A piece started back when we were still lodged in the Group of 16. A piece that might have been abandoned like so many others had it not been for the crazy Semi-Final score between Brazil and Germany. That acted as a propeller, not as a subject changer, because it only made me realise just how much I appreciate football, for what it is, what it does.
Maradona is the first name I ever associated with the FIFA World Cup and somehow I still do. And no one can blame me because 1986 was the first time I ever even heard of the World Cup. My Dad had bought the family’s first TV-a small SONY that needed him or my brother to turn the antenna upstairs to get a clear picture. I don’t really remember how the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ went down that year except that we were allowed a few late nights on account of the grown-ups watching the match. But Maradona it was, and Spain- probably because of the bright coloured pictures of the previous World Cup in my Grandpa’s magazines.
Mizoram goes crazy every World Cup. Before the days of the Internet, there were enterprising souls who got the game fixtures well ahead of time and sold them in little booklets. Everyone was eager to have copies, mark winners and predict future fixtures for those of us who didn’t own one or were not bothered enough to keep up. Then came pioneering newspapers and magazines that’d carry such fixtures for subscribers to cut out.
Even though I grew up among a football-crazy people, love a good match as much as anyone and have been bitten by the bug at crucial points of every World Cup, it has never been a priority. And at no other time has it made such a lasting impact on me as it did as a child in 1986. Names like Baggio, Valderama, Cafu, Gullit etc. still ring bells of familiarity but they are distant, a lot like somebody else’s memories. Stronger in my mind are the ‘Ual Kap’s our Church Youth Fellowship organises every year the World Cup happens because I am so much more a part of it. The World Cup fever has more or less been that for me, a fever.
In 2010 I had harboured distant dreams of making it to Brazil in 2014, but the four years passed with no concrete plans and I found myself in Europe when Brasil 2014 finally opened!
Opening Night in Brazil was also closing night at my Conference in Bossey, Switzerland. That meant packing, sitting down with friends, sharing lives and future plans. It was only after a much-loved message that I ran down to the lounge to catch glimpses of an Opening ceremony that was rather disappointing. The first match did not leave me in a great mood either, I thought the hosts underperformed (this was actually written before the shocking Semi-Finals).
The rest of the Group matches, the few that I could catch, were watched at the Brussels airport, at the UN HQ and a pub in Vienna, a hostel lounge in Geneva and on an Emirates flight a thousand kilometres above ground. This truly made it another ‘World’ Cup for me, an event that brings people together for the love of the game. Back home, it is an event that we look forward to with friends and family, a mini-party with the works for every match is a late night one for India. But when one is travelling, it becomes so much more personal. One has to make an effort to catch the games in between attending meetings, being a tourist and financial management on a budget. When one does get to watch a game, it is usually with a group of strangers who cheer and animatedly chat with you only because of the beautiful game that is football.
The overpowering figure of Maradona has made way for the likes of Messi, technology has overtaken the much-sold fixture booklets of old, those born yesterday won’t even know what it meant to turn antennas with companies vying to give you the best HD experiences and a live game viewing in the sky. With my favourite teams long ousted and only three games to go, this year's seen keepers shine and I am grateful for the World Cup because at the core of a changing world is the game of twenty-two men and a ball, the sharing of passions, the clash of loyalties and the test of skills only a few are blessed with.