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HindustanTimes Sun,26 Oct 2014

Crazy heart for football

Maj Gen GG Dwivedi (retd), Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, July 16, 2014
First Published: 09:04 IST(16/7/2014) | Last Updated: 09:11 IST(16/7/2014)

It was mid-1986, three months after our battalion had been entrusted with the task of sealing the border at Attari in view of the hostile activities on the other side.

The operational environment was rather demanding. At night, during our efforts to plug the routes of ingress, the slightest suspicious movement drew an instantaneous reaction. During the day, we tried to steal some rest under the tents, braving the intense heat and humidity.

Amid all this, one event that provided some excitement was the then ongoing Fifa World Cup. Though football was not our favourite game, it was due to the passion of the commanding officer (CO) that it had gained immense popularity. The CO, in fact, was the captain and star striker of our unit’s football team. Given his unmatched skills, he had even earned the title of Maradona. The sole TV set of the battalion was installed at the headquarters. Occasionally, we got the opportunity to catch glimpses of the World Cup. While patrolling along the border, at times when we inadvertently bumped into the troops from the other side, football was an ice-breaker.

Unfortunately, the tent where our TV had been installed was swept away in a hailstorm, leaving the set damaged. As the World Cup final was around the corner, it was not possible for the CO to procure a new TV set at a short notice. Fortunately, an affluent family in a neighbouring village had bought a colour TV. So the crisis was resolved.

After dinner on the D-day, a few of us along with the CO, reached that house to watch the final between Argentina and Germany. As a courtesy, a bottle of whiskey was presented to the host. As the CO was backing Argentina, there was jubilation when its team took the lead in the first half.

Another goal in the second half saw Argentina lead 2-0. Sweets and milk were ordered to be ushered in by the host, in anticipation of an Argentinean victory.

However, the Germans levelled the score with two quick goals. The tension in the room was palpable. The host’s attendants were swaying with laden trays, awaiting the right moment to begin the service.

As Jorge Burruchaga converted a brilliant pass from Maradona, giving Argentina its third goal, the CO sprang from his chair in excitement. In the process, he struck against a tray laden with half-a-dozen jumbo steel glasses full of milk. Drenched from head to toe, the CO cheerfully proclaimed it to be a good omen, a befitting celebration to commemorate the victory of his favourite team!

Twenty eight years on, as I watched the duel between the old rivals on a mega LED screen on Monday, old memories were rekindled. Soldiers inherently have a crazy heart for sports.

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