The laurels all are cut, the year draws in the day, and we`ll to Arruda no more.* It is 18.38 in Goiania, 2000km from As Republicas Independentes. Santa are drawing 0-0 with Tupi as SAD writes, a result which means the not-all-that-coveted crown of Serie D Champions 2011 will very soon be heading it`s way south, to Juiz De Fora in Minas Gerais.
Around 14 minutes of the game remain. Zé Teodoro has revealed himself to be an avid reader of See A Darkness, and has gone with exciting midfield triumvirate of Bismarck, Renatinho and Weslley. Exciting midfield triumvirate of Bismarck, Renatinho and Weslley have failed miserably. Actually, this is not entirely fair - Santa have played well enough, or at least it sounds so on the radio, but the curse of incompetence in front of goal, courtesy of Messrs Cunha, Gaúcho, Kiros, Rat Hunter and Ludemar, all too common in the second half of the year, looks like it will be the team`s undoing once again.
Afternoon dwindles into night, another sweltering midwestern day fades, and Santa`s season too, gutters in the gloom. There will be no proper football now at Arruda until January, which is at least a shorter break than recent years, when the footballing calendar finished in September or October and tricolores were left to twiddle calloused thumbs for five months or more.
Suddenly, as SAD listens idly, Tupi score one, and a few minutes later, a second. Silence falls on what had been a boisterous Arruda. SAD feels sad, but not too sad. Congratulations are due to the mineiros – though the score reflects a hard lesson for pernambucano football – teams from the sul and sudeste always end up kicking nordestino arse, even at this level.
In the end, then, after all the sound and fury, there is nothing much to do but imagine 60,000 tricolores drifting quietly out of Arruda (stumbling on the broken steps down from the anel superior, probably ending up in an unpleasant crush on the second landing), and into the night, and to remember the best of the year gone by.
Like the first home game against Ypiranga, back in January, a hard-to-recall 2-1 tricolor victory, when new friends were welcomed on to the Arruda turf: Thiago Cardoso, Weslley, Leandro Souza, Landu and Thiagos Mathias and Cunha, who would go on to great things in 2011 (yes, even Landu); Alex Silva, Bruno Leite, Laécio and Mario Lucio, who wouldn`t, and would soon be forgotten.
That game came near the start of a six game unbeaten run that would make Santa early leaders, though reality was lurking unpleasantly near – thumping defeats against Recife Jr, away at Aflitos, and Porto, in the perennial graveyard of Caruaru, brought fears of a clássico whipping the following week against Recife B at Arruda.
That was the day that set the theme for the year – overturning expectations, grinding results out even when the overall play was frequently unlovely, and a tremendous sense of unity among journeymen (Cardoso, Weslley, and Leandro Souza), grizzled veterans (Thiago Mathias** and Jeovanio) and youngsters (Gilberto, Memo, Natan, Renatinho and Everton Sena).
SAD is too lazy to rehash the entire year here, and in any case, anyone who pays attention to all things tricolor will need no reminding – of the stirring 1-0 over São Paulo at Arruda, of the three consecutive helpings of whupass served up on Recife B, of the narrow squeak past Porto in the semis, and of that final, triumphant aggregate victory over A Coisa in front of more than 60,000 at As Republicas.
Then the tortuous trail of Serie D began – the invasão of João Pessoa by 16,000 tricolores for that first game against Alecrim, then fifteen games of, well, excruciating pain, not to put too fine a point on it. Without Gilberto, Santa forgot how to score – mustering a feeble 17 goals in 16 games, and promotion was achieved thanks to organization, stamina, stout work in midfield and defence, and a marvelous goalkeeper. Better, much better, will be needed in Serie C in 2012.
Maybe it is for the best that in the end things culminate in a defeat. SAD has been getting pretty cocky recently – foolishly, because as anyone who has lived in darkness knows, even though the clouds may briefly part, there are always storms lurking just over the horizon.
Defeat against Tupi will serve as a reminder, then, that nothing is guaranteed, and that for O Mais Querido, losing still comes as easily than winning – if not more so. This is as it should be, of course, in football as in life, because only in this way can we good tricolores appreciate and savour those rare victories when they come.
And really, no-one should care much about losing to Tupi. Promotion was all that mattered, and promotion is in the bag. Real darkness might descend next Saturday, as Recife B, it seems, have somehow wormed (the verb is an apt one) their way back into the Serie A promotion spots (and a plague on the houses of Vitoria and Bragantino for letting it happen).
Which leaves SAD no option but to show up at the Serra Dourada in Goiania next Saturday, and scream his support for Vila Nova for 90 unhappy minutes. For if Recife B win, then they`re up into Serie A, and we will all walk in darkness once again…
* With apologies, once again, to AE Housman and Roger Angell.
** Unity up to a point, in Mr. Mathias`s case.