Kolkata finally gets its 4-year football tonic
It’s back! The season of joy, sorrow, expectation, disappointment and a mix of a million emotions is here to rock the Mecca of Indian football once again. Local rivalries are temporarily suspended as localities join hands to voice their support for their favourite national teams.
It is hard to think of a time when football for Calcuttans didn’t mean Brazil and Argentina. Neighbourhoods are taken over by the fandom, usually of one or the other, rarely a mix of both. The bustling business area of Esplanade brags of Argentina while the suburbs of Southerm Calcutta scream Brazil. The city has generations of Argentina and Brazil fans, with each generation teaching the next about why they love the nation. The TEN network captured it very beautifully in a Point-Of-View video of a son and father growing old together, watching Argentina at the World Cup when finally one day the son is no longer in front of the television with his dad, but with his own child.
Each neighbourhood is resplendent with paintings of each country’s talisman while debates on who is better can regularly be heard while passing by. One distinct personal memory of the World Cup is when Argentina was knocked out of the 2010 World Cup by Germany. A 4-0 humiliation resulted in the Brazilian fans taking to the streets to yell ‘Argentina doobe geche!’ (Argentina is out!), in retaliation to the Argentina fans similarly mocking them for biting the dust at the hands of the Dutch a few days prior.
A bronze statue of Diego Maradona in North Calcutta certainly gives you an idea about the ideology of those parts. The present Messiah — Lionel Messi — is the go-to argument winner for any Argentina fan against a fan of any team, Brazil or otherwise. Brazilian fans are certainly resting their hopes on Neymar, their golden boy from Paris Saint Germain, but even leaving Barca for a World record 222 million Euro fee hasn’t really gotten him out of Messi’s shadow. While Neymar certainly stakes his claim to be the best in the World, winning the World Cup will surely throw his name in the hat for the Ballon d’Or (Best Player Award), bringing an end to the monopoly on the trophy currently held by Ronaldo and Messi.
The current generation of youngsters in the city avidly following the top European clubs has resulted in the birth of a new breed of football fans with the blend of the same die-hard passion as our forefathers combined with the tactical nous of watching and analysing players day-in and day-out. Now, the fans of England, Spain and Germany are visible in full voice as a result of them falling in love with clubs from these countries like Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, to name a few.
Another World Cup, another chance to gain bragging rights. Argentina and Brazil fans are itching to watch their team get their hands on the Cup this time around and boast about it for the next four years at least. While at the back of their mind they are thinking, ‘European countries have had a stranglehold on the Cup off late, so is it finally South America’s turn?’
90 minutes, a lifetime
A whole lot of Brazil, with a generous amount of Argentina, a dash of England, a sprinkle of Germany, and a touch of Italy — the whole wide world lives here in my grand old city. It lives at the Salt Lake Stadium, at the tea stalls, at the barber shops, at the antiquated pubs and on the couches around television sets in old living rooms.
In a country obsessed with cricket and cricketers, Kolkata’s love affair with football is refreshingly beautiful. And it is not just during World Cup, but the legendary rivalry of the two major football clubs of the city — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan — is widely known. However, the grandeur and scale of the World Cup eclipses it all. For when the World Cup clock strikes, it all comes to one question: Are you wearing the yellow and green of Brazil or are you rocking the white and blue of Argentina?
To a casual observer, it may be confusing or outright bewildering to see the city and the people so engaged in an event that doesn’t even involve our national team, but what they might quite often fail to see is that football for Kolkata is not just a sport, it’s a way of life.
It’s what defies the scorching summer afternoons, it’s what turns localities into families, and it’s what turns strangers into friends on local trains, metros and buses. It’s what fires arguments, it’s what causes storms over cups of tea.
If you have not known excitement and life for a while, make friends with the rain and mud-soaked barefooted kid returning home victorious from the football field. If you have not had a conversation in a while, join in with that bunch of unknown people at the metro station, they will tell you a thing or two about Messi and his goals. If you think that with age people get over their obsession of sports, try telling those silvered haired men that East Bengal is a better club than Mohun Bagan.
The World Cup is when parents introduce their heroes to their children before they have had a chance to play their first game, it’s when brothers and sisters do not fight over the remote control, and it’s when you ally with your annoying neighbour because you both cheer for the same team to take the Cup home.
The World Cup, in our city, is a celebration of football and the spirit of this city. It’s been four years since the last time it all happened but the celebrations have already begun and the excitement is high pitch.