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Lessons from a football match

She kicked away the cushion, slithered across the sofa, put her hand on my knee, and said: “Would you like a drink?” It was 1 am. Barcelona was playing Inter Milan in the semi-final of the Champions League. The score was nil-nil. Writes Soumya Bhattacharya.

india Updated: May 02, 2010 01:02 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya

She kicked away the cushion, slithered across the sofa, put her hand on my knee, and said: “Would you like a drink?”

It was 1 am. Barcelona was playing Inter Milan in the semi-final of the Champions League. The score was nil-nil. It was half time. Both Barcelona supporters, we were watching the game — and a chance to appear in the finals — slipping away. Barcelona needed to win 2-0 to go through.

“Would you like a drink?” she asked again, when I didn’t respond. “I’ll have one, I think.”

A minute later, she returned with ice cubes chiming in a glass of Fanta. An aerated drink is a rare indulgence for her, allowed only on special occasions like a big football match; it is invariably to be taken advantage of.

Play was about to resume. I said I’d keep her company with a whisky.

Then, as Barcelona’s attacks came in wave after wave, crashed against the wall of Inter’s heroic defence and failed to breach it, my eight-year-old began to feel frustrated and thwarted. She drummed the sofa to chants of ‘Barca! Barca!’; she clapped her forehead with anger; she screamed abuse at her team.

But Jose Mourinho’s men were holding the line, offering no room for Lionel Messi to make dazzling runs, shutting down, with grit, skill and resolve, what must be the most fearsome and beautiful attack in world club football.

Pique scored towards the end, but, even after that, Inter — like Muhammad Ali hanging back on the rope and taking George Foreman’s punches in the heavyweight title fight in 1974 — withstood Barca’s final, frenzied flurry of attacks.

Oishi’s team was out of the Champions League.

“Why couldn’t Messi score?” she asked, with the petulance that fans feel when they have been disappointed, when they have discovered that their willing a team on while watching a game on TV has actually come to nothing.

“They didn’t allow him any space. It was all because of Mourinho,” I said.

“Why can’t Mourinho coach Barcelona or Arsenal?”

“They both have very good coaches. Besides, Mourinho will probably move to Real Madrid from next season.”

“It always happens, Baba,” she said, slumping on to the sofa, the adrenaline draining out, the anguish beginning to settle on her.

“What does?”

“Any team we support loses.”

“That’s not true. Look at India and cricket. We win so often. Look at Federer. We support him, and he wins pretty much everything.”

“But it still happens, Baba,” Oishi said. “Look at Arsenal. Look at Barcelona…”

It’s wonderful for small children to watch sport, especially children who are privileged enough to be largely sheltered from the world’s grim things.

Sport shows them that if things can go wrong, they will. It offers the first instance of unrequited love. (I love my team, but it doesn’t love me enough to win and make me happy.) It teaches them the participatory delight of watching. It shows them, even if they don’t know it then, the value of catharsis.