Driven to a frenzy?

MEDIA COVERAGE and hype have it that the just concluded Football World Cup series was an all-consuming passion, the world over. Now, to find out if Chennai caught the football fever too...

``At a zonal meeting in Ernakulam,'' Aristocrat's Regional Manager, South, G. Ramesh, narrates how a co-worker was "surreptitiously looking at his watch every now and then. Irritated, I asked him why he was so fidgety. After being prompted by colleagues, the chap said, `Sir, the Brazil-Turkey semi-finals must be in full swing by now.' Had he told me that he wanted to watch the match, I would have gladly rescheduled our meeting.'' In contrast to the match-charged atmosphere there, Ramesh found that their Chennai office had a more regular attendance during the month-long series.

Journalist R. Suresh's major grouse against the series is the time of telecast. To catch up on the important matches, he had to go on leave. He, therefore, is glad that the next World Cup will be held in Germany, ``as most of the matches will be telecast at night.'' Courtesy him, his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Jharna is growing up to be a football fan too. Goal, Partick Mboma (the Cameroon player) and Khalilou Fadiga, Pape Bouba Diop (Senegal players) are part of baby Jharna's current vocabulary!

Rahul, a budding table tennis player and standard VII student at Bhavan's Rajaji Ashram, Kilpauk, kept track of English captain Beckham's hairstyles, ``though the skunk style was what you got to see this time round,'' says he. His sister Shweta likes to watch goals being scored, but does not have the patience to sit through the length of the play. She might have conceded if an Indian contingent was in the fray, though.

A. Palanivel, a sports buff, did not miss a single match this season. Working in a newspaper organisation (whose hockey team he captains) he got to watch the matches at office too. To avoid interruptions of any sort — visitors suddenly dropping in, the infuriating power failure — he watched the final on the large screen at the Chepauk Stadium. Many of his acquaintances got richer through the course of the month, but Sunday's betting haul proved to be the highest.

For Manisha, the 2002 games were not as exciting as the 1990's. Reason? ``I didn't find any player that could match the calibre of Lothar Matthaus or Van Basten. Those men had magnetic charm, both on and off the field.'' While office schedule did not permit regular viewing, she watched the Brazil-Germany final at Qwiky's in Lifestyle. ``It was awesome how everyone `oohed' and `aahed' collectively when a goal was missed and cheered when Ronaldo netted the two goals.''

Ashmita Bhattacharya, a housewife, made sure her domestic chores were done by noon. Her businessman husband Rohit would come home for an extended lunch. Her first-born Ashish, a second year engineering student, had no trouble balancing college and football matches. ``The time-tested method of giving attendance by proxy, holds good even today,'' he admits with a cheeky grin. Rakesh, the nine-year old, may have problems spelling stalagmites and stalactites, but none whatsoever while reeling off the names of players and the goals that were scored. He wants to become a football referee simply, ``because I can whistle, run around as much as I want to without Ma reminding me not to get dirty!'' Rakesh celebrated goals with his best friend, Diego, five-year-old German Shepherd, which knows how to exchange high-fives! The re-opening of school was a dampener though. Sixteen-year old Reema has definite views on football. ``What sort of a game is it in which a bunch of men run around chasing a leather ball?'' she demands with a well-shaped eyebrow arched high.

Rodney VanderVeen thought that the second TV set would eliminate any dispute. What he did not bargain for was that his four-year old granddaughter would order that he give up World Cup 2002 in favour of Cartoon Network.

Despite the fact that danseuse Anita Ratnam had to travel frequently during May and June, she made it a point to watch as much of the game as she could, even if it was at the airport lounges. ``With a football-crazy family that includes my 70-year old mother, we simply could not miss out on the matches. So even when the kids had to prepare for their mid-term exams, the TV would be on with the volume set at mute! While there wasn't a Ricky Martin's ``Cup of Life'' this year, it was fun to watch the Senegalese break into a colourful jig after every goal,'' said Anita.

This year will be a memorable one for Koreans, and Hak Won Suh, Deputy General Manager, Purchase Department, Hyundai, is no exception.

Fortunately for him and his colleagues at Chennai, arrangements were made so they could watch the matches, ``but we worked extra hours to compensate,'' explains Suh. ``Korea reaching the semi-finals was amazing. I hoped we would get into the first 16, but our magic team went much further and created history. My family celebrated the victory. Apart from what the newspapers had to tell us, we were also in touch with our friends and relatives in Korea to share the joy of victory and to get the local gossip and titbits. Coach Guus Hiddink is the National hero. A man who had made every Korean's dream come true. Soccer success had brought seven million people to the streets and made us understand the depth of patriotism in us.''

Well, as uneven a cross-section as this may be, the responses do indicate an open interest and awareness of the game. Could it be because of the increase in media build-up and the glamour associated with the stars? Not to discount that the game is easier to understand and follow. Or is it because the fast-paced sport gives a cathartic outlet when watching the skilfully threaded goals and the daring saves? Whatever be the rationale, it only proves that we are ever ready to get together to celebrate.

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