Following the FIFA world cup without a TV set of my own was an unparalleled experience.
I am not a sports fan, but every even non-leap year, I need to watch the football world cup. I wasn’t a very successful footballer in school and barely scored during matches in college. I don’t follow league football either. I’ve tried, but Manchester, Barcelona and Munich are teams I can’t relate to. The world cup is different. It’s adrenaline poetry.
I’ve watched past world cups at home or with cousins. The tournament, for me, is synonymous with football-crazy cousins in Chennai’s Nungambakkam, ‘sexy chicken’ from Crescent and yeast-stained beer glasses. This world cup however, I found myself without a TV in Delhi—having gifted my old Elcot TV to a friend in Bhopal.
The options before me were to stay in office and watch the matches in silence; go to Press Club and huddle at the bar to catch a glimpse of the spectacle; invite myself to friends’ homes and stay put till they kicked me out or; go to the Italian Embassy and spend a bomb on the pizzas while catching the game. I used all my options and more.
The embassy was the only one that allowed any visitor with an ID to watch the game on a large screen. The food is great and there was liquor too. The Dutch went wild with disbelief as the Clockwork Oranje scored goal after goal against Spain. In their bright orange peak caps and crowns, the fans danced around the lawn drawing Spain fans—who were all Indian—to their side. Even the plainclothes Italian Carabinieri guards couldn’t resist cheering them on. On that night, all of Chanakyapuri seemed to have turned Dutch.
On a later occasion at the embassy, the brilliance of the Belgians (I was backing) outmanoeuvring the Russians was only overshadowed by the passionate debate on my table, fuelled by sweet and pricey Belgian wheat beer. I was meeting a couple of friends there after more than a year.
The couple, troubled about the rise of fundamentalism in politics and society, were curious about the places I had visited in Madhya Pradesh while covering two elections there. I left the embassy satisfied with the outrageous political theories we created and Origi’s terrific goal, as I walked past the Russian Military Attaché’s office beside which I had illegally parked my bike in a hurry.
In Press Club, it’s the older lot who are boisterous during games. The closer it is to the last-order bell, the louder the fans get. The most charged lot are those at the bar. It’s a funny sight to watch people curse players whose names they don’t know.
I watched the France-Switzerland game with a veteran legal reporter and another colleague. The legal eagle counted the goals, replays included. With four beers down, we trusted his numbers. At the end of the game the score was 5-2, but ours was 7-2. Our host swore that his count was as accurate as his court reportage and that night we believed him.
It’s a gamble leaving important matches to the whims of friends with TVs. I missed the crucial Mexico-Holland game because a friend’s elder brother insisted it was a late match. By the time he realised his folly, La Verde was lost in time.
The finals however can never be left to chance. I was back in Nungambakkam at my cousin’s place and had the pleasure of being the only German fan in the room to watch them win.
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