Friday, 20 January 2012

See A Darkness feels sorry for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man United and the rest of that dreary bunch. All that sleek efficiency and streamlined, terribly modern, excellence seems from here a drab affair.  Somewhere along the line somebody must have missed the point, believing that football has something to do with how hard, fast or accurately a bunch of young men can kick a football in a particular direction.

The fools. It’s not about that at all. It’s about people, be it the huddled masses on the terraces, or the despots in the boardroom, or the fabulously paid peons on the pitch. It’s about people - those tortured souls, the tennis balls of the gods, and it’s about communities, and knuckleheads shouting the odds in bars, and missed trains, and the rain, and crushes on the way in and out of the ground, and losing your wallet, and looking forward to the game for days before and thinking about how bad it was for days afterwards. And it’s about disappointment, most of the time, and about caring too much about something that should not be cared about at all, and it’s about gloating and mocking, and also about hiding, when you’re likely to be the victim of gloating and mocking, and it’s about irrationality and occasionally, very occasionally, it’s about pure, unsullied happiness, of the sort that is only otherwise experienced prior to the age of nine.

It’s also about things, emotions, mainly, being close to the surface, and while loveable pranksters like Mr. Balotelli do their best to entertain and remind the world that those really are human beings out there on the pitch, and not digitally generated avatars, in truth all that chummy eccentricity is merely superficial – the thrashing of a few lonely individuals in a joyless world of sporting magnificence, maximum productivity, and most importantly of all, splendid comfort.

None of these words apply to the Campeonato Pernambucano, of course, and it’s all the better for it. Santa, in the odd-feeling position of defending champs, have rather stumbled into action in 2012. Twenty eight thousand showed up at Arruda on Sunday for the home opener, confident of a thumping victory over Belo Jardim, a team so hard-up that they were once SAD‘s fellow guests at the R$50 a night Hotel São Domingos (now demolished) in the decidedly down-at-heel Praça Maciel Pinheiro, in downtown Recife. As far as he can recall, SAD has not recently shared a hotel with Messrs. Messi, Rooney or Ronaldo.  

Twenty eight thousand left feeling somewhat nonplussed – Santa were as cutting edge as they had been in Serie D last year, and have been ever since Gilberto packed his bags for Internacional, which is to say, not at all. Even with ten men, Santa struggled, in the end only sneaking past ten man Pretty Garden thanks to two Weslley penalties.

But that, as everybody knows, was only a cheeky little aperitif compared to Sunday’s main course. The return of Charlie Bullet to Pernambuco had long been expected, only the destination was supposed to be Araripina, where he’d line up along-side ol’ mucker Rosembrick. He wouldn’t go to Recife B, or Recife Jr, surely, after acrimonious arrivals/departures in 2010 and 2011. And he certainly wouldn’t go to Santa, where he’d once been o mais querido himself, but who he’d led a merry dance in 2010 before signing for Recife B, and had publicly humiliated on more than a few occasions, trying to plant a Sport flag in the centre circle at Arruda after one clássico, and saying, after the club’s tumble into Serie D, that people only get what they deserve.

The howls of protest on Twitter were how SAD, two thousand kilometres away in Goiania, first heard, before the news was confirmed on Recife radio. Bala, who in Pernambuco football is a cut price version of all three of Carlitos Tevez (mercenary tendencies), Sol Campbell (scant regard for local rivalries) and Mo Johnston (apparent death wish), was on his way to Recife and would sign for Santa in the morning.

The reaction from inside Arruda, were tricolores were still supping their pints in dubious celebration, was mixed to say the least. Several hundred, if not thousand, comments on Twitter talked of cancelled sócio memberships and boycotts.  The plot thickened when news of a split came seeping out of the boardroom – the signing had been forced through by tecnico Zé Teodoro, grudgingly backed by President Antonio Luiz Neto, and openly opposed by the rest of the diretoria. There was even talk of resignations.

Things reached their peak on Monday, with the #BalaNão and #ForaBala lobby still hopeful of a stay of execution. But like tree hugging protesters in front of an army of JCB’s, the anti-Carlinhos lobby were swept aside, Bala signed, and it was off to the press conference, itself a masterpiece of theatre.

There was Bala, proud leader of the WoodFace and BrassNeck tribe, perched between Neto, and Inferno Coral president Paulo César Pinheiro, in front of a battery of cameras and surrounded by more than a few glum looking Santa directors.  Pinheiro was there to ease fears of any violent Inferno repercussions against Bala, who had previously been declared a persona non grata by the organisation. Though interestingly, later that night, a statement on the official Inferno Twitter feed stated that the group officially opposed the transfer.

Bala kissed the flag, apologized to supporters of a Recife based football club for the 3,456th time in his career, and talked about having always loved the club and coming home. More than a few present sniggered behind their hands. But smirks aside, the job was done, and Bala was Santa once more.

The howls of protest continued into Tuesday, but by Wednesday had died away a little, or at least changed timbre. Zé Teodoro might have hit upon a perfect antidote to Balagate fury – make the team play so badly that the mucky little pup is ultimately viewed as a saviour, and a solution to the team’s woes in front of goal. Santa were awful in their second game, against Salgueiro at a boisterous Cornélio de Barros. Hound dog and former tricolor Elvis scored both the goals in a 2-0 victory, meaning Santa have played two and scored a grand total of zero goals from open play. In hot headed Pernambuco, this spells trouble, and defeat against surprise leaders Serra Talhada on Sunday, coupled with the Bala affair, will see the faqueiros out for Zé Teodoro.

Still, misery loves company, and Santa have that in the form of equally troubled noisy neighbours Recife B. Sport drew their second game of the season on Thursday, this time at home against lowly América. The team were booed off, and more than a few in the crowd howled for técnico Mazzola’s head. Slightly ungrateful, given that it was Mazzola who, as interim coach, led the team to a miraculous promotion from Serie B in 2011.   

Note: Thanks to the magnificent Mémorias do Santa Cruz site for the photo of former Santa legend Ramon and Pelé.

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