Football to me is more than a game. It is a way of life. My mom tells me that I started kicking the ball almost at the same time when I started walking. As I grew up, I played the game as much I can (till the time I realized that I needed to do something else for a living). My love affair with football grew with every passing moment and I craved for more. Growing up in football crazy Kolkata did help. I was able to persuade my parents to send me to watch Uruguay and Francescoli play in the inaugural Nehru Cup in the Eden Gardens (yes once upon a time football matches were played in the iconic Cricket Stadium!). I was 7 and while I watched the matches from the top tier (far far away from the centre of action), I realized that I was getting emotionally connected to the game. I could talk about it for hours and never felt tired of trying to pronounce the somewhat unfamiliar surnames of my then heroes correctly – Enzo Francescoli (Uruguay), Laszlo Kiss (Hungary), Jorge Burruchaga (Argentina), Nery Pumpido (Argentina), Euzebiusz Smolarek (Poland) etc etc.
The Nehru Cup continued to prosper for a few years and attracted teams like Poland, Argentina, Hungary, South Korea, China etc. I somehow managed to convince my dad that he should get the tickets for me when the third edition of the tournament was played in Kolkata again. I was awestruck by the talent and skill that was on display, primarily from a strong Poland team. My love affair with football went to the next level!
My generation’s growing up coincided with the television revolution in India where for the first time we were able to see live football games. Initially it was the World Cup and the European Championships on Doordarshan (public service broadcaster). And then something spectacular happened! One of my friend’s dad discovered that one could see highlights of the newly launched English Premier League every weekend if you could catch the TV channels in Bangaldesh. The enterprising device which made this miracle a reality was called ‘booster’ and was used almost in every household in Kolkata for a few years. We could watch football on a weekly basis and names like Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool became common household names.
As we grew up, my friends slowly started to tilt in favour of Man Utd or Liverpool. While I was a huge fan of Eric Cantona and the young David Beckham, I wanted to support another team (partly due to the fact it wasn’t much fun if we had supported the same teams). I couldn’t make up my mind till 2001 when ESPN Star Sports announced that prime time English Premier League matches would be shown ‘live’ in India. I had to make up my mind this time and I chose ‘Chelsea’. The combination of Marcel Desailly, Gustavo Poyet, Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo proved too much and I enrolled myself as a Blues fan. It took me another 10 years though to visit Stamford Bridge and join the chorus:
Blue is the colour, football is the game
We’re all together and winning is our aim
So cheer us on through the sun and rain
Cos Chelsea, Chelsea is our name.
My football Odyssey currently revolves around the fortunes of Chelsea (every year from August onwards). Every four years, I switch my allegiance to Brazil for a month (Messi is making it difficult though!) and hope for jogo bonito.
Apart from watching football, I have started reading books on Football (more on that on a separate post). Biographies of players who have enthralled me on the field provide me inspiration to continue with my dreams and while I don’t get a chance to play anymore regularly, I never miss an opportunity to kick the ball (whenever, wherever).