If you were a small boy in Kolkata in the 1970s, you supported only one international football team: Brazil. My father and uncles and all their friends supported Brazil; and all my friends did as indeed did their fathers and uncles. Sporting allegiance is often passed on from generation to generation.
Brazil, we knew, played beautiful football, and, in certain circles in Kolkata, you were brought up to believe that as a Bengali, you had no choice but to be an aesthete.
All that changed in 1982. In sport, it’s rare for a fan to switch loyalties. It’s rarer still for half the football fans in a city to switch loyalties at the same time. It’s a oncein- a-lifetime phenomenon. But this was triggered by a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon: Diego Maradona.
For fans of my generation, Maradona — flawed, angry and more sinned against than sinning in that tournament, kicked and hacked by every defender he came up against, preternatural in his reflexes, superhuman in his skill, slaloming and leapfrogging across the pitch with his demeanour informed by a punk-rock swagger — became a mascot.
No, I won’t get started on what he did in the 1986 World Cup.
So now I have passed on my allegiance to my daughter. A World Cup is always a good time for seeing how things have changed in the four years since the last one was held. As I see Oishi now, I feel a twinge of nostalgia for the four-year-old she had been in 2006.
She watched the game only fitfully in those days; she knew the terrace chant (Ar-gen-tina! Ar-gen-tina!), but would only occasionally cheer and shout along with me at Argentina games.
This time, she is deeply involved. She knows the players because she has followed them in European league football. She is busy plotting the progress of the side she supports; and she worries about whom Argentina will meet in the Round of 16.
Now, we chant in unison: Ar-gen-tina! Vamos, vamos!
It helps that Maradona is the manager of the current team. Days before the Cup began, she flicked through El Diego: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Footballer, and asked me tell her again of the man’s exploits and his operatic life.
We watched Argentina’s first game against Nigeria together. And the second against South Korea together but apart, speaking on the phone at half-time and texting each other at critical moments.
There are few things like watching sport together. Because when it is sport, one isn’t merely watching. It is a participatory exercise. It fosters a rare sense of togetherness, a rush of adrenaline and a glimpse of beauty and drama that transport us to a realm beyond our ordinary lives.
I’ll make the most of this World Cup. When the next one comes around, and she is on the brink of becoming a teenager, who can tell how things will be?