Sunday, June 27, 2010
Indian soccer in tennis ball and flip-flops
The football fever is on across the world. Like many Indians I feel and act confused by the utter ignorance about the game, the trends, the players and the buzz around. I am well present on the social networking arena, read as widely as possible for a journalist, yet I miss everything on this game. Sometimes the genuine passion and knowledge people around me display I feel threatened about my indifference. I simply can’t communicate on this subject except a confessional script like this.
The social and cultural environment I was brought up in had Cricket and Gilli-danda as the most dominating games, in primary school and neighborhood playgrounds. So football was out of question till I reached high school. Mine was a large class with more than 400 students, while the school had more than 2,000 students and we had two playgrounds. We had to play everything in the same space and time, the one hour recess in the afternoon. If you stand on the top-arch of the school building you can see upto five teams playing football in two playgrounds, while upto ten teams sharing space in between to play cricket, handball or Gilli-danda.
As everyone wants to be a batsman in cricket, everyone wanted to be forward in the kind of football we were playing. Though I was kind of a leader in my batch after running for class monitor elections twice and losing by a margin of two and five votes, I had little say in the football team selection. Like the national game and sports associations ruled by certain people, our school football team was designed, choreographed and even decimated by a small group of people who never wore the jersey but played bets on it in multiples of ten rupees.
I was interested in the game for the sheer fun of running and hitting the ball. But I was rather chosen for the event-less goalie’s position, where I failed miserably because of the ball’s size. After all we were playing soccer with a lemon yellow coloured tennis ball on green grass and mud (The school had few balls which were out only during annual sports). Almost no goalkeeper of an international repute could have stopped such a tiny ball.
One day out of frustration I ran ahead and tried my legs at snatching the ball from the opposition player who was just about to hit the tiny lemon into our side of the post. You must have watched the scene. The opponent fell flat with my one stroke. I couldn’t understand why? Later the big boys who were putting money on our teams told me that I have the strongest legs in the school.
I was asked to play as a forward from the next day. It was thrilling! I realized I was no great player with techniques; I couldn’t even roll the ball between my legs or hit it in the desired direction. But as I told earlier, the kind of football we were playing in our flip-flops was mostly mud wrestling with the objective to keep the tiny ball at your legs.
When it rained, as it did for a large part of the year we loved the game. I was called the ‘danger man’, a local coinage for the ferocious one on field. If I had the ball people avoided body contact and stayed clearly away from the legs. I had those unusually powerful, green muscles showing legs thanks to the 16 kilometers of cycling I had to do besides some early morning Yoga aasanas with dad helped.
I became the bully on the field, though I rarely scored. Drenched in rain I remember many conflicts on the mud, putting fear into the eyes of the smaller looking opponents. But every hero or tyrant has a final day. So did come my day on the field. One of the newer entrants recruited by the non playing gamblers had a spiked shoe. One with sharp spikes that can peel flesh of your succulent legs and tear your ligaments. It happened to me though I didn’t let the pain show on the face but decided to hang-up my flip-flops forever.
I briefly played football at University again mostly to track the most powerful opponent and offer fierce resistance. But nowhere did I fell in love with the game or get to learn anything.
It was an unfortunate thing that I missed the game the world loves. It seems despite the entire hullabaloo, it still has not caught my attention or fancy. It is like mathematics. If it doesn’t interest you it doesn’t click. So I give a miss to the Jabulanis, Vuvujelas, Messis a miss. But I still very much connect with the gorgeous Shakira doing waka waka.
this time for Afrika.
(Photograph Kids playing mud-football Photograph)