What could have been

The Indian team was indecisive and as unimaginative as you can get if you hire an English coach still brainwashed by England’s exploits in 1966

Just before the evening of June 14, 2018, the day the World Cup began, I found myself stuck in Goa, in the foothills of the Western Ghats, living in a place where I had to drive almost ten kilometres to use my phone.

Or, if I was adventurous, then climbing halfway up a bloody hill, between grafted mango trees laden with fruit, braving vicious red ants dive-bombing down my T-shirt. Whether I wanted it or not, I would be accompanied up the hill by a tall, angular, totally eccentric Great Dane, who’ll turn a year old soon enough, who’s a few inches below my waist and whose only objective in life is to spot a peacock and chase it and come galloping back to receive praise. Even better is if she spots a deer bigger than her and charge through the bushes and return an hour or so earlier, panting, her tongue hanging down to her knees, without the venison I’ve been dreaming about.

The World Cup 2018 to find out the best football-playing nation was going to be upon me in a couple of days, and I was stuck with a Great Dane called Mia totally inept at chewing on peacocks and deer but excellent at finding my one pair of slippers and just one of my sneakers and ripping them into shreds.

Annoyed, when you throw the surviving 900-rupee-at-a-throwaway-priced sneaker on her well-shaped bottom and yell at her to eat the bloody thing, she shrugs it off, and struts away like she’s wearing slinky high-heel shoes.

Dogs make my life miserable. All that shit about dogs being a man’s best friend didn’t do anything for my footwear. Readers who have been following this column on football and other nice things like cooking and eating and drinking will think being a Goan stuck in Goa at World Cup 2018, there would be a lot of football in my life. Not true.

Others familiar with my many mental problems and persecutions would probably think I was temporarily freed of one of my anxieties surrounding a resurrected African Hound making hay around my impending senility.

I thought that being in Goa without the said dog, I would get in touch with the local football I knew so well and situate the importance of Goa in India’s rich football history and context. Not just for the dog, mind you.

I could, for instance, easily tell that pooch (and everybody else) that only if Mother India had the good sense to field five Goans in the national team —say, maybe a goalkeeper, a back, two half-backs, and one striker — this country would have been at Moscow 2018.

Monsieur Bernard Koko, resurrected or not, would have snorted in derision and the wife, kids and close friends probably think I have finally lost it. But believe me, put five Goans in the Indian team (with Yaya Toure coaching them and not some constipated Englishman) and we would have been guaranteed the place taken by a team like Nigeria, Koko’s favourite team, in Group D. Five Goans in place in the favoured Indian team and that in the early hours of June 17, we would have been drawn 3-3 with Croatia, and sailed to the top on superior goal average because we had hammered Argentina 4-1, and Iceland 5-0.

And what do we have instead? A constipated coach, so-so players gathered from a corporate-sponsored association, and the Indian version of football – big time money to be made, marketing consultants to be hired, spectators to be emotionally bought, everybody’s aspirations given prime important, and the noble game of Indian football treated like it was the poorer cousin of the Indian Premier League – even though every Indian also knows this to be true. Even the English, Australian, South Africa, West Indians, Zimbabwean, Sri Lankan, Nepali, and Afghani cricketers know this to be true.

I was staying in a place in Goa where for reasons unknown to me, the TV and its millions of channels worked like a dream. I watched films, every single day. Breaking it to watch football.

I watched the much touted and terribly pompous-sounding Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai, better known because India’s excellent captain Sunil Chhetri made a plea to so-called Indian football fans who couldn’t see the football for all the bling. Apart from the New Zealand team that came with a well-coached experimental team of people from senior and junior leagues, Taiwan and Kenya, were laughable. Taiwan’s team looked made up of good amateurs, moonlighting from jobs as bankers and software engineers. Some PRO for the Intercontinental Cup spread the word that Kenya’s team was the Harambee (Freedom) Stars, and if that is true then my grandfather, Camillo and Ludgero, may their ashes swirl above with the clouds, never watched a football match, and invited their wives’ wrath, deserting them to travel far and wide to watch inter-village tournaments in Goa!
Kenya looked like a team of guys, Indian style, in India as tourists. India’s sports media of course only wrote about the Indian team, one of two features on the New Zealand team, attention to the one young excellent Indian who can play anywhere it seems, he’s that talented. (Will the All India Football Federation try to talk to his India parents and their son switch allegiance to India? What a hope…).

Nothing on the Taiwanese coach, or the Kenyan coach. It’s like they never came. The football was middling to bad. The Indian team was indecisive and as unimaginative as you can get if you hire an English coach still brainwashed by England’s exploits in 1966.

So I would watch ten minutes before the lights failed for the umpteenth time, note the empty stands, the wannabe football fans who come so they may get a few seconds on TV and Whatsapp their friends, or put it on their Facebook pages. It feels so hyped-up, so these words are just served to you without the masala:.

As a spokesperson said, “The Hero Intercontinental Cup is a spectacular convergence of nations as they compete for the coveted Hero Intercontinental Cup. The fact that the tournament is being hosted in India for the first time and is being broadcast on Star is an excellent opportunity to bring football fans from across the country even closer to the game. The Hero Intercontinental Cup will be broadcast on SD as well as HD platforms giving fans the opportunity to experience the best of Indian football on the **** ***** ******* and *****”. *********

So did I get to see the opening match of the World Cup? Did Koko, who I hadn’t seen for years, still be around, or were my wife and family right to imply that I needed an internment in an old age home?

Next week: Boycotting but not boycotting the grand opening of World Cup 2018 on an air-conditioned bus somewhere on the Konkan plateau and reaching Pune and meeting up with Monsieur Bernard Koko and his take on African football, and why Nigeria is going to win the cup…


This article was first published in Newslaundry

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