I was a strong believer that you can never enjoy watching a sport more than playing it…. As a result I have never followed any sport religiously…. And in this country of cricket crazy fanatics, I found myself to be an oddity…. But the Quarter final match of FIFA World Cup 2006 altered my perception and exposed me to that dimension of sport viewing which corroborates the use of adjectives spine-chilling, exciting, nerve wrenching, awesome et all…. Germany vs Argentina…. I remember the match so vividly…. Not only because it was the first sport match which kept me at the edge of my seat but also because it was also my first encounter with experiencing all the emotions vicariously which I have always experienced as a player….
I was a U-16 football player so a football field was not an unknown arena for me… I had tried a couple of times to watch football before…. But ended up watching either league matches or some weak teams playing on the field making them boring, reaffirming my opinion that watching a game is boring…. But little did I know…. Agreed that matches are more exciting when the stakes are high…. But if you get involved in the game, every match could get exciting…. So this is how I got hooked onto the World Cup…. Just like everyone in India did…. A huge football wave surged in India where the only idea of sport was CRICKET!!!! Tennis had recently started off due to tennis sensation Sania Mirza but it died down as suddenly as it had started….
Now India was never a footballing nation…. So, the skeptics thought of this as being a following the crowd to be in the trendy, elite group trend…. In fact I had a discussion with one such skeptic…. He asked me a question, “what happens if the 5 penalty shootouts also even out and the score is tied at 5-5?” I told him that the next penalty shootout takes place and goes on till it gives an uneven score…. Then he said that one of his friends who thinks he is a great footballing fan told him, the 6th kick has to be taken by goalie and then everyone in the team takes it…. And then it’s a rematch…. Also, he asked around 10 more people and ended up with 10 different answers…. That’s when he said “No person knows all the rules here and we all ape to be football lovers…. How can you love a game without knowing the rules??? Just imagine watching a game of chess without knowing the rules…. How absurd will it feel?” I then told him then that the knowledge of basic rules should be enough to make you love the game…. You are fans and not players to know the entire rulebook for the game…. Basics like what a penalty is…. You should know what a free kick, yellow card, red card et all are…. You should know the dribbling rules etc…. and this information is good enough to like a game…. You don’t have to watch hundreds of matches to know Zinedine Zidane is a great player…. You see his skills on the field in only one match and you instantly know that he is one of the great players who command respect…. Not knowing, the game rules, doesn’t change the fervor with which you follow the game… what should get to you is the frenzy, the tension…. He said, “You don’t have anything at stake coz India is not involved… so it feels weird to choose any arbit team and cheer for them… And most probably the team chosen by you girls will have the cutest players…. Also I wonder where all the football fans go after the world cup…. The euro cup never invoked such enthusiasm and that time too, the same teams were involved”
I answered all these questions to the best of my ability and knowledge (limited due to the 'RECENT' football following) and yet he was skeptical... i even told him that there is always a first time for something... unless you do it once, you cant dream of doing it again.... but all in vain.... And this made me realize how difficult it is for a nation, with a parochial mindset and which doesn’t play many worldwide known sports, to accept that people can just suddenly follow a new game…..
It’s a vicious circle followed…. No sporting heroes… So no following... No following… So no one takes up that sport... So no heroes…. To add to this, we Indians are so result driven…. India won some hockey match and hockey grips the entire country…. Indian goes in F1 racing and suddenly everyone watches F1 with more zeal…. Indians come and win some title in tennis and we are watching tennis till the player retains good form…. Later this following goes into oblivion….And that’s exactly where this football fever is different…. It’s different coz for once; we are watching something with so much zeal without waiting for heroes from our country to take this game up…. In fact with no stakes involved, we are actually in a position to cherish the game…. We can watch a game neutrally and savor all the good things from both the playing sides and condemn all the bad things…. On the contrary this no stake involvement may be the factor that boosts people to take up football… May be then we can have a team which can go somewhere beyond leagues…. I mean despite the lack of involvement of our country, it did cause the masses to pick up football viewing inspite of the odd hours, dint it?
I also realize that the problem with football in India is not dearth of talent but it’s the system… Administration which has almost destroyed hockey won’t let football flourish too…. But may be with so many people talking about football, so many gully matches getting played, the administration won’t be able to ignore it for a very long time…. After all in a democracy don’t the people turn tables!!!!!
My only dream is to watch India play world cup football…. Korea, Angola could do it then why cant we? And when we do play; if we even reach till the top 6 positions, ill be very happy…. Coz asking anything beyond that may label me as a result driven supporter too :)