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World Cup Special! How to score squad goals

Kicking off my career as a football fan in style

brunch Updated: Jun 09, 2018 21:46 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Sunil Chhetri,India,Kenya
When India football captain Sunil Chhetri made an impassioned plea to fans on social media ahead of the India-Kenya match of the Intercontinental Cup, it was time to show up for another sport(Photo imaging: Parth Garg )

Maradona’s Hand of God goal. Zidane’s head butt. David Beckham’s hair. Wenger’s retirement. Bandra boys yelling, “Putthru men, putthru” on muddy grounds. This is the sum total of my footballing knowledge. Like the typical Indian, cricket is what I watched growing up. It’s what I still watch, if the format and other factors align. So when India football captain Sunil Chhetri made an impassioned plea to fans on social media ahead of the India-Kenya match of the Intercontinental Cup, I felt suitably guilty. It was time to show up for another sport.

A FIFA-approved chat

Tickets were booked online before conscience-cancelling ideas could occur. A football zealot on my FB timeline, K, was particularly pleased by my sudden interest.

“We should be bloody proud we have this amazing stadium in Andheri,” K began. “And these are all FIFA-approved official games. A tournament like this for the first time In India! It’s equivalent to a World Cup for us. And the competition is great - all four teams are ranked close to each other. India is close to its highest ranking in history. Plus, it’s Sunil Chhetri’s 100th game. In Indian football terms, that’s like Sunil Gavaskar’s 100th Test. Football really is the future. And the thing is so well organised,” he said in a bout of breathless typing.

“How lovely,” I replied eloquently.

“And it’s such a small and compact stadium. Like those typical English football grounds.”

“Accha. Are there loos inside?” I asked speaking for every woman who’s ever attended any public event.

“The only stadium in India where you get to watch players up close. The ground is so small, you’re right up next to the playing area. What, loos? Yes of course. Not great. Better than public loos but maybe like the loos at Wankhede. You’ll see the Blue Tiger cheering squad this evening. They are insane!”

Yes, I CAN

So there we were, four conscience-ridden, non-football fans – N, A, C and I. I CAN, if you want to be cute about it. And we wanted to be cute. And honourable. N was in the queue where virtual bookings could be converted to real tickets. C was on her way. And I was drinking in all the frenzy. The place was filling up like a petrol tank before yet another fare hike. And then we spotted them. An elderly man in a too-tight football jersey, with two little girls, also in football jerseys, tightly holding on to each of his hands. They were told there were no tickets. In a raging sea of euphoria, here was a little puddle of gloom.

Like the typical Indian, cricket is what I watched growing up. It’s what I still watch, if the format and other factors align

This looked like a job for Team I CAN. One look at each other and we knew where this story would go next. N offered the gentleman our lot of tickets – three for them, and one extra, to call who they wished. The looks on their faces were straight out of the end of a Reader’s Digest story. They thanked us profusely, bewildered at our gesture. They didn’t realise what a treat it was to watch their crumpled faces transform right before our eyes.

From the bench to the bar

There was nothing left to do now but head to the bar next door. Roadhouse Bluez had their screens all set up for the match. If not from the bench, we were going to cheer from the bar. Just as we were settling in with the Old Monk, the rains made an appearance. Rum, popcorn, Mumbai’s rains, Pink Floyd – and a sweet sense of self-satisfaction. This was going well. Except for the TV transmission, which blinked at the first sign of the monsoons.

From stadium to big screen to a web feed on a tiny phone screen, the journey had been eventful. Luckily, the TV coverage resumed by the second half, and before we knew it, three goals had been scored. Chhetri scored what we were told was a brace, and we celebrated by googling his wedding pictures, in the finest traditions set by cricket fans and their sordid appetite for gossip. When the game finally ended, spectators from the stadium began trickling in, voices hoarse and spirits high. We hoped that somewhere in the crowd, a happy old man was leaving the stadium accompanied by two girls with stars in their eyes and football on their mind.

From HT Brunch, June 10, 2018

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First Published: Jun 09, 2018 21:05 IST