A few minutes are left for the Kick-off of the 20th FIFA World Cup in Sao Polo, Brazil. I am in Kolkata for some work. It could be a coincidence that I happened to be in a city where the football frenzy is almost similar to the same in my home state, Kerala. We were familiar with the West Bengal football clubs like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting Club from our school days. Many of the known players from Kerala used to play with these clubs during those times.
I think it was the 1998 world cup I watched first. Ever since I would closely follow all news related to the World Cup at least three months before the kick-off to keep myself updated about the teams, players and their chances. However, it was a sudden realisation this time that yet another kick-off is a few minutes away.
We never had a football ground or team in our village. However, just for a few months before and after the every World Cup, we used to play football in the small ground in front of our primary school. This was often interrupted and stopped by the school management as our excitement often did harm to the school building, especially to its tiled roof. What we played most during that time was cricket but the passion for football and emotional support for the South American countries were still there in our minds.
During the 1998 World Cup, all football fans from our village used to gather in a small restaurant run by the Kudilparambil Family to watch the late night matches. They managed to set up a dish antenna and subscribed to the channel that broadcast the matches live. There were very few TV sets in the village at that time and nobody else had access to that particular channel. Watching the matches with such a big crowd was a wonderful experience which I still cherish.I completed my 10th standard also during the same year and moved out of my village. I don’t know whether the new generation in my village is so enthusiastic about soccer now.
For me this is the second world cup after settling down in Delhi and the first one after getting married. I don’t know whether I would be able to enjoy all the matches this time with my wife and an 18-month-old son around. Anyways, Argentina will remain my favourite this time too as always.
New heroes will emerge in the game but my football heroes will always be players like Gabriel Batistuta, Ariel Ortega and Juan Roman Riquelme of Argentina; Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldinho of Brazil; Patrick Kluivert and Edgar Davids of Holland; Roberto Baggio and Paolo Maldini of Italy; Zidane of France; Figo of Portugal; Beckham and Steven Gerard of England (Gerard is playing in this world cup as well); and, of course, Baichung Bhutia and I.M Vijayan of India!!!!! For, they all belong to the times when I enjoyed the game most.
(Photo courtesy: http://www.npr.org)