When I was a little girl in Calcutta, football or soccer, as it’s called in some parts of the world, was a way of life. In this part of India, cricket and tennis were popular, but they still hadn’t seen their glory days yet. Club football was the big game, and the stars were huge heroes with huge fan following. And, life was simple in terms of choices. Depending on which region of Bengal your predecessors hailed from, you supported either Mohunbagan or Eastbengal. You weren’t really given other options.
Even the ruling Left party with their penchant for frequent strikes, would make exceptions for match days when people would stop working post noon, and, head to the Maidan to watch some fast action, or go home to watch it on telly over endless cups of chai and telebhaja, followed by even more endless match analysis in slow motion.
I vaguely remember some favorite topics – ‘Would anyone ever fill in Chuni Goswami or PK Ganguli’s shoes?’, ‘Did you see the pass that Chima Okorie made?’, ‘Would Baichung, the new kid on the block live up to the hype?’ and so, and so forth it went. What was funny was that sometimes the prices of Hilsa fish would also rise and fall with the rising and falling fortunes of Mohunbagan and Eastbengal.
Back then, I never really understood it. ‘Why would some men get such a kick out of seeing some other men chase ball? Crazy!’ So, I put it down to some sort of background music in the daily humdrum of a big city life. Many years passed. Other games took over. Life moved on, and so did I from the city of my childhood.
Fast forward to present. I just got back from South Africa, the rainbow nation, having watched the World Cup 2010 Live. Even 2 weeks ago, I didn’t know I was going to be there. Some business meetings came up, and, I decided to take a chance fully aware that no work might get done. The universe, however, can be strangely kind at times. Not only did I manage to have a productive work week, and got to see some new places, but I lived the football fever, almost every minute of the 10 days that I was there. It was almost as if I was caught up in a vortex.
I got last-minute tickets to watch the Portugal vs Spain, and Ghana vs Uruguay matches, and 5 other matches in different fan parks. To say that the atmosphere was infectious and super awesome would be an understatement. It was plain crazy, and I felt I was too. From meeting old friends to making new ones, cheering, crying, cussing, drinking, dancing, singing, and blowing the vuvuzelas, it was one endless fun party from the Mother city to the Soccer city.
As in everything else in life, this beautiful game has an ugly side too. I saw my share of it from players cheating on the fields, to referees making bad calls, and violent and irate fan behavior. But, soccer seemed liked this beautiful enchantress, whose charms didn’t diminish simply because she threw a tantrum. In the end, it was the spirit that mattered. I was an accidental fan and, boy did I love it!
One game, many nations, multitudes of emotions, and, only one passion. Now, I realize the mystery behind chasing the ball and the glory. Not bad at all.
When I returned home from my unplanned adventures with a suitcase filled with beautiful memories, my Dad said something that I thought was both funny and poignant, and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. ‘Bongsher naam ujjol koreche meyeta’, which translated loosely into English means, ‘Finally, the girl has been true to her Bengali pedigree; better late than never.’ Ayoba!