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The tale of the masseur and the goal-line clearance in Brazil – ‘I did it because of my love for the club’

James Young

goal line 300x225 The tale of the masseur and the goal line clearance in Brazil   I did it because of my love for the clubWhile the back four of the Seleção has looked settled in recent months, competition for the incumbents may have emerged in the shape of a surprising late challenger. A terrific goal line clearance towards the end of Saturday night’s Serie D playoff between Tupi, of Juiz de Fora in the south of Minas Gerais, and Aparecidense, from the suburbs of Goiânia, has catapulted Romildo Fonesca da Silva, nickname Esquerdinha, or Lefty, into the national spotlight. But Thiago Silva and David Luiz shouldn’t panic just yet – for this chunky stopper is not a player, but the Aparecidense club masseur.

The stakes, relatively speaking, could hardly have been higher. After a 1-1 draw in Aparecida de Goiânia ten days ago, Shakespeare’s favourite team needed only a win at home to make the last eight of the play-offs – Tupi or not Tupi, was the only question. The game was tantalisingly balanced at 2-2 when in the last minute, Ademilson, striker for the lesser known Minas Gerais Galo, smacked a shot towards the corner of the net with the keeper stranded. A certain winner, until Lefty, lurking with intent by the post, leapt onto the line and hacked the ball clear. And our hero wasn’t finished yet, managing to save the follow up shot from an onrushing Tupi forward.

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Mr Fonseca da Silva, unsurprisingly, then decided it would be best to make himself scarce, leading a merry Keystone Cops dash to the changing rooms, pursued not by a bear, which would have been fitting enough given the rather forced Shakespearean gag earlier in this piece, but by a gaggle of enraged Tupi players. The all too common sight of riot police wandering around a Brazilian football pitch, trying to restore order, followed.

Eventually the referee decided that as Lefty was not officially part of the game, no on-field penalties could be applied, and continued play with a dropped ball. A few minutes later the game was over, and Tupi were out.

While the referee’s decision has been supported by most analysts, if not furious Tupi players and fans, the off the pitch ructions are unlikely to be swiftly resolved. Club president Áureo Fortuna, convinced that the drama was part of a premeditated Aparecidense strategy involving manager Karmino Colombini and other members of the coaching staff, will appeal to the CBF (Brazilian football’s governing body), the STJD (the special sporting courts), and finally, if necessary, the civil courts, where the club will seek an injunction demanding the paralysation of Serie D. “This was an aggression against football, an act of violence…if they don’t kick this club out, it’s going to get messy,” Fortuna raged.

Lefty, meanwhile, was in unrepentant mood. “If I hadn’t done it, Aparecidense would have been eliminated,” he argued, with undeniable logic, “I did it because of my love for the club.” While it’s some way from Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, an old romantic like Willy S would no doubt approve of such tender feelings.

On a more serious note, the story is a reminder of the whiff of chaos that surrounds the lower reaches of Brazilian football. Last year a ball boy cleared the ball of the line in the last seconds of a Campeonato Sergipano (the local league in the tiny north eastern state of Sergipe) game between Sergipe and Guarany, perhaps providing Lefty with his inspiration, and only last month the Serie C game between Rio Branco and Águai de Marabá was almost interrupted because of another rogue ball boy wandering around in the centre circle during the game.

Arguably more serious than any of the above, however, was last year’s month long paralysation of the bottom two divisions, as a phalanx of clubs from the outer reaches of the Brazilian footballing galaxy argued in the courts over just who had the right to the last spot in Serie C (the details of the dispute are more complex than string theory). For teams on the footballing breadline, as most of the dwellers of Brazil’s footballing cellar are, such a dispute threatened to cost players, coaches and ordinary club employees their jobs. Throughout the saga, an impotent CBF merely wrung its hands on the side-lines.

Even qualification for Serie D can be a messy business. Until last year, the division received no financial support from the CBF, meaning that competing was a potentially crippling chore, rather than a pleasure, for most of the supporter-free teams that managed to bag a place in the division (achieved by finishing high enough in the applicable state league). In 2010, for example, no fewer than eight clubs in another small north-eastern state, Alagoas, said thanks but no thanks, the place being passed from unwilling hand to unwilling hand before ending up with one of the state’s biggest clubs, CSA, then in the second flight of the local league. In total, across Brazil, 36 teams declined to take part in the lower division that year.

Judging from the sniggers that accompanied most Brazilian coverage of Lefty-gate, it would appear that not many of the country’s fans or journalists are much concerned with what goes on out in the footballing sticks. Perhaps they should pay a little more attention, given that the CBF’s inability to properly govern the lower divisions is as good a metaphor as any for the general malaise that afflicts the organisation of the domestic game.

After all, it was not just in the wilds of Juiz de Fora that riot police were needed to restore order this weekend, as Portuguesa players angrily chased the referee around the pitch after suffering a dubious late penalty decision in their game against Grêmio. Nor did members of the fourth estate emerge with much credit from the events, after one ESPN commentator was fired and another suspended for sending abusive anti-Grêmio tweets, and suggesting that the referee had been bribed.

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