France may have won with its multicultural team, but Croatia captured the dog’s heart.
We were in a mess, the two of us. I had served the dog a largish “double”—what in the northern climes is duly referred to as the “Patiala Peg”—which he was busy lapping up as it mixed into his bowl of warm milk. Stirred with his tongue, not shaken. Monsieur Bernard Koko and I, one—yours truly—with a slight touch of senility, the other, an African Hound of pure extraction, were disturbed by recent, very recent, events that pointed to the malaise in African football. Even though we were sad, we could still rubbish the idea of prohibition.
Outside, the Pune monsoons tried to compete with their Goan counterpart but frankly, didn’t stand a chance. This is a “drizzle”; in Goa, we witness a storm. And though here in the western suburb of Baner, where both of us were left with a TV for too many dark, gloomy days just switched off, around us, in vacant plots between the buildings under construction, inland collecting—just like Mumbai these days—a good two feet of water—there was even an orchestra of bullfrogs honking. We didn’t discuss it, but it was in both our minds…
Eating habits apart, the frogs rejoicing their freedom in Baner were anything but music to our ears. We were sad on many fronts, but I will give you two:
The first, given the number of players of African and West Indian origin playing in three of the teams, the dog was of the strong opinion that Africa had won the cup by default. As such he did not recognise it. I thought that Iran was the team that should have gone through after beating Portugal by at least one goal. And Iran winning would have had Trump and that bad boy in Israel really hot around the collars. The second was that in a final, like this final that just drowned in the monsoon season, we were both in agreement that Croatia ought to have won, scoring three goals, two in the second half, and reducing France’s multicultural team to tears…
Koko had done his homework. “I’ve been surfing the net, ma-an, looking at what ails African football, but I also looked up what my brothers were writing about the final. Do I support France because my black brothers made up their football team, or do I support Croatia, because Luka Modrić should have had a much darker skin and his long hair should have been curly, like Leroy Sané?
“Then I read something very elegant,” he said, between licks of warm milk. “I loved what this guy said about whom he supported:
‘It was not easy choosing which team to support,’ he wrote, ‘On one hand, 80 per cent of the French team is African. They had avenged us, against Argentina for beating Nigeria in the group stages, and then avenged us again by painfully edging out Uruguay like they did to Ghana in 2010. And then, on the other hand, there was Croatia. The country that never colonised us and does not continue to force African Nations to use a central bank in Paris. When terrorists attacked our Garissa University in 2014, the Croatians stood by us. And then there is also the small matter of their President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who gives the best hugs. I went with Croatia. My ancestors would understand. Even them, if they saw President Kolinda’s face, they would have done the same.’”
Does the world expect, that after a month of football, the dog and I should think of watching India play England at cricket, when all we are left with is the knowledge that Indian cricketers who took time off to endorse football and bring in the ad revenue for the Indian telecast of Moscow 2018, have now reverted to being honest.
Given that the wife was gently snoring in the bedroom, an Ian Rankin book open on her chest, I had also indulged myself and fixed my own Patiala. Mournfully—as if keeping time to Koko’s painful moans—I dripped tears and watched the ice cubes swirl in my glass.
Croatia played the better football, played from the heart, and lost!
The world and its mother has been saying this and everybody’s heard it but nobody asks the basic question: how could something like this happen under the very eye of God? That, horror of horrors, the team playing incisive, intuitive football, would lose, while everyone and their mothers would now hail France as the next revolutionary phase in football.
Everyone has already got onto the bandwagon, saying the current French team was now going to inherit the mantle of Brazil’s important footballing history from 1950 to 1970—20 years that defined football for the entire world. Through two back-to-back World Cup victories in 1958 and 1962, followed by a terrible thrashing in cold, rainy English weather in 1966, and a flight home in disgrace and shame that was even worse than Rio de Janeiro 2014. The failure of 1966 was to bring a lot of soul-searching and paved the way for a change. The Brazilians did what was expected of them, they tinkered with their playing philosophy and their coaching methodologies—because they were not yet burdened by having the “most expensive” footballer in their team.
Since they had not yet been overtaken and overpowered by Europe’s own football leagues, from 1958 they worked with a largely home-grown Latin American-based complement of players. In the 1970s too, Brazilian football leagues could hold their own, aided by feeder clubs in Latin America and Portugal. They won resoundingly and in great style in 1970 in Mexico and were allowed to keep the original trophy—which they lost…
If one forgets to mention Brazil in Santiago in 1962, then Stockholm 1958 was the first Brazilian football “revolution”, giving in to dancing and a sense of being free. Mexico was the second, the dance now notated better for a stronger feeling for a seamless choreography.
Brazil had chances to win the trophy in 1978 and 1982, and both times, because they hadn’t renewed themselves and had forgotten what happened to them in 1966 and some would say, 1974 when the Netherlands showed them no mercy. They erroneously believed, as they do today, that they didn’t have to change and tinker with a revolution because it was a “revolution”.
The third revolution never happened. We are still waiting for that, but more on this later.
Now everyone is putting the pressure on Mbappé, who is very, very good, but just playing for the wrong team. Is he the next Pelé, or is this a plug that advertising agencies will whip into submission? When Pelé scored his wonder goal at Stockholm, a journalist described it thus:
“Pelé gave Brazil a two-goal cushion in the 55th minute when he netted a stunningly breathtaking goal—standing in a crowd in the penalty area with his back towards the goal, he trapped a high pass with his chest, knocked the ball over his head while being marked by a defender, whirled around and volleyed it past Swedish goalkeeper Karl Svensson. A legend was born.”
Was a legend born in Moscow? The dog and I say an emphatic “No”. In the final, the Croatian back Vida had Mbappé in the shadows. Koko says France waited for their “Grease Man” (as the two of us named him) to come to their rescue, and in a moment when they were being put to the sword, to do his own version of Neymar’s antics. Not rolling on the grass and screaming to the skies, but just looking at the referee with his doe-like eyes. Everyone knows he’s a great set-piece specialist. As everyone knows, he kicks a great penalty, and without VAR (the video assistant referee), it would never have been given.
Two of the French goals were lovely, perfect football. So what, if the referee was sharp enough, less intimidated, the first two French goals wouldn’t count. France may have got two goals, but Croatia would have got four…
“Koko,” I whispered, “you want a refill?”
“Yeah ma-an,” Koko replied, “but junk the warm milk.”
“That whiskey’s good,” Koko said as he stood up to leave. “I think one must look to the future. Things have changed. Africa won this Cup by default but it may have been part of a plan. More on this later over a whiskey.
“You’ve heard of Colonization in Reverse,” Koko asked. At the door, he recited a poem in his deep voice. “It’s by a lovely Jamaican woman, called Louise Bennett.” His Nigerian accent rode above the Jamaican lilt of the words:
“What a joyful news, Miss Mattie,
I feel like me heart gwine burs
Jamaica people colonizin
Englan in Reverse
Be the hundred, be de tousan
Fro country and from town,
By de ship-load, be the plane load
Jamaica is Englan boun.
Dem pour out a Jamaica,
Everybody future plan
Is fe get a big-time job
An settle in de mother lan.
What an islan! What a people!
Man an woman, old an young
Jus a pack dem bag an baggage
An turn history upside dung!
Some people doan like travel,
But fe show dem loyalty
Dem all a open up cheap-fare-
An week by week dem shipping off
Dem countryman like fire,
Fe immigrate an populate
De seat a de Empire.
Oonoo see how life is funny,
Oonoo see da turnabout?
Jamaica live fe box bread
Out a English people mout’.
For wen dem ketch a Englan,
An start play dem different role,
Some will settle down to work
An some will settle fe de dole.
Jane says de dole is not too bad
Because dey paying she
Two pounds a week fe seek a job
dat suit her dignity
me say Jane will never fine work
At de rate how she dah look,
For all day she stay popn Aunt Fan couch
An read love-story book.
Wat a devilment a Englan!
Dem face war an brave de worse,
But me wondering how dem gwine stan
Colonizin in reverse.”