Tuesday, 1 November 2011

SAD´s Santinha away jaunt CV is not as healthy as he would like.

Exhibit 1: vs. CSA in Maceió (285km from Recife), July 2009.  A thumping 3-0 opening day victory, with goals from Juninho (saudades), Reinaldo (whatever the opposite of saudades is) and Neto Maranhão prompted misguided hopes of a quick promotion from Serie D. A quiet enough beginning off the pitch, with the only incident of note coming on the return trip: on the way through some benighted hamlet or other in Alagoas or south Pernambuco, a mischievously tossed object whizzes through the warm night air, slips silently through the window of the bus, and cracks softly against SAD’s forehead. I’m hit, I’m hit, cries SAD, reaching up and touching something wet, before realising the object was egg, not rock, and the goo is yolk, not blood.

Exhibit 2: Maceió again, in August 2010. A last minute winner from who else but Brasão saw Santa through to the second round of that year’s Serie D. On the way back the coach brakes down in the middle of a sugar cane plantation miles from civilisation. Three hours and several epic rainstorms later, a replacement bus arrives from Recife and the journey can continue.

Exhibit 3: Sobral (1038km from Recife), October 2010. Twenty hours there, twenty hours back. A 2-0 defeat and another premature exit from Serie D. Long term physical and psychological damage.

Exhibit 4: João Pessoa (128km from Recife), July 2011. A routine victory against Alecrim. 16,000 tricolores make the trip. On the way back, this.

Exhibit 5 does not start well. The bus to Rondonópolis, Mato Grosso, leaves at midnight, just as Goiânia, SAD’s new home, is engulfed in a downpour of biblical proportions. For the next eleven hours it seems certain that death, when it comes, will at least be quick and painless. The great plains of the centro-oeste are engulfed in utter blackness. Every few minutes lightning crackles along the horizon, illuminating a few skeletal trees and miles and miles and miles of flat, empty land. Our driver is undaunted by the zero visibility – the bus careens madly around corners, skidding in the wet as juggernauts scream out of the darkness towards us, klaxons blaring.

SAD spends most of the journey in the brace position, just in case. And offers up the first traveler’s tip of the 2014 World Cup. If of nervous disposition and about to embark on a long distance bus journey in Brazil, do not on any account choose one of the raised, “first floor” seats at the front, above the driver. The grandstand view of the mayhem outside will prove too much for a skittering heart.

Rondonópolis is one of those stubbornly provincial, industrial “second cities” (through really towns) that seem to be common in middle ranking Brazilian states, reminiscent of Campina Grande (Paraiba), Caruaru (Pernambuco) and Anápolis (Goiás). And Mato Grosso is one of those Brazilian states where local football is strangled at birth by the televised lure of gaudier fare from Rio and São Paulo. Santa’s opponents, Cuiabá, from the state capital (and Brazil’s least loveable World Cup host city), boast average crowds of around 700 and a stadium too small for such an illustrious occasion as today’s Serie D semi-final, which is why today’s game has been moved here, to the not-quite-the-Emirates environs of the Estádio Luthero Lopes.

Though with a bit of forethought the CBF might have realised that not that much space would be required. 3045km is too far even for the Santa hordes to travel, meaning that tricolor support here today is limited to a scattering of waifs and strays marooned in Brasilia or Goiânia (SAD included). The majority of Cuiabá’s few fans will have been put off by the 230km drive from the capital. Most of what little noise there is is being made by the Rondonópolis branch of Palmeiras’ Mancha Verde torcida organizada, who have turned up in support of their pals in Santa’s Inferno Coral. The total crowd is under 500 and the atmosphere slightly less intense than an early group game in Norn Iron’s Milk Cup juniors competition.

But amidst the echoing shouts of players and coaches things go well enough for Santa. The rain has stopped and the pitch is in good shape, and the three sided stadium is pretty enough. It is the best attack in Serie D (Cuiabá) against the best defence (Santa), and Zé Teodoro has gone for negative overkill to hang on to a 1-0 first leg lead, with three zagueiros and two volantes, leaving Wesley as the only creative outlet.

Such plans go out the window after about three minutes, when Fernando scores a clever goal, sending the gaggle of Cuiabá fans into a frenzy. Over on the Santa side it feels hard to get excited – promotion is already ensured, and only the hours wasted on the bus seem much of a reason to care.

But Arruda’s Almost Invincibles (one defeat in fourteen Serie D games) are made of stern stuff. Sleeves are rolled up, and after twenty minutes Eduardo Arroz crosses and Fernando Gaúcho finishes off for the equaliser. Gaucho may just be the club’s best striker these days, which is admittedly not saying a lot.

With Cuiabá needing two Santa are happy to sit back and control the game, which they do quite nicely. Renatinho comes on for Dutra, giving a bit more of a breakaway threat. With twenty minutes remaining the Artist Formerly Known As Little Pants crosses for Gaúcho to get his second, and Santa are in the final.

Which is pretty much it, except that at the end there is a nice, up country stadium, touch, as the gates are opened and the few fans that are there are allowed to wander happily amongst the players. SAD considers remaining aloof but sooner gives in to his inner child and makes his way onto the grass for photos with Jeovanio and Zé Teodoro.

Afterwards there is beer and macaxeira at what must be the only bar in Rondonópolis owned by a Pernambucano. There is plenty of praise from the locals for Santa, whose crowds over the last few years have garnered nationwide fame. An argument starts over whether local favourites Vila Aurora played Santa in the Copa Do Brasil in 2006. Bets are made, though no-one seems to know the answer, and iPhones with web access are unsurprisingly thin on the ground. A shoeless man in a grubby Vasco Da Gama shirt knocks on a door further down the street. When the unseen oracle inside has spoken, our messenger scurries back. He stands on a chair and proclaims the verdict – in February 2006 Santa beat Tigrão 1-0 over two legs. On a mysterious technicality, the loser of the bet refuses to pay. The winner is not pleased. The atmosphere becomes heated. SAD decides it’s time to head to the bus station, to think about the eleven hour journey to come. 

1 comment:

  1. Fair play! Looking good in Recife too for next season. Santa in serie C, Sport not getting promotion (less beeping and obnoxious Sport fans) and Nautico in Serie A, well nearly, so there's a change of seeing Ronaldinho in action and of abusing Rogerio again.

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