Sunday Anchor

Celebrations along the coastline  

Casual banter comes easily in the hour-long taxi ride from the Dabolim Airport to Madgaon. Small talk and polite enquiries done with, the conversation now moves to the nature of the visit. The driver, George, no doubt emboldened by the vacant roads, turns around to extend an excited handshake. He is thrilled to interact with a passenger who is in town to report on theISL.

“ISL is superb! I’m happy that football is finally getting so much attention” George says. Finally? Perhaps he is unaware of the storied history of the beautiful game in Goa. “I’ve watched Dempo, Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar (I-League clubs) play also, but it’s not the same.” It soon becomes clear that our new friend did not just recently jump onto the FC Goa bandwagon.

When the day of the match arrives, the areas surrounding the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda are bustling with activity. The police guide the hordes of spectators to their entry gates, and allow FC Goa-inspired cars,  — complete with team logo stickers and the franchise’s theme song played at maximum volume — past the barricades, with a friendly wave.

After a quick verification of the media accreditation card, entry into the stadium is granted. If the chorus of ‘Forca Goa’ (Portuguese for ‘The Force of Goa’) seemed loud earlier, it has reached a crescendo inside the venue. Massive sound systems makes it hard to think straight, and the energetic emcee is at full tilt.

The demographics seen here are varied — there are parents with their children, groups of young men with identical Neymar-style mohawks, and working professionals. There are even a few teenage couples who believe that the 25,000-odd crowd gives them ideal company for a romantic evening.

There is a good hour to go for kick-off, but the stands are already nearly full. Thousands of FC Goa flags, easily identified by an orange caricature of a gaur,  fly to the tune of the music. And when the players enter the field, the infamous vuvuzelas are used to make an unholy racket.

In just the third minute, the place erupts. Two local boys, Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai, combine against the Delhi Dynamos to score their side’s first ISL goal of the season. This pleasing sub-plot is not lost among the thousands of Goans seated here.

It is now half-time. A bottle of water is enough for most, but others prefer something more potent. Three men, possibly in their early twenties, are spotted in the car park. One of them pours copious amounts of rum into a cola bottle, while the two others stand guard. Their plan is executed without interruption.

The game resumes, and Goa adds a second goal. Coach Zico does a little dance on the touchline, while another Brazilian legend, Lucio, puts in work on the field. Opposing midfielder Roberto Carlos attempts one of his trademark free-kicks, in the dying moments of the fixture. The play evokes a heavy dose of nostalgia.

The scoreline stays at 2-0, and the final whistle blows. There is time for one final round of applause from the adoring supporters. It is now time for the media contingent to get to work. The match report is dispatched, and dinner beckons at a nearby Colva beach shack. There isn’t a table to spare at the restaurant, spilling over with spectators from the stadium. The patrons — almost all of them sporting replica FC Goa jerseys — have only begun their celebrations.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 1:42:30 AM |

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