The battle has begun. Media has labelled it as ‘The Greatest Carnival of Football on Earth’. And indeed it is so. We’ve already had the Indian General Elections and a dying IPL back to back this year. But, this is the real thing most of us had been waiting for.
A month of sleepless nights is all I wish for. The World Cup this year, has begun at a very opportune moment for me. With things not exactly going well here and there, 90 minutes of adrenaline rush each day seems to be the best refute. I’ve been watching football effectively since the 1994 World Cup. Prior to that, I was just old enough to listen the nitty-gritties of the game during Italia ’90 from my previous generation. Summer vacation meant a trip to my maternal grandparents’ home. My father, maternal uncle and my elder cousin participated in animated discussions over each match and carefully dissecting the game of players like Batistuta, Roberto Baggio and Goycoechea. Their names sounded like pieces of enigma to my pre-teen ears while my cousin being four years elder than me had gained the privilege of discussion with our parents. He played the game himself, with his friends in school and our maternal uncle at home. They would make a dummy miniature football of a ‘cambis’ ball, and run all around it on the terrace.
I was never an outdoor sports person and would spend the hot sweltering evenings on the terrace, eating purple Kalo Jaam (Java plum) soaked in salt, and watching my uncle and cousin play. The elder one would pass tips and tricks, laced with anecdotes from previous world cups, trivia about every player and the faults of the game to the younger one. I bet those sessions were enriching to my cousin, though he never pursued the game since he was short like his idol Maradona. I had, rather imbibed the bits and pieces of information, names of the players, game statistics and an overall idea of the enthralling game. By the next world cup, I knew most of the international players – Valderrama with his huge crop of hair, Rene Higuita with efforts to score a goal, Roberto Baggio with his ponytail and Buddhism and many more. We used to buy chocolates more often than needed to collect the football cards with different players and compare with friends in school.
None of our parents approved such abundance of chocolates at home, so my paternal uncle managed a few cards from his friends and gave them to me. The joy of spreading out a collection of cards, not to play with them, but the thrill of finding a new one in every pack was overwhelming.
By 1994, I was actively watching football mostly late night matches with my father explaining the positions and styles – European and Latin American, differentiating Spanish grace from German precision, learning to detect play acting of Italy, soaking in the unique game plans of small countries like Romania and Bulgaria which are no longer active in world football now. Since then, I’ve watched each World Cup and most Euro Cups till date. I’ve grown a little with each passing tournament, with a better understanding of the game, increasing passion with each year, and finally having found a perfect partner (my better half) to watch the game with. We share a similar childhood, of football cards, sleepless nights, anxiety ridden France-Brazil final during high school, and lately Spain winning the World Cup in 2010.
Coming from a hyperventilated Calcuttan background, it was impossible for us to choose beyond Brazil or Argentina. We’ve grown up with Cafu, Socrates, Dida, Roberto Carlos, Romario, Ronaldo, Bebeto and Ronaldinho, unable to share the passion for their game with any other country. With age I’ve learnt to appreciate other teams, other countries like Germany, Spain and Portugal. This year, I’m hopeful again for Brazil, for their indomitable talent Neymar Jr. I’ve been a fan of Cristiano Ronaldo’s dribble, Lionel Messi’s hard work, Neymar’s free kicks. There are innumerable other talented players of all the teams, I’m eager to savour their kicks and corners too. These days, I hear people asking why should we watch football at all, as India doesn’t qualify. The beauty of the game is much beyond this discrimination based on qualification. Childhood is engulfed by Cricket in our country, cornering football to states like West Bengal and Goa. Indian Club football is on the verge of it’s death, for sure. Our hope lies in our choices. One month of frenzy and excitement, calculations and speculations are bound to be a refute to all your problems.
This world cup, I’m rooting for Brazil and Spain. For Messi and Ronaldo. For Neymar and Ozil too.
Are you watching yet? Let the greatest show on earth begin.