Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Planes, Trains And Automobiles Paraiba / Pernambuco style does not begin well. Joao Pessoa idles in stifling Sunday heat, the indulges of the night before rage furiously somewhere deep in my skull, and although Eliza By My Side tells me it is not a long walk to the bus stop, where I am to catch a bus to the rodoviario, where I will catch another bus to Campina Grande, it is in fact a very, very, very long walk. Indeed as it is such a long walk, and as the bus downtown dawdles terribly, I miss the 2pm bus to Campina Grande, which given that the next bus is at 3pm, and the game starts at 4pm, and it is a ninety minute journey, leaves me somewhat pickled. So I abandon good sense and say yes to one of the grubby men who lurk in front of the bus station illegally offering rides to points north south east and west. I fear the worst – four strangers turning garrulous and talking incessantly for ninety minutes does not a hangover cure. But this is a trip into the interior, and my four grizzled, elderly travelling companions are silent for the entire journey. It turns cold as we head west and the pastoral enormity of this part of Brazil spreads out before us. It is a good road and we get to Campina Grande as the game is beginning. Though as I am dumped unceremoniously at the bus station a moto-taxi is required and we career wildly through the streets to the Amigao, where O Mais Querido’s redemption may begin or end. The taxi driver asks me if I am from Recife and when I answer yes he makes a noise that sounds like surprise and not a little fear and says your supporters are crazy today (there are 6,000 tricolores here and there have already been pitched battles downtown).

Inside it is a show, one half of the stadium a mess of red and black (Campinense have aped Flamengo’s famous stripes), the other of white and red and black. There are as many here from Recife as there are home supporters, and the stadium is a sea of flags and fireworks, while chants of Pernambuco and Paraiba duel furiously (the rivalry between the states is an old one).

And how was Santa’s Bright New Dawn? Not so bright, come day’s end. The weight of expectancy bears heavy on young shoulders. Decision making when the ball is at hand (or foot) is not good. But there is a sparkle too, not one that shines with great strength but one that glimmers with at least a little hope. Young legs run strongly. Heart is shown when the admirable Rafael Mineiro’s whipped cross is forced in by Goncalves, cancelling out Campinense’s opener. A glorious diamond may have been unearthed in young goalkeeper Gledson. But failure breeds failure, and the aching sense of need felt in the stands eventually proves the undoing of a fragile team when, with five minutes remaining, Campinense score the winning goal. Silence sits heavy as storm clouds over the Coral hordes. Delirium explodes on the other side.

Before all this of course, there is the fighting which erupts at half time between Inferno Coral and the police. Epic pitched battles cut a swathe through the far terracing on a grand scale even by Santa's standards and I see something new – football supporters fleeing from the police, then turning and coming back for more. In the end a draw is an honourable result, though there are accusations of brutality on the part of the Paraiba police.

And then it is back to Recife, the long convoy of tricolores snaking through the sodden darkness of inland Paraiba and then Pernambuco. In every tiny town and village, each bearing such preposterously exotic names as Juripiranga, Sunday night tradition has drawn people onto the streets to stand and talk and do nothing and there are bricks and boos and bouquets (though fewer of these) as we pass through. Chatting on the terraces, I was offered a lift back to Recife from a family of fifteen Santa supporters, ranging from grandmother down to grandson and including two cousins from Belgium and I sit now in the bosom of all this familial warmth and ruckus, thinking now it has begun but where will it end and it is late when we arrive in Recife and the streets are empty and quiet and the day is over at last.

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