Friday, 7 August 2009


Up on the ladder they sing - how high must a brother climb to reach the sky? is what Afghan Whigs holler on Jacob’s Ladder, a song , no, not just a song, a reworking of an old negro slave anthem all dripped in guitars and booze and cigarettes and feedback and sex and revenge and hate and obsession, on the finest rock and roll record the world has ever seen, Black Love. And before launching into what all this might mean, a quick word to say that no, that (the finest rock and roll record the world has ever seen) is not Revolver, or whatever the best Rolling Stones album is (who knows or cares), or even Definitely bloody Maybe, and in a world full of tragedy maybe the greatest tragedy of all is that the great Greg Dulli is washing pots while (sensitive souls look away now) a See You Next Tuesday like Bono Vox is more famous than God.

And the link to all this is as follows (rather torturously) – up there in geral they sing - how loud must a brother sing, how long must a brother travel, how much pissing money must a brother spend, to see Santa Cruz reach not even the sky, but at least the second round of Serie D?
Very far indeed, it looks like. Because (and I know, I’m doing it again, but I just can’t stop myself, and anyway real life has become sweetly tedious these days – dog/car/work/The Fanautico Girlfriend/reasonably heavy drinking being about the size of it) this is all really beginning to take the piss now. All started brightly enough away in Maceio, of course, but since then it’s become about as much fun as watching a prozaced to the eyeballs Ana Maria Braga discussing her menstruation cycles live on TV while eating buchada (goat-tripe-haggis, if that makes any sense) with her fingers.

Though Old Willy S would be hard pushed to beat the tragic drama of it all. A billowing swell of 45,000 (45,000! In one game in Serie D, Santa pretty much match grubby little Sport’s total attendance in three home games in Latin America’s biggest club competition, the Libertadores) roll up to Arruda to see Santa pimp roll aside Central, a pub team from up-the-road Caruaru. Only Santa are buttock clenchingly awful, somehow scraping a dreadful 2-2 draw with two goals in the last five minutes. Much gnashing of teeth. No problem, think the Inferno hordes – a mere blip. Until the team lose 1-0 in Sergipe the week after. And then – despite El Presidente’s dire warning to coach Sergio China that anything else than a thumping victory might well represent his end of days – lose 2-0 to Sergipe the week after. This time at home, in front of a glorious bouncing multitude of 40,000 (during the week El Presidente bets his fellow directors at Sport and Nautico r$1000 worth of cesta básicas that Santa´s crowd will be double the attendance in the Classico Dos Classicos the following day – needless to say, he wins). Sergio bites the dust, and Santa are getting a lot of national press in Brazil these days, for presenting the best comedy-tragedy double act in football – the best fans, the worst (by a country mile) team. (And if you want really good writing on huge crowds of people watching terrible sporting teams, read Roger Angell on the 1960’s Amazin’ Mets, and not this rubbish).

It couldn’t get any worse, though, surely. Except it could. Seconds out ding-ding-ding Round 2 against pub team Central last weekend, this time in Caruaru. I’m not going. I am going. I’m not going. A few too many sherberts at a house party in the little favela that nestles up against what was once the biggest shopping mall in Brazil the night before (booze and snacks for free courtesy of the ample charmed friend of The Fanautico Girlfriend (no numbers any longer – looks (gulp) like a keeper (having ample charmed friends who supply free booze and snacks helps a lot). Crumbling hangover the next day. I’m not going. I am going. I’m not going. I am going. I’m going to drive – 120km over the hills and the pot holed Death Race 2000 highways and far away. I’m not going to drive. I’m going to drive. I’m getting the bus. I miss the bus. I get one of the jaunty illegal rides that hang around smoking fags outside the bus station – me and three other tricolores and an old man with a face the colour of asphalt and no teeth. The driver takes it easy on the way out – never dipping below a come on grandma 100 mph whilst chewing corn husks and looking for CDs in the glove compartment and Paraguay cigarettes. I close my eyes and pray to Eamonn Holmes.

And then I get the flashback – Michaeljfox it back a year ago and there I am rolling out from Joao Pessoa to Campina Grande in what might well be the same bloody car along the same bloody highway for all the difference it makes, and we all know (see entry dated 9th July 2008) how that little adventure turned out. But lightning never strikes twice, and there’s no way Santa are losing this one too.

Except they are. Caruaru is jumping with 7,000 or more Inferno and while pre-match atmosphere on the ground is chummy enough, in the back offices it isn’t. Santa call for doping tests of the Central players, presumably fearing the sight of 11 Schwarzenegger-esque patativas all hopped up on performance enhancers (unlikely). Central demand an out of state referee, presumably fearing a few brown envelopes changing hands in exchange for a few dodgy decisions (extremely likely). They don’t get their wish, and the local radio boys are climbing the walls – “and the ref gives Santa another free kick, just `cos he feels like it!” and so on. El Presidente wanders down into the dressing room and flashes a few wads of cash at the Santa players – it’s yours if you win it, boys.

In the middle of it all, coach Marcio Bittencourt stands around and looks confused – as well he might. Marcio’s story is as Brazilian football manager as it gets. Tempted to Arruda by talk of a five year project/director of football from Santos/established players from the higher divisions and not a bunch of clowns from the interior of Pernambuco promises made by El Presidente, a job well done in the Pernambuco championship (Santa finish third) gets him a lot of slaps on the back and, after the numbers boys have looked at well, the numbers – the offer of a healthy reduction in his salary. Spoilt brat Marcio says thanks but no thanks, I’ve got, um, a contract and you can’t drop my wages just because you’re skint (the above argument is entirely logical only until it is remembered that Santa are generally in no position to be paying anyone’s wages, at the contractually agreed level or otherwise). Marcio walks out, gets a nice job at nearby lil’ Nautico, where he does not very much at all for a few weeks except - as the team are garbage and lose all five games he oversees - get the boot. Nautico don’t pay Marcio either, so he hangs around in Recife waiting for his dough. Santa dump their won-ton dumplings in the trasher (aka China, Sergio) before realising that, um, they’ve got bog all chance of hiring anyone to replace him who can even tie his own shoelaces, what with only two games left in Serie D. One would like to imagine the sheepishness of El Presidente when he called up Marcio and asked him to come back and sort out this mess for a couple of games, but then El Presidente is a big cheese Brazilian wielder of power, and big cheese Brazilian wielders of power don’t really do sheepishness. We’ll pay your wages this time, if you come back, we really will, appears to have been the deal clincher.

So all’s right with the world, and Santa are bound to win. They even play quite well. Alexandre Oliveira thumps a rocket against the crossbar. Marquinhos thumps another. It bounces down on the goal line but doesn’t go in. No matter – victory is within thy grasp, Santinha!

Then the sun starts to go down behind the hills around Caruaru and the sky turns a golden blue and big pink streaky clouds hang over the ground and the shadows grow long over the bumpy grass and the people huddled watching on the roofs of the houses overlooking the pitch, and Central score.

And Santa huff and puff but don’t blow anything much at all down. And they lose 1-0. Open mouthed faces of i´ve just seen mum and dad doing the nasty horror and disbelief on the terraces. Christonatricycle. All hell breaks lose amongst the Inferno, as well it might (I’m no defender of ultraviolence, but if I was, then by jiminy I’d probably have been smacking myself really hard in the face after such a shambles). I leg it back to the bus station on a moto-taxi and then get an interstate bus back to Recife, even though I’ve got an offer of a seat on one of the paid-for Inferno buses back home, because I just can’t face talking and thinking about Santa any more and getting all angry and upset again.

So now it all boils down to this, ex-friends and ex-neighbours and ex-country men and women and people I don’t know – Santa have to beat CSA at home on Sunday, in what lazy journalists are already calling the game of miracles, and hope Central beat Sergipe. In Sergipe. Buckley’s chance of all that happening. Huge suitcases of wonga are already winging their way to Caruaru to um, incentivise Central (who only need a draw to qualify, as do Sergipe, which royally messes things up for Santa, as a chummy little yourmybestmateyouare empate between the other two leaves Santa in the abyss). Santa are desperately persuading any current or ex-footballer in the region (or country, or world), to come and play just one game on Sunday – they want Romario, Pele, Eamonn Holmes and Barack Obama, but get Paulo Rangel from Salgueiro instead. Father’s Day on Sunday, and maybe 30,000 will turn up at Arruda for the wake, maybe 50,000 (ok, not 50,000 because there’s only 49,000 tickets on sale, but close enough). I’m planning to read Don Quixote again over the weekend (not all of it, probably) because tilting at windmills seems to be the order of the day, partake in a few black magic ceremonies, and sacrifice the virginal body of Guinness The Dog upon a funeral pyre – as long as pissing Santa win and pissing Sergipe lose.

Fun and pissing games, no?

ps. apologies for robbed photographs of late, but, um, such was the jumping up and down excitement at the Central home game that I, um, lost my camera. And no, it fell out of my pocket, it´s like living in Iraq here burgesinhas of Recife, it wasn´t pinched. Though the result, obviously, is the same.

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