Gollapudi: The Beautiful Game, The names Pele, Romario, Ziidane, Ronaldo, Ronaldino, Johan cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Stefano, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Oscar are but a few that evoke any number of memories.

Cricket is a way of life in this part of the world. As many as 104 countries around the world play, while, according to an estimate, the recent IPL7 had almost 225 million viewers around the globe. And this beautiful game – soccer – will be played by 209 countries and by a conservative estimate some 3.2 billion people watch around the globe. Soccer is not a way of life but religion, nay, more than that for several billions across the geographical boundaries.
Gollapudi: The Beautiful Game
I was travelling from North London to Piccadilly on Metropolitan Line years back, when a Holland team won the soccer match at Wembly Soccer Stadium that night. The entire route was painted orange that night and it took nearly three hours to reach the destination though it normally takes 20 minutes. World Cups surely are made for strange things and even stranger results creating a new God each time.

When I was visiting Naples in Italy, our car driver proudly stopped us before a building off Mediterranean Sea, saying that that was the house of Diego Maradona, the super star Soccer had produced, who chose to stay in Italy – a matter of great pride to the nation. “Why is this adage: See Naples and die?’’ my wife asked. The driver’s answer in a proud baritone was; “Because Maradona lives here Mademoiselle!.”

Years back, we saw a movie in Kolkata International Film Festival called “Escape to Victory’’ featuring all soccer stars like Pele, Bobby Moore, John Wark, Kazimierz Deyna, Mike Summerbee etc., around the world besides, of course, Sylvester Stallone and Micheal Caine. It was a craze then to watch the movie, because two genres – film and the soccer – were amalgamated to create an extravaganza. The names Pele, Romario, Ziidane, Ronaldo, Ronaldino, Johan cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Stefano, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Oscar are but a few that evoke any number of memories.

The soccer history is replete with legendry occurrences that it requires as many articles as the games that are being played in this edition of the world cup. Who can forget the 100th world cup goal of Pele in 1970 when the broadcasting started for the first time catering to millions the world over, spreading the excitement of the moment? Who can forget the infamous “Hand of God’’ goal of Maradonna which electrified the millions and who claimed that there was yet another hand – that of God – when he pulled the great goal? Who can forget the hat-trick goals of Thomas Mueller to a ruthless 4-0 mauling of Portugal? And then that stunning Robot Dance of Peter Crouch of England in 2006 cup becoming almost a cult celebration. It was a groovy routine first during a party at Beckham’s house which was perfected on the field to become the second most loved celebration in FIFA’s video game series. And Fontaine of France scoring 13 goals in 1958 World Cup in Sweden has become a world record, not broken to this day. Pele is known for his wrong predictions and he more often than not indulges in doing so. It was Romario who commented that “When Pele is silent, he is poet.” In the history of world sport, we have seen any number of poets in different formats of the game – Roger Federer in tennis, Sachin Tendulkarin in cricket, Pele and Maradonna in soccer – who were poets in their best moments. And then who can forget the macabre event of Andres Escobar, Colombian Footballer, whose infamous own goal cost him his life, when a fan shot him for his lapse in Medellin? It was rumoured that this crime was instigated as it cost drug lords loss of several millions.

Here is another saga associated with the game with roots in India. Pannalal Chatterjee, a small-time sari merchant of 81 years, and his wife Chaitali,72, have been consistently travelling all around the world during the last 36 years, watching World Cups wherever it happened. It is their tryst with football world cup. This is the ninth time they are doing so. His monthly income is Rs 7,500. Their fondest memory is witnessing Diego Maradona's ‘hand of God’ goal and bumping into Pele, both in 1986. They make small savings each month for four long years and in any eventuality they could not foresee like a wedding or sickness, they don’t’ eat fish for a month and make good the lost amount.

Brazil, considered to be the Mecca of soccer for producing Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Zico, Garrincha etc., is called the land of ‘jogo bonito’ (The Beautiful Game), and they are the hosts this year. In Brazil, soccer is an addiction, an activity that lent social pride – coming from within. Pele is looking and hoping to avenge “Maracanazo’’ this time - remember Uruguay stunning the spectators in the finals at Sao Paulo when a late goal earned them a 2-1 and the cup. The FIFA world cup going from 13th June to 14th July when the finals will be played at Rio De Janeiro, for Indian fans the biological time gets mixed up as every match starts almost at 01.30 am in the long hours of the night. I had a sleepless night the other day and suddenly woke up in the mid of the night with a jolt and remembered that I had not warned my son about an errand. It was 2.12 am. I did not hesitate. I called him up. He shouted at the other end of the line. “Did I not tell you that it will be Messi’s genius that sealed Argentina’s 2-1 win against Bosnia-Hercegovina.’’ I was meekly reminding him of bringing the documents when he is travelling next morning. “To hell with them. I threw them into the briefcase 24 hours earlier, lest they may harass me,’’ he shouted. I am sure all soccer lovers in this part of the world become nocturnal owls for these two months.

When Robbie Fowler of England appeared on a TV show the other day, a fan tweeted: “I can’t believe I am seeing God in India!” God knows as to how many Gods pervade the soccer field in these two months and how many legends will be born, how many collapse and how the spirit of the game catapults to the skies on 14th of July.

We are going to have a firsthand participation in this extravaganza as our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been invited by the President of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff.
Long live soccer madness!

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