Tuesday, 13 October 2009


They’ve closed down the Beco Da Fome, and torn off its roof, which is a shame, because it was one of the grottiest of downtown Recife’s many grotty drinking holes, and therefore one of the finest places on God’s (and yes, I have noticed that I mention God rather a lot for a heretic) green earth to slake a thirst. It is/was nothing very special – six or seven bars crammed together in a kind of shopping arcade, but the beer was cheap and the music and the women loud and terrible, and there was a cheerful kind of camaraderie to the whole place.

It has some kind of relevance for me too. I last drank there on a Friday night a couple of weeks ago (which in a dubious claim to fame would make me one of the last thousand or so people to drink in the Beco Da Fome, at least as it was). As the latest tilt at windmills in my quixotic crusade to make it into proper grown-up print with shiny covers, I thought I’d write an article about the trials and tribulations of football clubs in the generally impoverished nordeste of Brazil (vis a vis their wealthier cousins down in Sao Paulo and Rio and Porto Alegre) with particular mention going to, you guessed it, Santa Cruz Futebol Clube, and with a profile of the Inferno Coral thrown in as a cheeky little crackers and cheese platter at the end (torcida organizadas are big business in the nordeste). Inspiration for this came from a variety of sources, the most obvious being my own hapless interest in the subject, and also last January’s or February’s scandal-mongering article on the subject in the Diario Do Pernambuco - “They’ll kill your pets! They’ll rape your daughters! They’ll cut the heads off your rose bushes? They’ll cut the heads off your daughters and kill your rose bushes and rape your pets! They’re the Inferno Coral!” being roughly the gist of it.

So I thought to call up some of the nice chaps in the Inferno shop and invite them out for a few jars and a bit of a chinwag. I like the Inferno shop – there are always a few malevolent glances bouncing around when you walk in, and it’s a bit dark and moody, but by the time you get to the counter and are vaguely recognised it’s smiles all round and a friendlier and more professional service than you get in many of Recife’s major banks. Oddly it’s one of the places in town where I feel least like a gringo.

I’ve never been interviewed before, says Colin, Inferno commandant, gazing off somewhere over my shoulder, moony as a schoolgirl, when I ask him. (Colin, of course, isn´t really called Colin). I hasten to explain that it’s not quite Time or even Veja, and I’ll be lucky if anyone wants to buy it when I’ve finished. Colin continues to stare into the middle distance, dreaming perhaps of explaining Inferno’s moral stance on violence on Domingao with Faustão or Jo Soares.

This, as it happens, is all a few months ago. I see Colin at Santa games and tell him I’ve nearly finished the article and I’ll call him soon to do the Inferno bit. He introduces me to his chums and tells everyone I’m a tricolor doente from Holland. Or sometimes it´s Germany. Or Albania. I haven’t really the energy to correct him. Eventually, and ironically enough, what with Santa’s adventures in Serie D now distant taillights fading into the black (10 points for anyone who knows the band) , we arrange to meet.

Now it’s a long time since we’ve heard from The Ex-Girlfriend, provider of much early glamour and pizzazz in these otherwise lacklustre scribblings. But The Fanautico has certain issues with The Ex-Girlfriend, perhaps understandably – there is a long and complicated past to take into account - though the idea of romantic dillydallying with TEG now gives off about as much heat for me as a plate of yesterday’s rice and beans. Anyway, this makes co-TEG-fraternising a bit tricky. So I take the opportunity of being downtown to stop by TEG’s place of work, a jogo do bicho stall near the Beco. We head up to the Praça Maciel Pinheiro and hurl down a few palavras. Everything is nice – TEG is nice, the palavras are nice, the evening is nice, the fruit sellers and the street kids with their bottles of glue jammed in their little mouths are nice. We wait for Colin. He wanders past, half an hour late. I’m just going home quickly, he says, I’ll be back in a bit. I wonder is he going to change into his Inferno branded tux.

We wait. TEG stops drinking palavras. I don’t. We wait some more. TEG makes her excuses (a jealous-ish boyfriend waiting at home, though how jealous can one be if one in fine Pernambucan fashion romanced one’s current love for four months before revealing one’s rather spoken-for-with-someone-else marital status) and leaves. The palavras keep coming. Eventually, an hour and a half late (another fine Pernambucan tradition), Colin arrives. Finish your beer, he says. We’re not staying here. I do as requested. Colin speeds off. I hurry after him. Where are we going? I ask.

Moody silence. I feel a bit twitchy.

I needn’t have worried, of course. We go to the Beco Da Fome, and we drink. There are six or so Inferno huddled around the table, and also Jeremy, a senior member of Forca Jovem Vasco, up from Rio to spend his hols on the beach at Boa Viagem and hang out with the Inferno. We talk of the good things about torcida organizadas – the community projects (Atletico Mineiro’s Galoucora have created around two hundred such schemes, ranging from mai-tai and capoeira classes to crèches and blood donation drives), the sense of belonging that the organisations give to kids who might otherwise have very little reason not to involve themselves in drugs and violence (not mentioning of course that some of them involve themselves in drugs and violence via, um, the organizadas), the fantastic support that the organizadas give to their football clubs, the complicated system of allies and foes that spreads throughout Brazil (Jeremy’s reason for being in Recife – Inferno are allied to, amongst others, Galoucora (you can spot a big Inferno flag at any of Atletico’s home games in Belo Horizonte), Bahia, Vasco, and Fortaleza).

And we talk about the bad, which is, obviously the criminality and the violence. And this is where it all gets tricky, because what does one say or think about things? Yes, violence is A Very Bad Thing, and can never (or at least hardly ever) be condoned. And torcida organizadas are responsible for a lot of violence. But. The majority of organizada violence is carried out amongst willing participants – Inferno will have a scrap with Jovem Sport, and everyone involved will be there because they want to be. There will be few, if any, innocent bystanders hurt.

And thinking about this, I remember a Sunday afternoon in my early days in Recife. I and The Ex-Girlfriend From Santa Maria Da Boa Vista Near Petrolina (or at least I think Santa Maria Da Boa Vista was the name of the place) had been to watch Santa and Nautico at Aflitos. It was the dog days at the end of the Campeonato Pernambucano that year and both Santa and Nautico were terrible and no-one much cared about the result. Strolling back to my apartment in Boa Vista we noticed a gang, maybe 300 strong, of Inferno Coral coming up behind us. Panic ensued. People huddled nervously together for safety at the bus stops. Needles scratched across jukebox records. The wind picked up and tossed the trees around and horses started eating other horses. TEGFSMDBVNP quivered gently beside me. We crossed the road and stopped at a taxi rank. You’d better stay here, chum, said the taxi driver, it’s not safe. TEGFSMDBVNP heartily agreed. Hmmmmm, I thought. I hadn’t met the Inferno before, but had some first (or at least second) hand knowledge of how football hooliganism (Salford/Moss Side branches) worked in the UK. I suspected the Inferno weren’t really out to kick seven bells out of innocent passers-by (particularly those wearing Santa Cruz shirts). So. Bollox, I said, and went to haul TEGFSMDBVNP off down Rua Do Principe, where I had fun and games of a different stripe in mind. Are you crazy, said the taxi driver, they’ll rape your girlfriend and they’ll slice you up and kill you! Which can only lead one to one thought, can it not, which is – what?!@?$??? Has there ever, ever, ever been a case of a group of 300 torcida organizadas setting randomly upon two people not connected with another team or another organizada and beating them until they were deadish? Do torcida organizadas regularly carry out 300 strong gang rapes? Of course not/of course they don’t. So we headed off, and the group passed us as we went, singing a fairly unpleasant song about Jovem Sport´s curious interest in anal penetration, and at the same time they passed a middle aged woman talking on her mobile and paid her no attention at all. A large number of the Inferno turned and stared at TEGFSMDBVNP’s strapping bosom, I must confess, but that was the extent of the malice and also it was a crime which I’d been guilty of myself a few times and so could not stand in judgement.

I know this is all defending the indefensible, and I don’t mean to, but things are often made out to be worse than they are and sitting at the table in the Beco Do Fome it was hard for me to feel holier than thou. Or even thee. All at the table had been involved in trying to rid Inferno of the worst of its criminal elements (those who like to mug other Santa fans after the games, for example) and none seemed to have much appetite for violence. No-one admitted to having broken the windows or the chairs on a city bus, though they probably had in their misspent youths. The worst of their crimes was fighting with Jovem Sport, which none of them did very often, and which mostly seem to be bravado-ish bluster anyway. And furthermore a distinction needs to be made between those who are genuinely part of the core group of Inferno, and go to every game home and away, and attend meetings and bang drums and carry flags and spend most of their lives in the Inferno shop or the sede out at Arruda, and those (Hello, Inferno Ibura!) who wear the shirt as a badge of honour and use the gang mentality of football as an excuse to go on crime spree rampages before and after games (had it been a ragtag mob such as this we wouldn’t have wandered merrily off down Rua Do Principe that day). In the end, while I can’t pretend it’s all harmless fun (it’s not, because people get scared and sometimes hurt and even killed and babies cry), while part of me wanted to stand up and say my-goodness-how-terrible-I’m-absolutely-outraged, equally part of me felt that young men having the occasional rubadubdub with other young men who are equally booze and testosterone fuelled and equally mad-fer-it, and in the form I have described above, and excluding any kind of real intimidation and terror against members of the public, might not, in the end, be the worst thing on earth. Oh dear. This probably makes me a very bad person, or at the very least a pasty fleshed gringo doing his feeble best to hang out with the tough kids at school. In which case – sorry, sorry, sorry.

Anyway. The night grew late and they started putting the chairs on the tables in the Beco. The air was thick with smoke and the floor sticky with spilt palavras. Half of the crew headed off to Arruda, to the Inferno HQ, where there was a party going on. I was invited, and while I considered going (purely for investigative journalist purposes, of course), I am (a) old (b) as previously mentioned, somewhat pasty and (c) also as previously mentioned, and more than once - a gringo, and so thought a nice book and a cup of cocoa in bed the best option. Still time for a few more palavras with Colin, though, and the talk ranges far and wide, as the talk usually does in such circumstances. We even agree, if I remember correctly, that it is time the Inferno (with a potential membership of up to maybe 15,000, if they managed to get everyone registered) got themselves organised politically, and marched on Boa Viagem (in protest of what we don’t decide).

And then it’s time to go home.

1 comment:

alegremistica said...

olá como faço p te add?