As I sat down today front of the television, shuttling between three sports channels, I realized what a day of sporting bonanza it was. India's best day in Caribbean so far on TEN Sports, a classic duel between Federer and Nadal in the French Open Final and the juicy Serbia vs. Netherlands match in the Group of Death at the World Cup. Of all the sporting events I follow, the soccer World Cup has to be the strangest.
For the four years between every cup finals, I am as dead to the footballing world as I am to Ekta Kapoor serials. I do not know of which club is leading the Premiership League, or what player has the highest number of goals in the Champions League or whose knee is insured at some obscene figure. Frankly, I do not care. My interest in any affair soccer is related to the abnormal like a hapless soccer player dying on field. All I contribute to discussions on football is when I comment vaguely about "ManU" and whether their golden years are over ( I have gathered from numerous discussions that it both is and is not, depending on who you talk to ) So, well, you get the picture.
But, every four years and for two months, since Italia '90, I am absorbed in a soccer-world that magically takes birth all around me. I know profiles of all the teams participating in the finals, the highest goal-scorer, the favourites and by the end of the first round, I would be backing one as my own personal favourite. I agree that the media plays a big role in adding to my interest, but the one big personal factor is my dad. An early sleeper by habit, I remember how during the '90 and '94 finals, he and I would sit in the dark, with the TV light reflecting on our droopy eyes. Germany was his constant favourite and he would always back them. Both of us would gasp and groan as goals were scored and missed. Those were the nights when I would be excused from sleeping early so as to not miss the morning bus. The '90 cup final is even more memorable as he kept rooting for Germany to win and I, Argentina. I fell asleep by the first-half, only to know the next morning from a happy dad that Germany had sneaked in through a late penalty strike. Though I was sad, I was still happy to learn and know so much about football. I and my friends would collect and show-off our football players' cards, which we used to get free with every bubble gum bought. After a summer of chewing sweetened adhesives, I did manage to have a collection to boast of, that I preserved for a long time.
Dad and I maintained our World Cup ritual even through the '94 cup, during the final of which I stayed up all through the end, to soak in that nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out between Italy and Brazil. This time, both Dad and I were on the same side, supporting Italy to win against the overwhelming favourites – Brazil. This World Cup was also the time when we had wagers going in at school about which team would make it to the final. I am always a sucker for dark horses, and this time was no different, as I stubbornly backed an unlikely Bulgaria to get through to the finals. Sadly, they and Stoichkov stuttered at the semi-finals.
Ditto for the '98 cup in France, as I backed Davor Suker' and his band of checkered red-whites, Croatia to make it to the finals. But, no surprises from his team, though France played good football to whip Brazil in the finals. Of the four finals that I have followed, this was the one that is the haziest in my memory. So, four years of cricket and in 2002, football came back in Korea, with the timings turned upside down this time. Another dark horse emerging in the form of the Asian giants – South Korea, who though had a lot to thank the Hand of Referees. Dad was an enthusiastic companion again. But, as time and age leave their marks, this time around it was Dad who would not be able to keep the enthusiasm levels and would doze off midway through the matches.
Now, as the 2006 edition has kicked off, I realized this would be the first World Cup finals' I would be following, away from home and dad. Which also reminds me that I need to check who my dad's favourites are this time around. Also, over the years, the undiluted dedication I had towards soccer at World Cup times has diminished. No longer am I emotionally hooked to one team or a player. But, I still follow the game, appreciate the good tackles, and applaud the unbelievable goals. Here I come, Figos, Ronaldos, dark-horses, and crazy soccer crowds!