waving his arms in the air, surrounded by 4,000 tricolor loyalists, might well be that, at least for a while. Next Sunday anything between 60,000 and 100,000 will shoulder their way into Arruda for the game that will hopefully see O Mais Querido, of late O Mais Sofrido, finally escape from the dank dungeon of Serie D

At the same time SAD will be 2,000km away in Goiânia, listening to the game on the radio, hoping and praying not only that Santa make it, but that Itumbiara, from somewhere far away in the south of Goias, make it too. That way there will remain a small, quiet hope that not too far in the future SAD will once again hear the Inferno Coral’s drums pounding out, and feel the heat of five or sixteen or seventy thousand equally desperate souls around him, and see Santa Cruz play a game of football.         

* It was probably Itabaiana. It might not have been. SAD confesses he can't really remember.

NB: Life changing moves to cities 2,000km away from O Mais Querido notwithstanding, See A Darkness will of course go on. Somehow. 


  1. if everything goes right, as we all hope, there's a chance for Santa to play against Cuiabá, in Mato Grosso, "only" about 900 km far from Goiânia.

  2. thanks Julio - I´d forgotten about Cuiabá.....