The city comes alive as football fever reaches a high. MEERA MOHANTY catches a slice of the action
You may be an atheist, but this is one `religious' festival you can't ignore. The high emotions, the jumping on couches, the spilling of beer, the zealous cries of "Goal! Goal!" are capable of converting any non-believer.It's time to gather the faithful, make peace with foes and sit in peaceable communion and watch the FIFA World Cup matches together. The next day's excuse for being late - "Was watching the match" - delivered groggily to your boss before an excited post-mortem of the game quickly takes priority over office work, is just as customary. But if the lack of a set-top box and dish TV has you tuned to Baichung Bhutia on WorldSpace, and words are just not enough, drive to your nearest pub and catch the action live. Because hotels, pubs and coffee shops across the city have rolled out their largest plasma screens. No music TV, no old film clips, no news unless it's about football. The FIFA World Cup 2006 was kick-started in style, with these hangouts teeming with fans. And they promise to keep it up for the rest of the month. At Geoffrey's, you can ask Ronaldinho alias Krishna to wait on you. Just make sure you are rooting for Brazil, because it's not a coincidence that he has a yellow No.10 jersey on, it's loyalty. The pub's gone all out, hanging footballs from the ceiling, putting out football shaped ashtrays on the tables and club décor on the walls. It's a different place this month. There's even a special football menu with cocktails in pitcher servings. Radisson GRT has a cocktail shooter promotion till July 9, and replays and highlights during happy hours (2 p.m.-6 p.m.). At the G2 Lounge, at ITC Park Sheraton, the regulars can mark up attendance points to win a free stay at the hotel.
Predict and win
At the Matchpoint, Taj Coromandel, you can win jerseys and football gear everyday and up to 15 authentic Van Gogh prints, courtesy ABN Amro, if you can make the right predictions. In fact, the festive mood at the restaurant is being captained by Nabhojit Ghosh, Executive Chef, Taj Coromandel. He's dished up recipes from countries such Ghana and Togo, countries that could beat world powers in importance when it comes to the game of football. On the menu on day one were Costa Rican bean soup and a tasty fish curry with banana, the German version of pasta (spatezle), lamb curry and cheesecake. By the time the World Cup is lifted, the chef promises he'd have fed you cuisines of 32 countries. "Soccer's the craze of the majority of the world, it's the same for food," he says. A Dutch mother and daughter duo added to the celebrations, painting small footballs on children's cheeks, crafting balloon turbans in tri-colours of your favourite country's flag. But Sarah, the mother, says she won't be biased when her country is on the field. "Aah, c'mon it's just a game." But try telling that to those glued to the TV screens. No one eats or even talks; there are loud sighs and louder squeals. Everyone sits on one side of the table, everyone looks towards the same end of the bar. At The Park, a bunch of football enthusiasts move from the Leather Bar to the Screening Room on the third floor to catch the commentary. "This morning, I had twenty e-mails from friends back home asking me which bar I was headed to, and where we would meet," says Kathryn Ampferl, a German intern at Sundaram Fasteners, who lives in a town just 100 km from Munich. "Everyone's on the streets. You take off from work. It's such a celebration. I really missed home today." Her Korean flatmate Ji Won couldn't care less about who won. "I just want to see goals." But that didn't stop them from needling another of their German friends with a song that went "Costa Rica, Ole ole ole!" During curfew hours, the excitement will move to the lounges and coffee shops. The Park's lobby, which generally runs old Hindi film clips, has ESPN being telecast live. The Radha Park Inn has arranged a dessert buffet at the Coffee shop for those interested in catching the second match of the day. The frills are not just decorative; G2 has match schedules, and players of the day profiles. And then a huge screen is to be put up on the Marina before the important matches are scheduled. So what if India's not in the running. The World Cup is after all the World Cup.