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HindustanTimes Sat,02 Aug 2014

FWC Free Kicks

Football crazy fans in Kolkata bring World Cup to city
Agnibesh Das , Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 09, 2014
First Published: 20:34 IST(9/6/2014)
Last Updated: 12:24 IST(10/6/2014)
Team Uruguay and Team France players in action during the FIIOB World Cup fan tournament in Salt Lake,  Kolkata. (Prateek Choudhury/HT Photo)

France beat Brazil 1-0 in the final to lift the World Cup in Kolkata. Confused? Don't be.

Salt Lake Stadium may be far away from hosting Ribery or Neymar but a group of football-crazy Bengalis have sought to remedy that by holding their own version of the football World Cup.
 
We are talking about a group, who are quite suggestively called Football is in Our Blood. Initially just a Facebook page, the group is now a non profit organisation registered under the West Bengal government.

Among other things, they hold two football tournaments every year – one in summer and other in winter.

For the summer tournament this year, the group chose the World Cup as their theme. So the eight teams participating are named for the eight teams that have won the Cup. On Sunday, England, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina clashed in a field in Salt Lake with more than 200 fans from across the city in attendance.

Team Brazil and Team Argentina players in action during the FIIOB World Cup fan tournament in Salt Lake, Kolkata. (Prateek Choudhury/HT Photo)

Matches started at ten in the morning. Winners France lifted a trophy that is a replica of the one that teams will be battling for come June 12, sponsored by popular football site Goalden Times.

How did it all begin? Said current president and founding member Viv Sarkar: "I think there was a lack of football groups or platforms where people could discuss about the game as a football fan first and a club supporter later. We thought that a neutral platform was needed and that's the beginning of FIIOB."

On April 7, 2011, Sarkar and Abhiroop Mankin started a Facebook page with multiple administrators to moderate and control the fights (because as is common knowledge, one can change religions, but not allegiance to football clubs). The group currently has more than 53 thousand members, and is growing exponentially.

Video: Member Shubhashish Biswas speaks to HT

"Now we receive almost 200 requests every day," said Tamas Sinha, a techie who has been a member since the inception of the group.

In November 2011, the group decided to start their unique tournaments.

"I'm not sure who triggered it. But we were having discussion on group that we should play football also, instead of just commenting on Facebook," Sinha revealed.

When registration started for the first match in December that year, about 50 to 60 people signed up, according to him. Some more registered as spectators and those who couldn't play officiated. In comparison, Sunday's tournament saw 130 players, plus organisers.

The format of the tournament is unique. For each tournament, members are asked to put in their names as team owners. The administrative board then selects a few. "Each owner is then given 500 points for auction. Players who register to play are auctioned off, each with a base price of 10 points. There is no money involved," explained Proma Sanyal, another die-hard member of the group.

Players and spectators are required to pay a token registration fee that is used to take care of logistics and the Bengalis' other love – food. "We have Biriyani!" she beamed.

The World Cup tournament was special though. "We wanted to have a carnival-like atmosphere in Kolkata involving all, even those staying abroad," said Sarkar. So eight members who are now settled abroad were asked to be team owners and bid actual money for the teams. Base price for every team was $30. Brazil commanded the highest bid and went for $151 to a Toronto-based auditor Anjan Roy.

Video: Co-founder Viv Sarkar speaks to HT

Sarkar clarified this is not a corporate tournament. "They are merely football enthusiasts. Our team players are extremely gifted players, but they don't get the opportunity to play. Hence this forum."

For the World Cup, they have further plans also. They hope to book auditoriums and have screenings of the matches. The timing is proving to be a logistical hurdle, but talks are on.

Football is not the sole focus of this rapidly expanding group. "All of us dream to make the world a better place. For us football is a tool," Sarkar claimed.

They play matches to promote world peace and fight for social issues. When the Nido Taniam incident happened in New Delhi, an FIIOB team played with students from the North East to spread awareness against racism.

Here's wishing all the best to these football maniacs who wish to unite the world with the beautiful game.

Team Brazil run with the flag before the FIIOB World Cup fan tournament in Salt Lake, Kolkata. (Prateek Choudhury/HT Photo)


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