An inflated rubber bladder swathed in leather, twenty two men in numbered jerseys, a black and white Bharat television, an irate grandfather and a curtain ban on watching anything else on television while the match was on.That is my earliest memory of football. Those were the days when Calcutta would unify in one chorus ‘Goooooal’. Calcuttans got divided into three depending on where their loyalty lay: Mohun Bagan, East Bengal or Mohammaden Sporting. Pennants fluttered from high wires proudly announcing the alliance of the alleys; and the Ilish and Chingri machh prices reflected a real time volatility that reflected the changing fortunes of the game and the celebrations that would follow. Growing up in a city that owed its allegiance to football, erected statues of its football heroes like Goshtha Pal – the legenday defender for Mohun Bagan – and living in a household that revered football, it might have been expected that I would be wiser in the ways of ‘football’, but I seemed to have disappointed many, especially my grandfather.
It only dawned upon me that I needed to become a little more knowledgeable in the ways of football when that monsoon in early 90’s brought in a new set of friends into my life. We had just moved into a neighbourhood with a green park and an eager group of wannabe footballers. The rain drenched, muddy brat pack would talk about nothing but Gary Lineker, Jurgen Klinsmann, Milla and Buruchagga. I had to find a way to sound wiser and interested. I spent that World Cup reading up on World Cup trivia and keeping abreast of the developments, thanks to the newspapers and magazines that came into our household and also watched a match or two. My compulsive nature stopped me from getting my feet dirty, so I saved myself from growing too pally with the muddy boys. By the next World Cup, my allegiance had shifted from the neighbourhood heroes to real life heroes, more things complex and all things related to the troublesome teenage years.
It was the summer of ’98, when the new man in my life whisked me away to a new house in a new city that sported a brand new 29 inch Samsung television and forced me to pledge my allegiance to the game once again. The man had moved into Lutyen’s with a new job and a new wife. But being a football zealot – and it being around the time that the16th FIFA World Cup was about to start – one of his first investments was in the ‘most essential’ household item. I knew from then that my life would never be the same again, I had suddenly taken on a who new challenge: competing with the likes of Beckham, Zidane, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Batistuta for his attention.
Every World Cup thenceforth kept adding something new to my secret notebook that I maintained, adding trivia, including new players and building a glossary of ‘important’ football terms. And through those years I also tried my level best to forget the sleep-loving self and stay up through the important matches, by the Bee’s side, cheering in unison. All this in hope that some day the zealot at home would appreciate that I kept track of things a little deeper and more profound than David Beckham’s tattoo at last count; the Zidane-Materazzi head-butt; why Maradona was in the news for the wrong reasons; The FIFA mascots or the lyrics of The Cup of Life.
Cut to the present vuvuzella ridden World Cup, the Adidas Jabulani (meaning ‘bringing joy to everybody’) is now the centre of attraction among 32 teams, Shakira’s swaying hips and “Waka-Waka” (click on Waka Waka to listen to the song, if you haven’t already) has become one of the most shared link on Facebook and Twitter, as zealots worldwide bank on Messi, Kaka,Rafael, Rooney, and wait for them to enthral all, favourite teams and players seem to be disappointing fans world over. Amidst this fervour two things happened.
The Bee had been away in another city while the initial matches were being played. One of those rainy nights, I sat scrolling down my Twitter homepage reading about people complaining about the vuvuzella and its “mad bee drone” and scouring for more FIFA 2010 trivia, when the telephone rang. The Bee’s voice on the other side announced “It’s a goal! And what a goal it is! This is the first time we aren’t watching the matches together!”
The nine-going-on-ten returned from school the next afternoon, chirpy as usual, but I spotted an extra twinkle in her almond eyes. She plonked herself on the sofa, reclined there moodily for sometime and shared with me in confidence that “Thankfully I have been watching those matches nowadays Mamma! You know, they were so surprised to hear that I can also talk about football, those gross boys of my class, whose only jabber nowadays is the World Cup! Boys!”
Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame