Compared to the modern day Constantinople (or Sodom and Gomorrah, depending on where one sups of an evening) that is Recife, living in Goiânia just ain´t no fun at all. There´s no beach, no carnaval, and worst of all, no O Mais Querido. And yet there are a few cultural thrills here in the Midwest. For example, instead of carnaval, there´s the Pecuária, or Cattle Fair. For two whole weeks the city brims over with men in cowboy boots and hats, girls in next to nothing, and the Munchian howl of a thousand and one duplas sertanejas – Vitor and Leo, Bruno and Marrone, Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise. See a Darkness hasn't visited the Pecuária yet, but there´s still time, and this is one show he doesn´t want to miss – not after a colleague sang the praises of the Plastic Cow Parade and a really super display of irrigation systems.
And there’s football too, the mighty Emerald Army of Goiás (lurking somewhere near the bottom of Serie B), the Time do Povo of these parts (Vila Nova, Santa´s Serie C roommates), and perhaps Brazil´s best kept footballing secret, Atlético Goianiense. Atlético are a team of such grandiose scope and ambition, such rich tradition, that the club’s board recently decided it could bear the bumbling of freshly appointed coach Adilson Batista for no more than 900 minutes (especially as such an eternity included the scarcely believable incompetence of two draws to start Serie A).
Adilson still has our confidence, said one director, just before the axe fell, but it seems like we have a different way of looking at things. A team like Atlético can´t be defensive at home. If it was up to me, I´d sack him. The Atlético hordes, who easily filled the front two rows of the Serra Dourada for Dragão´s last home game against Ponte Preta (attendance: 1,700), nodded furiously in agreement. Despite never having finished higher than 13th in Serie A, Atlético clearly have their sights set high, and Mr. Guardiola, Mr. Hiddink and company are advised to wait by the phone.
But if life is more bitter than sweet in Goiânia, imagine what it must be like in Rio Branco (Acre), Campina Grande (Paraíba) or Araguaína (Tocantins). SAD can´t. Take Campina Grande, for example. SAD lived in João Pessoa for a year, the longest of his life, and if João Pessoa makes Goiânia look like New York, Paris, and London all rolled into one, imagine what it must be like to live in a place which looks up to João Pessoa as a seat of learning, culture, and industrial and technological advancement! SAD feels faint just thinking about it.
He´s been to Campina Grande, twice in fact, once for Santa’s fairly gruesome 2008 defeat against Campinense, and then last year, for that stirring come-from-behind draw with Treze in the Serie D playoffs, courtesy of the gone-and-pretty-much-forgotten Fernando Gaúcho. Not a bad sort of place, all in all, particularly if you´re the kind of person who stops, points up at the sky, and cries behold, the great metal bird has returned! every time a plane passes overhead.
Araguaína, comparatively, seems a modern, progressive kind of city, at least from what little information SAD can glean from the internet. What’s not to like, after all, about a town where the local cinema, Cine Natal, showed only sex and karate flicks during the 1980s, before being closed down for good after hosting a live, on stage, mucky-touching show in 1985? Other than that, there might not be that much going on in Araguaína – SAD’s battered 2003 copy of the Rough Guide to Brazil says that “it’s many times larger than (Tocantins state capital) Palmas, but no more attractive a place to stay”. And Palmas really isn’t that attractive a place to stay.
As for Rio Branco, all that needs to be said is that it’s the capital of the state of Acre, and all that needs to be said about the state of Acre is that when wooing his trusty companion Francis Begbie not so long ago, SAD declared that so deep and true runneth his love (or something) that he would move anywhere in Brazil to spend his days and nights with the lucky girl – except Acre.
So what, then, do all these godforsaken places have to do with Santa Cruz? More than they should, as it turns out. For, as anyone who cares about Santa, or Fortaleza, or Paysandu, or any of the other five or six teams in the division that have any supporters, Serie C is on hold, and it doesn’t look like it will be unheld anytime soon.
It’s on hold, because last year, Rio Branco, who had finished top of Group A of Serie C, were disqualified after appealing, via the common law courts, a state government decision to close their stadium. And, as everybody knows, this is a sin more heinous than any committed in the biblical version of the Leeds-Bradford conurbation mentioned in the first line of this text, as Rio Branco should first have exhausted all the options open to them via the Brazilian sporting justice system (the shadowy organ known as the STJD). The decision to disqualify Rio Branco effectively relegated the club, so saving Araguaína (who had finished bottom of the same group) from the drop. That, at least, was how the rest of last year’s Serie C played out, with Luverdense taking Rio Branco’s spot in the second round.
The chaos engine that is the CBF, though, had barely warmed up. Earlier this year details emerged of an agreement between Ricardo Teixeira’s former plaything, the STJD, and Rio Branco, who had been appealing against their disqualification. According to the deal, Rio Branco would drop any further legal proceedings against the CBF, in return for which the CBF would allow Rio Branco to play in Serie C in 2012 – meaning Araguaína found themselves relegated again.
Cue squeals of protest from Tocantins, where Araguaína promptly obtained an injunction from a local court preserving their place in Serie C. Take that, you swines, cried Rio Branco, not to be outdone, and obtained their own injunction, in Acre, guaranteeing their third tier spot. Avast, ye varlets, yelled Treze, confusing everyone for a minute, before clearing things up by getting yet another injunction, this time in Paraíba, arguing that as the fifth placed team in 2011’s Serie D, if there were any spots going free in Serie C 2012, they were first in line.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, similar shenanigans are taking place down in the southern half of the league, where Brasil de Pelotas and Santo André are bickering like overtired toddlers about which of them is entitled to the dubious honour of playing in Serie C. SAD would like to explain the machinations of this particular saga too, but thinking about it makes him feel very, very sleepy.
Meanwhile, the athletes that represent the finely tuned footballing machine that is Santa Cruz, bicampeões of Pernambuco, sit and twiddle their thumbs. It’s a frustrating business, particularly as Santa’s directors have been working hard at cleaning house for Serie C. Gone, rather disappointingly for lovers of petulant, somewhat squalid drama, is the immortal Charlie Bullet, along with barely seen left back Eduardo Arroz. In have come some enticing names - excellent left back Jefferson, brutishly efficient zagueiro Diego Bispo (both ex-Náutico), veteran striker Fabricio Ceará (one of the stars of Salgueiro’s excellent Pernambucano campaign), and, intriguingly, the attacker Paulista, who was top scorer of 2011’s state championship for Porto, before flopping at Sport. Goalkeeper Fred, who had been tootling about in the 2nd division of the Campeonato Mineiro with Araxá, might see more action than he’d been expecting if Thiago Cardoso’s injury woes continue.
Much more serious than bored footballers, of course, are the financial ramifications of such a paralysation. As regular readers of this column will know, Santa Cruz are skint, broke and potless. The servicing of an enormous debt (around R$70 million at last count) while playing in the dusty wastelands of Serie C and Serie D, with their short, World Cup format seasons, makes even paying wages a mighty struggle – in the four years between 2008 and 2011 Santa played a grand total of 21 Brasileirão games at Arruda (an average of five and a bit a year). And in Serie D, obviously enough, ticket prices, TV and sponsorship deals, and CBF hand-outs are all far lower than in the higher divisions.
Worse still (or better, for the lily livered liberals amongst this column’s readers), some of Santa’s debts have recently become immediately due, as the Brazilian courts have decided that the payment of wages really should have been a legal requirement right from the start, leading to huge bills from unpaid players from the 70s, 80s and 90s arriving on the doormats of pretty much every club in the country.
And though it’s hard to believe, there are some teams that are even worse off than Santa. Serie C bed pals Guarany de Sobral, for example, have stated that if the games don’t start very soon, they’ll pull out of the competition and, with no money to pay wages, release their players. SAD sympathises greatly with Guarany’s plight. Or at least he would, if Guarany hadn’t knocked Santa out of 2010’s Serie D playoffs, and SAD hadn’t spent 20 hours travelling to Guarany to see the game (and another 20 hours getting home again).
But, as is usually the case, those who suffer most here are the fans. After all, for faithful tricolores, this was the year when everything was supposed to change. Serie D had become just a terrible story with which to frighten the kids into eating their greens. Thanks to the new, slightly improved Serie C format (two groups of ten teams), Santa would now be guaranteed a dizzying nine home matches in 2012, the nightmares of those short Serie D seasons a distant memory. There would be no more Sundays spent bored and listless at the beach, wishing instead that you were at Arruda watching O Mais Querido. No more staring numbly at the TV, trying to be interested in Flamengo vs. Whoever Flamengo Are Playing This Week.
That was the plan, at least, until the CBF once more demonstrated that neither it nor its dubiously selected representatives would be fit to organise a bit of post-pub, back alley five-a-side, let alone the professional game in perhaps the biggest footballing nation on the planet, and Rio Branco and Araguaína and Treze started their merry dance...
* They’ll have to wait a while longer – Atlético appointed ex Recife B blusterer Helio dos Anjos as their new supremo last week.
Note: Photo, once again, from the fantastic Memorias do Santa Cruz blog.