I had a rather belated tryst with games and sports, football in particular. I developed myopia early on in life (too much reading in poor light solely attributable to the erratic power supply from Chumey Mini Hydel which then generated only 0.5 kilowatt of power) and that more or less kept me away from all the fun. I had this weird thick lens old man’s glass to care for and that literally barred me from the entire school playground spectacle.
I knew something was not going right with my pair of eyes but every time the health people visited my school for their annual Eye Camp, I would cheat in the reading; by the time my turn came I would be ready with the letters in the right sequence on the Snellen Eye Chart – learnt by heart! At the end of the day, I would be relieved for not having to wear the ‘dreaded’ glass for another one year. I would do this year in year out until when I could not remember the letters anymore nor could I read them at all. Everyone was surprised and few were upset when the first glass I wore had a lens reading of -3.75. Well that’s too high a lens power for a beginner and many inquisitively asked me how it happened. Well…it was my own creation and I lamented in the aftermath. It’s a strange feeling in retrospect – one of a kind which arises when you fail for yourself because you were short-sighted both in sight and thought.
Back to the beautiful game, football took the world by storm; it is now the most loved, played and watched sporting event on the planet. I became a passionate football follower after the 2002 World Cup. Every evening after dinner while the family would be engaged in their usual post-dinner chitchat, I would lay down my favourite yak hide around the fireplace and cut all those Ronaldo, Beckham, Zidane, Seaman, Ronaldhino, Rivaldo, Khan, Owen, Batistuta (you name them, I got them all) pictures from newspapers and meticulously glue them in my scrap book. I still have the memorabilia in one piece. Today, my 7-year- old nephew flaunts it with pride to his friends. During one of my most recent visits, he showed me his own addition with the likes of Rooney, Nani, Gerrard, Arshavin, Park, Ronaldo, Forlan, Persie, Messi, and his favourite Chelsea star Lampard among others. Every time he sees a new player, he finds a place in the book.
I had my first taste of English Premiership football back in high school, which arguably is the best League in the world. Few live matches on TV and the next dramatic thing was that I had adopted Manchester United as the team that I would support. Today I follow the Red Devils with passion. Although a keen follower of football and the whole shebang, I took to the pitch only on countable occasions while in high school. And when I played, sometimes it was my eyes that got hurt, sometimes the ‘old man’s glass.’ So I imposed a moratorium on my football by keeping my pair of ‘windows to the world’ intact – just to be on the safer side.
Although football used to form a large chunk of class room gossip and interval debates in college, I rarely kicked it seriously. Once, we organized a game of football under the South Indian sun, I nearly had my shin in cracks, even though our local counterparts played barefoot. My Indian friends kicked and curled the ball with barefoot as good as we did with boots – even better; no wonder why they opted to play minus the boots when they qualified for their first ever World Cup in 1950. Regrettably, FIFA turned down their request.
Football is all that I look forward to during my weekends. A Manchester United game makes my weekend spicier although it disappoints me when they drop points or exit a Cup competition. Most often than not, it is ‘a heart in mouth’ moment at the edge of my seat.
For all the joy and passion it weaves into a billion hearts the world over, here’s wishing a great year of football both on the screen and on the pitch. Sincere condolences to all those hurt in Egypt – well that was war, not football, to quote one of the Al-Ahly players.