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An own goal

Diego Maradona. File  

Football is an art, intertwined with emotion and passion, that unites people of different hues. No wonder, the world wept together when Diego Maradona, perhaps the greatest football artist the world has seen ever, left our mortal world recently.

Hailing from Kerala and spending my childhood in Oman, the Gulf state straddling the Arabian Sea, with both places ingrained with the “football DNA”, my penchant for the beautiful game was natural. Back in 2004, Oman had waltzed into the Gulf Cup finals, the Arabian region’s biggest event to showcase its footballing supremacy. A maiden appearance in the final clash for glory meant festivities around the nation went on for days and excitement had hit the roof.

Those days, weekends gave me the luxury of accompanying my father to his workplace, perks of which included watching football matches on large screens at the electronics outlet close by. Naturally, a Gulf Cup final featuring Oman was an irresistible affair for me and I undertook the weekend ritual, turning up before the large screen that had been specially set up for the momentous occasion. By the time I reached there, a sea of people had already swarmed in, jostling to get the prime spot in the front. I had to settle for a spot on Row Z and everyone waited with bated breath for the entertainment to begin.

Code red

Commentary in Arabic, which I had limited knowledge of, meant that I had to identify teams by their jersey colours. The Oman team was synonymous with red, similar to how Indian cricket teams are known as “Men and Women in Blue”. Meanwhile, the two teams in the final, Oman and Qatar, had lined up in red and white outfits and the game kicked off to a rousing start. Minutes into the game, the team in red slammed in a thunderous free kick, rattling the goal netting and sending me into rapturous elation. Overcome with excitement, I made a dash to describe vividly the goal to my father, who was still at work. Yet something puzzled me — no one in the crowd seemed to share the thrill. Funnily enough, the answer to my bewilderment arrived in the form of an acquaintance of my father, who caught me in a little act of sedition. Poor me never realised that I had cheered on a Qatari goal. It turned out that Oman had ditched the red outfit for whites in the final!

Despite my inadvertent act of treason, I was audacious enough to return to the heart-sunken crowd. A few among them gave me Medusa-like stares with their bloodshot eyes, sending a chill down my spine. However, those hostile stares dissipated quickly and I redeemed myself by celebrating enthusiastically when Oman equalised later in the match. Though it was a silly gaffe, a memory that brings instant laughter, it taught me two things as well — tolerance, as shown by Omani folks when I celebrated an opponent’s goal (though unintentionally), and never to jump the gun!

ashwinvenunv@gmail.com


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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 7:24:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/an-own-goal/article33313725.ece

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