Football story - Dada, our Shakespeare of the globe that rolls
Dada - our Sheakespeare of the globe that rolls
O Journal, December 14, 1961.
This is where he came from: Santiago de Consumpção sits like a grey overcoat under occasional blue tropical skies. Car exhausts are amplified by the humidity and the dust devils swirl in forgotten corners. The people in short sleeves sweat along the pavements and find joy in cool cafes in front of telenovelas and football. Here, football and love are the keys to the heart and mind, and for a while we loved him and he made the myths and rhythms of our lives - who could deny such a thing? Such a thing existed here and we, who witnessed him, remember, like the exhalation that must follow the inhalation, until death puts a stop to us all. May God rest his soul or, I think, maybe, God is in goal and the Holy Ghost and Jesus are centre backs, just to see if he really was as good as they thought they had made him. Saravá! Graças a deus! May he rest in peace.
Mario da Cabra
Senhor Mario de Cabra rested his fedora on his knee and looked around the room, grey eyed and silver haired. He smelt of patchouli. I met him on four occasions during the summer of 1990 while covering the World Cup in Italy. Gascoigne was crying and the Germans were grinding out a souless victory from the penalty spot. Mario de Cabra was there in retirement but hanging on, unable to leave the scene just yet - he had a few more things to say and he said them to me or rather to the distance as the tape recorder ran in the background causing a small tick every other second like some ominous countdown. He was dressed form another time. A cravate, a suit, all impeccable. He was talking about Dada.
‘Pele was great. Maradona is a genius but Dada was something more. Before t.v and film could capture him. He was more and to us, who truly loved him, he was something like the air we breathed, the fabric of our clothes.’
1930 April 20th Isla Novo Sonho
They say when Ludwig Van Beethoven was born a thunder clap echoed across the land. When Dada was born a lightning bolt struck the Iglesia de Santa Lago de Compostella melting the crown of the holy virgin on the steeple overlooking Isla Novo Sonho. They christened him David Mario de Danillo de Manaus.
Its greatest son was kicking in his crib, poetry in feet. Glory in his toes. Balance of a cat, heart of a lion and weak in the middle. The greatest jewel of our island nation, flawed but sometime perfect. Our Shakespeare of the rolling globe.
A talent that realised the dreams of a people - who broke our hearts. Such a thing to have God’s own feet carrying man’s folly. When I first saw him he was tormenting a dog he had cornered in an alley. The dog had three legs and he was kicking its remaining back leg so that it fell to the dirt. I watched but didn’t notice the art with which he dodged the dog’s snapping teeth and tapped the paw away with deft movements of either foot. I love dogs and so I told him to stop. He turned to me and asked what business it was of mine. I told him he shouldn’t be such a bastard to the dog. He left the dog and came striding towards me. The right hook he threw towards me was as telegraphed as a pink elephant on a wedding cake. I dodged his flying fist and landed one of my own on his upper lip. Look at the photographs closely you can still the scar I made. He hit the floor. I doubt I was the first person to lay him on the floor and certainly we all know the times it has happened in front of 70,000 people. Everybody knows he’s a lousy fighter. What surprised me was the way he lay on the floor amongst the filth in the alley laughing.
- Why are you laughing? I asked.
- People think they can beat me but they never can and they never will. Help me up.
I didn’t understand his answer and maybe it’s only until today that I can appreciate what he said then. I helped him up and he wiped his right hand on his backside and offered it to me.
- The name’s David de Danillo de Manaus but everyone calls me Dada.
A little taken aback by the polite introduction of the dog tormentor/boxing failure I introduced myself.
- Mario da Cabra
- Hey I’ve got two Reals fancy getting a couple of beers?
- I had only ever sipped my father’s beer. I was unsure of this offer.
- How are you going to get beer? I asked.
- I know a man. He’d sell beer to a baby if it asked him.
And so I was led by Dada across the city. He seemed to know every back alley and rat run going. He walked with his head down kicking every sizeable stone he could find until finally we found his man and we had our beer sat on a wall on Morro de Santo, the hill that looks across the whole of the city and across the bay and out to sea. We sipped our beer it was cold and tasted bitter. I didn’t want to drink it but felt obliged.
- How’s your lip?
- Bleeding still.
- Isn’t the beer stinging it.
- Doesn’t that bother you?
- Why not?
- I’m going to play down there. A man’s got to get used to a few knocks and a little pain now and then.
We looked at the place he was referring to, it was dusk now and the lights were coming on and the place was surrounded by milling people and the floodlights were just warming up. We couldn’t see the green but we sat in silence and I could tell we could both see every blade of grass and see the white posts and the referee checking the corner flag was standing upright and we could smell the liniment being used on the players legs and the sound of studs on a tiled floor as the players waited to walk out to the arena.
- You reckon you can play?
- I know it.
Suddenly he jumped from the wall and with a pre-emptive wave he said goodbye.
- If you want to see how good I am, come to the Palma beach tomorrow. About three.
Then he was gone before I realised I hadn’t any idea of the way home. I jumped off the wall and sprinted after him but it was no use. He had vanished. It took me four hours to find my way home. I was yelled at by both my parents. Worst of all I ended up telling my parents a lie -I’d never done this before. I couldn’t admit to drinking. A precedent had been set.
The Praia da Nossa Senhora stretches in a slow curve out of the bay. The white sand grows hot during the day - only the locals can walk on it - the tourists all wear sandals and red necks. I was there of course looking for Dada. Why? It’s a question I have often asked myself. If I’d had any sense I wouldn’t have gone near him ever again. I should have crossed to the other side of the street and watched his life from afar - a safe enough distance but there you go - some people follow and others lead. Why did I go to the beach to look for him? Curiosity. Was he a great footballer? None of this in truth. Dada had charisma - there was something about him a glow of destiny hung around him. You didn’t know what it was - only now can I give it a label but I went to the beach because I wanted to know what the dog kicker would do next.
He was there at the beach as he had said. In shorts the skinniest rakiest kid you could ever wish to see standing at least a foot smaller than any of his team mates, at least six years younger than any of them. He was in a men’s team. He could have been their mascot or the son of one of the other players but he was there standing obviously as an equal. They were huddled for the pre-match team talk. They ran to their positions sinking into the white sand and the match began. Dada did nothing he was standing in the middle imperious surveying the goings on around him hardly moving walking amongst the frenetic movements. After five minutes something happened that was etched in my memory forever or at least one of those memories that you create from a remarkable moment and conjure in your mind later so that it reaches poetic proportions, but whichever, here was a little skinny kid in amongst the rough and tumble of a men’s match and I knew where these men were form I had seen them on the docksides - stevedores and deckhands, men hardened by the weather and cargo crates who live on card games and knife fights...here was this little kid who had done nothing for five minutes of the match suddenly turn from a skinny kid into this vision the way a seal is a fat blubbery useless creature on a beach but becomes lithe and purposeful under the sea - Dada jumped cycling his legs in the air painting the most exquisite bicycle kick, sending the ball into the top right hand corner of the net past a stationary keeper. Bang. Poetry. The first goal I ever saw Dada score. A thing of beauty. That was how the game went. Dada walked and scored walking into the right place at the right time, a kind of alchemy of serendipity. And then of course there was the violence. He ducked and let two defenders bloody their noses against each other. He feinted and rounded the keeper and had raised his left foot to bury the ball once more in the net when an opposing player buried himself and Dada in a blur of sand. All hell broke lose Dada’s team sprang to the protection of their prodigy. Fists and feet flew and words exchanged.
It wasn’t fair to have such a talented kid on their side. What was the point of playing when they had him? It wasn’t a fair fight. But life isn’t fair. Life’s about being better prepared, having more ammunition.
-This ain’t life this is football.
-We fight all our lives against the injustices in life we don’t need it here in our football.
Dada was too good to play amongst the dockers on the beach. He had unbalanced the little bit of peace they had. But by then other eyes more important had seen his talent. And soon games on the beach were to be a thing he would look back on with nostalgia. Of course he never remembered the fight he caused. Indeed later when fame adorned him those dockers never remembered any of the fights and upsets he had caused but only the fact that he had played with them, as an equal, and they had looked after him and loved him. Soon there wouldn’t be a docker in the whole of the quay who didn’t have a story or memory of the time Dada had nutmegged him or the one time he had stolen the ball form Dada.
I watched all the fuss and saw Dada withdraw from the melee. I decided to go home. The better part of my judgement had judged it more prudent to leave this kid well alone. But it was too late I had turned the corner and was eyeing the ice cream parlour on the corner when he was there walking by my side. He didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything. We went into the ice cream parlour. The waitress eyed him warily and tutted at the sand he was treading on the floor form his feet and clothes. We ordered, ate and I paid.
-Want to practice?
We went back to the beach. He uncovered a football form underneath an old broken down row boat lying capsized on the sands. He threw it to me and I kicked it back. We exchanged some simple passes. I didn’t do anything fancy. I knew a few tricks. I could almost catch the ball on the back of my neck. But I didn’t risk it. He was waiting for me. I knew he was waiting for me to try something. He was putting more spin on the ball it was landing perfectly at my feet rotating and digging a hole in the sand. He was smiling to himself. He trapped the ball and called out to me.
-I’ve got ten reals in my pocket. I bet you I can put this ball through the hole in that boat three times in a row.
-I ain’t got ten reals.
-How much you got?
-I ain’t betting.
He seemed to have forgotten our encounter of the previous day. He always had a selective memory.
-Aw come on. Three reals. I’ll buy more ice cream anyway.
So I watched this skinny kid put his football through the hole in the side of a capsized boat on the sands of the Praia da Nossa Senhora - three times in a row from a distance of about thirty yards with all the grace and power of a thoroughbred racehorse.
-Want a go?
I was trapped. There was no way out. I picked up the ball and placed it in the sand where he had displayed his prowess. I was in Dada’s land, a place where he was king and no other being could hold his head higher than him. The boat looked a long way off and the hole in the boat may as well have been the size of an eye in a needle. But I wasn’t a bad player. In fact I played a lot, I was in the first team at school. The younger kids looked up to me, even whispered about my performances in the corridors or at least I liked to think so. So I paced back my run up and approached the ball and sent it flying towards the boat. Of course the ball evaded the hole in the boat and evaded the starboard end of the boat. On my second attempt I did rattle the old siding of the boat. And my third skidded close but really the game was up. Dada was king.
-Not bad he said and nodded. Not bad at all.
But he was a little punk kid, a dog kicker who liked to show off, cause fights and annoy people. I paid up and we had ice cream and we talked football.
-We should go see a match.
We arranged to go to the Stadio da Luna the following Sunday. Botafogo were coming to play Os Sonhos. They were our home team but what we really wanted to see were the stars. Garrincha would be there his bow legs and mazy dribbling, maybe Vava, if he was fit and the great Didi, stroking the ball, an artist in boots. I had been many times before with my father, in fact this was the first season we hadn’t been to every home game - he was having to spend more and more time away from home because of problems at the factory. I was glad to go with my new companion, father was increasingly frustrated with life and a bad performance by Os Sonhos only seemed to magnify all the worries he had still further. It wasn’t fun going to see football with him anymore. It was the saddest thing, now I consider how much joy and love I’d experienced with him on those stands; how much time he’d spent explaining everything to me - our conspiratorial looks when he swore - something he would never have done at home in front of my mother. The rituals we had developed over time that took on the weight of superstition - we always had Coca Cola at Miguels on the corner of Rua Dom Bosco and father would always buy an edition of Bola from the old man who had his stand next to the woman who sold bagels by the ticket window. But this had all started to fade by the time I approached the stadium with Dada amongst the thronging crowd and the street sellers hawking scarfs and food and drink. Of course what I thought would be a straight forward trip to the game didn’t start out that way.
At the Baia end of the ground there is a high wall covered in barbed wire. This was Dada’s means of entry. When I protested Dada informed me that a) I was a chicken shit and b) if I didn’t intend to pay his entrance this was his only way in and c) as I was his invited guest to the match I couldn’t be so churlish as to watch him risk his neck scaling wall and barbed wire while I sauntered in waving my notes and tickets around and no doubt buying pao de queijo and a cafezinho at half time. It was the first time it dawned on me that Dada was poor. Strange to think that I hadn’t noticed it up to the point, that we were from different sides of the tracks and for some reason I felt slightly ashamed so I found myself clambering up the wall, sticking the toes of my shoes into the crumbling cement work and hanging on with my finger nails. I’ve never liked heights and in my eagerness to be over and into the safety of the terraces I cut my hands and face on the rusty barbed wire. I was sure I was going to get some form of poisoning - my heart would rust. So it was I entered the ground. Everyone saw us except the few security guards and policemen with German Shepherds but no one cared they just wanted to see the match like us.
But it was not to be the end of the ordeal. Whereas I and my father had always settled ourselves down to watch the game in one position Dada was all over the place. He explained that initially one should watch the match from the highest vantage point possible in order to gauge and understand the formation and tactics of the teams - I countered that Os Sonhos had been playing the same way in the six years I had watched them and as far as I could make out my father hadn’t seen many changes in all the years he’d been attending either. This had no effect and soon after he had satisfied himself that he was fully aware of the tactical permutations of the ensuing contest, Dada was pushing and shoving his way through the crowd until we were just above the dugout where the coaches and substitutes were. It was here that Dada’s arrogance shone to new heights.
-Hey. Baba! Baba! Baba! You fat oaf. Are you a horse’s ass?
Baba was the shortened name of the coach of Os Sonhos - Senhor Amadeus Barbarosa. A portly man with a big bushy moustache who smoked cigars and wore a suit and Fedora like a Cagney gangster and was much feared by all and sundry because of his explosive temper. It was said that he had thrown one player head first into a bath - empty of water - and caused a head wound that needed 18 stitches - just for missing a penalty and another rumour said that he had taken his daughter’s lover out to the woods and disposed of him with a pickaxe. I was quaking and slowly edging away whilst Dada continued to bait him.
-Hey Baba why the hell are you playing that bufoon Banil on the left hand side he’s gonna get roasted. Your daughter could shag and tackle at the same time better than Banil.
I saw the bald pate of Barbosa’s head raise itself from the dugout. There was a murmur of agreement amongst the crowd who had heard Dada’s comments but, before I knew it, there was a tug at my sleeve and Dada and I had disappeared up the stands again and over a partition. I looked around and I could see three blue helmets of some military policemen, the tips of their drawn truncheons wending their way through the crowd. I also saw Banil being skinned alive down the right wing.
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