Sunday, 28 March 2010




It might be Ricardo Reis, or it might be the narrator of The Year Of The Death Of Ricardo Reis, or it might even be José Saramago himself (it´s hard to tell) who says on page 46 of the Harvill paperback edition I´m reading that it is questionable whether Christ departed from the world with the words we find in the Holy Scriptures, those of Matthew and Mark, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me, or those of Luke, Father into Thine hand I commit my spirit, or those of John, It is fulfilled. What Christ really said, word of honour, as any man in the street will tell you, is Goodbye, world, you´re going from bad to worse. Only he didn´t, Ricardo, or José, as any man in the street in Recife will tell you, at least those wearing white red and black t-shirts. What Christ really said at his sorrowful end, probably, was something along the lines of oooh, fudeu, O Brasão apareceu! Which when properly translated is much too rude to appear in this PG certificate column, so you´ll have to make do with oooh, you´re in trouble now, because Brasão is here!

It is foolish, I suppose, to like football all that much, and to imagine you see in it all of the heart and soul and identity and culture of a city. It is slightly quixotic too, when you identify, not consciously but by simple gut feeling, that the team that you see as representing all of Recife´s, and even all of the Brazilian nordeste´s, tragic down-on-its-luck-ness, and therefore the team to whom you have little choice but to hitch your wagon, are Santa Cruz Futebol Clube, and Santa Cruz Futebol Clube are in a tailspin that feels it might last decades. Though maybe it is not that foolish, because as there are those in life who have it relatively easy (the first born sons of Boa Viagem Uber Alles lawyers, to use an entirely random example) and those who have it pretty tough (the waiters I teach at a plush Recife restaurant, who start work at 10 in the morning and finish at midnight, and who all seem to live in the most impossibly remote of Recife´s dingy suburbs, like Maranguape or Camaragipe, the getting home to which must take them at least an hour and a half, maybe two). And even though I never really had it very tough at all, I am the spawn of parents who had it tough enough, and some of that tough enough has rubbed off on me, and for whatever reason I feel more at home amongst the waiters than the sons of lawyers. The logic of this interminable metaphor is that Santa are down on their luck, and always have been, at least since I´ve been in Recife, during which time city rivals Sport have become a nauseatingly arrogant middle-class plaything (effectively banning their working class core support from the stadium during their most important games in decades in last year´s Libertadores with huge ticket price rises, then being surprised when their middle class fan base failed to turn up, preferring instead to watch the games in bars or restaurants or at home, because, as everyone knows, it´s really dangerous to go to football games in Brazil). And that therefore with all this suffering and underdogish doominess Santa, rather unfortunately, as you probably know if you’ve ever read this blog before, are the team for me, and I am hooked, and as in love and obsessed as I´ve ever been with any man, woman or beast. I suppose what I want to say is that Santa are losers, doomed to a life of broken dreams and disappointment, and that, surely is something that everyone can identify with.

A few months ago Santa´s 2010 was drifting into its customary awfulness – defeats against park teams from the interior, the Copa Pernambuco winning team dismantled by clueless coach Lori Sandri. Things reached a nadir with a humiliating home defeat against Sport in front of 41,000 at Arruda, on Santa´s birthday – happy birthday to you, taunted the rubro-negro hordes in the away end. Members of the Inferno Coral invaded the club´s headquarters and smashed up the director of football´s car. The team sank to 7th in the Pernambuco Championship. Same old, same old, thought pretty much everyone who still cared.

And then Lori Sandri was sacked, and 13 year old coach Dado Cavalcanti was appointed. Dado is good. Dado is great. But Dado could not do everything himself. He needed help. He needed Him.

And now He is with us, and yea as He walks by our side we shall not fear though we walk through the valley of death, otherwise known as the Ilha Do Retiro. His is a standard enough Brazilian footballing journeyman´s story – a few stints at biggish clubs followed by the inevitable drift down the divisions. His last club was Fluminense – not of Rio but of Feira De Santana, Bahia. But now He is here and for some unknown reason it is the perfect synchronicity of player and supporter. He first plays a full game against Sete De Setembro – in the first twenty minutes he sets up two goals and hits the bar twice. He finally scores near the end – Santa´s sixth. The Sete goalkeeper accuses Him of trying to humiliate his team. Grow up, He says, it´s a man´s game. On the radio, a squadron of microphones buzzing at His mouth, He says He has come to rescue Santa from their plight, because these people don´t deserve to suffer like this, and a love affair is born. He scores against América in the Copa Do Brasil and runs around the pitch waving a Santa flag.

Santa play Nautico in the Clássico Dos Emoções. After 40 tedious minutes He picks the ball up just inside the Nautico half. He swats a defender aside and chips the goalkeeper from 30 yards out. Bedlam in As Republicas Independentes Do Arruda - Santa have not won a game against either of their city rivals in three years. He helps them score a second. The tricolor masses drift into reverie, imagining the long overdue cruelties to be heaped upon workmates and neighbours after the game. Until near the end Nautico score twice in three minutes, and a gaping funereal silence descends. It is hard to describe what one feels in such moments – a kind of deflating acceptance, maybe, rather than real shock or horror – it is all depressingly predictable. But nothing is predictable now He is here. And with only a few minutes left he picks up the ball on the edge of the box, close to the goal. He stands on the ball and waits, then feints to his left. A Nautico defender dives in and misses and goes flailing to the ground. He feints to his right and the goalkeeper comes towards him and He curls the ball into the corner of the goal and 30,000 people experience the kind of ecstasy that might only be replicated at a double booking of an Irish priests global conference and a choirboy of the year contest. He runs to the gallery after both goals and tears off his shirt – after the first goal He holds up a picture of His daughter and a cartoon from the local newspaper which had cast doubt on His talents. After the second goal and the second displaying of His prodigious muscles He is sent off. After the game journalists ask Him why He took off His shirt a second time, knowing He would be sent off. He grins. I already had three yellow cards against me, and if I´d finished the game like that I would have got a delayed suspension and missed the game against Sport on Sunday. I knew that if I got sent off I´d get an immediate suspension and miss the game against Porto on Wednesday. Now I can play in the clássico. Truly He is not just good at football but wise too. I decide he looks a bit like Marvelous Marvin Hagler and in all the excitement try to restrain any nascent homo-erotic yearnings.

He is featured on TV´s Globo Esporte – not the comedy regional version (which is a and now let´s check in on the state cat-skinning championships from Araripina! kind of thing) but the national one that is broadcast in such distant centers of urban sophistication as Rio and São Paulo. The journalist tells a few jokes that are doing the rounds about Him – He is banned from playing in the World Cup because FIFA want to give the other teams a chance, He once kicked a horse in the chin and so the giraffe came into existence, He is going to arm-wrestle Superman and the loser will have to wear their pants outside their trousers forever. The local newspaper shows a cartoon of a wrecked Recife. Earthquake? asks a passer-by. Nada, comes the answer, He is training.

And now it is the day of the Clássico Das Multidões and even though Santa will probably lose, at least I and the 6,000 other tricolores at the Ilha today, surrounded on all sides by 30,000 baying heathen hordes, can at least dream, because He is with us. I wonder what Sport will do to stop him – man-marking, a brutal kicking, a barrage of bottles from the stands? Perhaps they will not do anything much at all, because, in truth He is not actually all that good, because if He was, He probably wouldn´t be playing for Santa. But He is good enough for now, and He is better than anything we have had for quite a long time, and, best of all, He understands, or at least he seems to.

I wake this morning to the sound of a wandering preacher singing in the beco behind the beco (and watch out for the forthcoming CD, entitled Sounds From The Beco, including favourites such as Dona Maria Shouts Nyyyyyyyaaaaaaaarrrrraaaaa! A Thousand Times and I Like To Turn My TV Up Really Loud, an ensemble piece. The first five hundred CDs sold come with a free untied bag of rubbish). Let me hear you sing, the preacher cries. The smallish gathering raise their voices. I can´t hear you, comes the shout from the ramshackle temporary pulpit. I sit up in bed. I feel it – the call to prayer. I rush to the window. Let me hear you, comes the cry again. And I respond, with all the conviction and faith I can muster, for I believe! I believe!

Oooh, fudeu, O Brasão apareceu!

NB – apologies for the giggly-schoolgirl-at-a-Justin-Timberlake-show ambience of this piece. I am aware that I should know better, that He doesn´t really care, that He will probably be playing somewhere else in a few months, and that it´s only football. But it does everyone good to be a giggly schoolgirl every now and again, doesn´t it? Count your blessings that at least this blog does not involve webcam broadcasts and that you are therefore saved from seeing its writer in his giggly schoolgirl uniform. Perhaps, in this week of schoolgirl uniforms and homo-erotic yearning we should leave the last resoundingly masculine word to Mr Hagler. I played it like a man, but I loved it like a boy, which seems like something He himself might say.

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