The residents of Chittaranjan Park have recreated mini South Africa, all for the love of the beautiful game

The world might be in the throes of a raging soccer fever but India, with Kolkata being the notable exception, is still lumbering in cricket slumber. However, Chittaranjan Park, Delhi's very own mini Kolkata, is busy flaunting its allegiance to ‘the beautiful game' on its sleeve.

The four markets in CR Park, teeming with people as they always are, truly come alive after five in the evening as scores of football lovers prance about dissecting the previous night's games and anticipating the outcome of the next one. At the Rabi Snacks Corner in ‘market 1', a group of boys sit blustering about England's loss to the U.S. Down the road a trio of septuagenarians are seated on a bench speaking in Bengali. ‘Vuvuzela' is the only discernable world for an ear untrained in Bengali. Whereas ‘market 2' sees a group of women nodding sympathetically, as one of their number bemoans her husband and son's skewed sleeping pattern, courtesy the midnight slot.

With such a charged atmosphere and a devoted set of followers, a certain amount of friendly betting is bound to ensue. Sujoy, a 14-year-old, says, “My friends and I usually place bets before matches; we don't bet for any stakes, just for the fun.”

The younger lot, when they are not busy discussing the matches, seem keen to flaunt their favourite player's jersey. Argentina star Lionel Messi rules the roost here as well. Though Sujoy adds, “A lot of people wear Ronaldo, Rooney and Gerard jerseys as well.” However, Ankit, a burly 17-year-old, is staying clear of jerseys altogether. “Ronaldinho is my favourite player and he is not playing”, he says with a shrug.

Ashish Shome, the father of 13-year-old Rahul, who organised the M.P.S. Football Cup this April, has only one thought on his mind – the setting up of a big screen in the mela ground for the quarter finals and the matches that follow. “The atmosphere will be electrifying as almost every one will be there to watch the match. Some do prefer to stay at home but no television can recreate the raw emotions that run when a big group converges to watch an important game.”

But the World Cup is not the only tournament that is on the top of their minds. The J Block Tournament, which starts in a few days, has been generating a fair amount of interest. Tarun Roy of the S.M. Soccer Academy feels, “These inter-block tournaments that are held the year around are essential for the game as they keep the boys in action and also ensure the interest in the game does not dwindle.”

While CR Park may be the hub of frantic football viewing, it is but one spoke in the wheel. Former international player Anadi Barua of the Ashoka Football Academy, based in Noida, is quick to point out, “All my boys are very excited about the World Cup. They come for the daily practice wearing their favourite player's jersey. Some of the more brazen ones took to painting their faces in the colours of the team they support. Of course, we had to put a stop to that.”

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