If you are in Bengal, you cannot help but be swept away by the Football Frenzy! Even the non-enthusiasts also are perfectly aware of what goes on, the finer details of the game, the latest news etc, so you can wonder how enthusiastic are the enthusiasts!
Calcutta boasts of Pele (if you don’t know him, there’s no hope) playing (or butchering) at the Eden Gardens (originally a football ground, football comes no where near cricket!) against Mohun Bagan in the September of 1977. Calcutta felicitated Diego Maradona (you can’t possibly not know of him) when he came to Salt Lake stadium, Calcutta in December, 2008. Even recently, Oliver Kahn (goalie of Germany) made it here. So you can understand how far-reaching our craziness is, if you say Calcutta, we don’t think rosogollahs (tired of that one), we think “Football”!
Now, Calcuttans are biased towards South American football, any day! Even personally, as much as I enjoy European Club Football, and Italy, they come nowhere near the South American style. There are many funny distinctions (not discrimination) between the Calcuttans, bangal-ghoti (according to whether you’re from East Bengal or West), then there is East Bengal-Mohun Bagan (the respective football clubs) and several other but none as profound, marked (or disarrayed even) as Argentina-Brazil!
Calcuttans are divided with a straight line into the Argentina supporters and the Brazil ones. You cannot support both. Ever. And you should take part in the Bangali addas in the same, you need to have pretty good ammunition and loyalty invested to make a mark and be heard! There are some arguments that can never be resolved; this is one of the leading ones- “Who are the best, Argentina or Brazil?“
My college (where I did my Masters) canteen has been divided into blue-white and yellow-green. We have huge flags hanging on the tenth floor. When the matches are on, no one works (PhD scholars mainly), we have a TV with cable in there and you are not allowed to watch without your team jersey on! Oh, and the jerseys were bought with donations from the respective supporters, it is the unofficial property of our department! Even the laboratories are not spared from decorating!
Wall-paintings are rampant in Calcutta by small locality clubs who paint the World Cup teams and players, even some clubs have erected statues of Messi, Maradona, Ronaldo and the likes! Posters are everywhere. Every road, street shows their colours. You’ll look right and see yellow and green hanging overhead, then you look left you’ll find the blue-white fluttering in the breeze. People on the street are seen wearing their respective jerseys, even to work on a weekend, to colleges after a win! Shops in New Market, Esplanade in Calcutta are flooded with the unofficial jerseys! Forget Nike, Adidas, the jerseys sell like hotcakes, mostly fakes but still enough to show the colours they support.
Few months before, the original World Cup had made its round in Calcutta, only place it visited in India (in its maiden visit to the country), even with the two days reduced to one, the turn-out was awesome; fought for that single glimpse!
Think about the Mexican wave, it is a complete Football thingy, and the Calcutta crowd at the Eden Gardens loves it (knows it) and they do that even in the cricket matches… And now, the Mexican wave has become a rage during cricket matches in other cities too. It is funny!
Coming to my personal life, I am a hard-core Brazil fan, have been one for 15 years (or more) from when I understand football. And my dearest fiancé, as luck would have it is a die-hard Argentina fan. So we are fighting every night! Harrumphhing, too! I did try the “If you love me…” angle (anything for football) but discarded it, too… Nothing doing, won’t support Argentina for even him, and cannot ask him to that either for me! Of course, we have to make-up (with an effort) in the mornings but the nights (all matches are in the evening) are spent in verbal wrestling and name-calling! We are totally biased, all of us, pro-Brazil or pro-Argentina, and proud of it!
Funniest thing for us is the non-Bengalis, non-Calcuttans especially the ones who work in Calcutta away from home! They are literally baffled with the football craze, and are complete football-illiterate! A non-Calcuttan senior of mine said “Ahh, a red card! Damn, they have to play with 10 players in the next match!” We rolled around laughing!! As much as their reactions amuse us, we stare at them like they are some unknown species. Football is so big here, that the Fifa World Cup is a huge occasion. Everyone arranges their time-tables accordingly, it is usual to be late for office next day after a big late-night match (including the Boss)! Disrupted schedules, slow working pace, it is understood!
We never had good players, but players we had. And only out of blind love for the sport. The greatest regret that cricket gobbles up all the money but we have never ever played a Fifa World Cup. In 1950, by elimination, we had qualified but had refused to play as the players were not allowed to play bare-footed (Imagine!)! On the brighter side, the excitement and expectations attached with football, it’s a consolation that India doesn’t play, it would hurt, literally bleed, to see India lose. But still, one hopes that India will host Fifa World Cup one day, the only way that India can play then!
Football is not just a sport, it is a religion. And you cannot escape the fever in Calcutta. It is not just a love, it’s an obsession. If you don’t really enjoy football, you are missing a world out here!!
Calcutta is a city to behold when football takes over! No wonder, Calcutta is the Football Capital of India!
N.B. Each to his own. Just sharing the madness. I, for one, cannot think of life without football!