28th June 1998
"Who does he think he is? Pele?" - An old football fan.
It is a city football league game in Madras, contested by two leading teams, Wimco and Integral Coach Factory. A Wimco forward, standing near the goal-mouth, unsuccessfully attempts a scissors kick.
Near the dilapidated western terraces, a grizzled old man, clad in a "dhothi" that's never been touched by a laundry attendant, bare waist up, skeletal upper body exposed to the harsh afternoon sun, springs to his feet. He wrings his right hand in agony, as if he had just accidentally shoved it into a bucket of boiling water.
"How stupid!" cries out the old man. "He should have chested it down and then tried to score. Who does he think he is? Pele?"
A young cub reporter, sitting a few metres away, is astounded. The old man, a vendor of nuts at the ground and a familiar figure to the regulars at the old Nehru stadium, has never seen the inside of a school class room. He can neither read nor write.
"How do you know about Pele? What do you know about him?" the young reporter asks the man.
The vendor of roasted groundnuts is shocked. His jaw falls in a show of obvious disappointment, accentuating the many lines on a face that had, over several decades, registered expressions of agony more often than ones of ecstacy. It is almost as if he is saying: How can you ask me this question.
Later in the evening, as the reporter prepares to leave the stadium, the old man grabs him by his arm and says: "Visit my home for a minute."
"Home" is a 8x8 feet pavement space abutting a high wall that separates the road leading to the stadium from the Ripon Building, the home of Madras Corporation. A tin roof, full of holes, slopes down so low that one has to enter the old man's abode on all fours.
In one corner is a mud pot and a few battered utensils. A small heap of unwashed clothes lies in another corner. A rusty, old suitcase holds the rest of the old man's earthly possessions. But, before you notice all this, you notice the wall.
Actually, you don't see the wall at all. Every inch of space on it is taken up by black and white pictures in various states of decay. Pele exults. Pele smiles. Pele sulks. Pele scores. Pele receives a trophy. Pele hugs a rival.
As the reporter stares at the wall in open-mouthed wonderment, the old man's lips part, making way for a divine smile. "I spent a lot of money buying those pictures from old book shops. But you know," he says, "you hurt me because you asked me if I knew my God."
Ah, God is a footballer!
"It's terrible. It's the worst I've felt in 50 years".
- English football fan in a West End pub.
At an old, quaintly charming pub in London's swanky West End, the atmosphere is incredible. Several dozen people - White, Black, Chinese and Indian - are crammed into the pub which normally caters to an average of 15-20 people during its peak hours in the evening.
All eyes are trained on two television screens. It's the biggest day in English football in a long, long time. At Wembley, England is playing West Germany in the European championship semi-finals. Through the big clouds of cigarette smoke, customers emitting gusts of alcohol fumes crane their necks for a peek at one or other of the two TV screens.
But the atmosphere is weirdly, frenziedly patriotic with the Afro-Caribbeans and Indians joining ruddy-faced Englishmen in cheering for Terry Venables's boys. All hell breaks loose when Alan Shearer scores after three minutes.
At the stadium, on the terraces, there are repetitive cries of "It's coming home, It's coming home, Football is coming home." Here, at the pub the chorus is faithfully repeated as the mood swings from euphoria to angry gloom and back to euphoria in an unending cycle.
Finally, after many twists and turns, the moment of reckoning arrives - the penalty shoot-out. In the pub, dozens of people hold their breath collectively several times as the English and German players walk up for the strike. It is 5-5 and a few people turn away from the screen, unable to bear the tension.
Then, in a heart-breaking moment, Gareth Southgate hits too low and too close to the German goalkeeper. A save! Andreas Moller, showing every virtue that makes the Germans what they are, as a people, as competitors, slots the sixth for his team.
It's over. It's not going to come home this time. Football's not coming home.
"I've lost my faith," says one man. "This game's been my only religion. But now I've lost my faith."
Ah religion is football!
"This is worse than death. I have to live with this. It's the worst I've felt in 50 years. I wouldn't have felt as bad if we had lost that damned War to Germany," says another inconsolable English fan as he walks out of the pub like a zombie.
Ah, war is a game of soccer. A loss at football is the country's greatest loss!
"It's very, very sad. But I suppose the game should go on".
- UEFA spokesperson.
It is the final of the European Cup Club championship. The venue is Brussels, Belgium. The English champion, Liverpool, plays juventus from Italy. Before the start of the game, the most gruesome tragedy in the history of the game takes place. Violence involving Liverpool and Juventus fans triggers a stampede and results in the death of over 38 innocent people in a wall collapse.
Across the ground from the site of the disaster, a few stone-faced high priests of European soccer, the ruling bosses of UEFA, are closeted grimly in a boardroom. They are discussing the immediate course of action for the evening.
All logic - leave alone emotions - points to one decision: cancellation of the match, or, in the least, its postponement. But, after deliberations, they decide that the match should go on as planned.
Morbid reasoning? Mindless, selfish decision-making? Callous disregard for human lives?
Not at all. It was plain common sense. They knew that if the match were put off or cancelled, there would be further riots, more bloodshed. So, life goes on.
Ah, football is life. Football is death. But, more importantly, football is more than a matter of mere life and death.
Hey, hey, what's this? Let's pause a minute here. God, country, religion, war, life and death. What are we talking about here?
The answer, of course, is simple. We are talking football, a game like no other, a sport whose quadrennial summit meeting - the World Cup brings the whole world together in a sort of tribal bonding that all the greatest statesmen of our times together cannot achieve.
Over the years, more emotional capital has been invested on this sport by more number of people than perhaps in every other human activity barring love and courtship. And, if football is just a game, then love is just another four-letter word!
On July 12 - the day of the World Cup final - several times more people will watch two teams compete at a ball game than would have watched the Titanic, the mega-budget hit that swept this year's Oscars. From the shanty-towns of Sao Paulo to the biggest single slum colony in the world, Bombay's Dharavi, from the swanky, expensive villas on the Cote d'Azur to the mansions of the rich and the famous on Beverly Hills, a huge chunk of the human race will be tuned to the drama being enacted by two football teams.
It is a coming together of the sort that the human race seldom experiences as people from vastly different backgrounds, rich and poor, black and white, and every shade in between, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish as well as the agnostics and the atheists, live through a set of shared emotions on a vast scale for 90 minutes... and perhaps more.
Neither a crucifixion nor a coronation, and surely no other single sporting event including the Olympics, might command such attention from the human race. By the time the most famous Cup in the world of sport is won and lost on July 12, a record 37 billion people would have watched the action in France.
And, to be sure, most of the viewers would follow the fortunes of their favourite teams and heroes with a fierce loyalty and a fanatical sense of commitment that would outdo any brand of religious fervour.
There are religions. And then there is football.
The world game is the ultimate religion, one that cuts across every known border on earth; something that, like every great religion, unites, divides, elevates, plummets, provides inspirational highs, sets off fits of depression, touches chords hardly touched by anything else, shoots up nerves and puts one on the edge and makes one scale the gamut of emotions in 90 minutes.
No other ballgame can trigger such extreme responses in so many millions. No other sport can ever aspire to match the status of football.
"Soccer is the biggest thing that's happened in creation. Bigger than any "ism" you can name," said Alan Brown, Manager of an English Club. It wasn't hype, realIy. He meant what he said. He believed it was the biggest thing in creation and he is one of tens of millions of believers.
After having his right leg amputated in 1953, and with little hope of returning to the sport, Derek Dooley, a centre forward with Sheffield said: "I'll stay in football. I don't mind if they stand me up and use me as a corner flag "
But, then, what sort of an experience can trigger such responses in human beings? What is it about a simple ball game that makes it so popular, cutting across all barriers? What is the key to its special allure, its near-hypnotic appeal?
These questions might make it appear that the source of the great game's unparalleled popularity is a deep mystery and serious scientific analysis was necessary to unravel it.
By Ismail Khan
Royal Ascot day three and Godolphin connections put on the pressure and stepped on the gas winning the Blue Riband and the opener thus taking a great leap forward in the owners' championship table.
For Frankie Dettori the ex Italian rider it was a personal best riding a treble, all for Sheikh Mohammed who has a big share in the Godolphin Enterprises, connections of which had a most memorable Royal Ascot meet.
The day began with Saeed bin Suroor the ex-cop turned trainer in the Emirates saddling his ambitious and well trained Bahr to collect the opener, the Ribblesdale Stakes from Star Begonia and Rambling Rose. Ridden by Frankie Dettori Bahr took up the running closer home to keep Michael Kinane ridden Star Begonia an Irish challenger at bay from O'Peslier ridden Rambling Rose who could make only a slight impression.
The next race the Norfolk Stakes over the minimum saw Jack Berry's youngster Rosselli achieve his hat-trick when he made it almost point to point from Sheer Viking and Monkston Point.
Ridden by Jimmy Carroll the 2 year old off a rating of 88 shot off from the stalls well and after lying handy for two furlongs hit the pace hard to lengthen his lead with every furlong traversed and beat Sheer Viking (Darryll Holland) and Monkston Point (S. Whitworth) with much to spare. More races are at his mercy and it is good to watch him wherever he runs next.There is a plan pencilled out for him in Ireland so watch out for him over sprints out there may be in the "Millions" a big sprint at Curragh Ireland next month.
B.Hills's Sheer Viking though finishing runner-up was not disgraced and should pick up a decent sprint before going to Goodwood's festival meet. Monkston Point trained by D. Arbuthnot though enjoying a level break could not sustain the blinding speed.
The 1998 Gold Cup a Group One event last term won by Pat Eddery ridden Celeric saw 17 at the starting point with no more than 4 horses enjoying favouritism but Frankie Dettori had other ideas and taking the mount on Saeed Bin Suroor trained Kayf Tara made the race look procession like at the all important end beating veteran Double Trigger (D. Holland) and Three Cheers (M. Hills) handsomely.
In the 20 furlong heart churner Dettori kept Kayf Tara the 4 year old handy throughout and once the heat was applied with 4 to go asked for his effort and Bin Suroor's colt summoning hidden talent over the extended 2 1/2 miles put his head down and galloped merrily to perfection making it procession like hammering others on the run. Double Trigger the veteran ran a great race though beaten and should be noted for the gruelling Goodwood Cup at the Goodwood festival meet. Jimmy Gosden's Three Cheers should be watched to take a smaller race in England this term over two miles or even slightly less. It will surely pay to follow.
The Cork and Orrery Stakes - the fiery sprint had Tomba writ all over as Brian Meehan's 4 year old justified favouritism to beat the overseas challenge of French sprinter Dyhim Diamond and R. Hannnon's Andreyev.
Ridden by Michael Tebutt Tomba toyed with the field and beat the pursuers in taking style. Connections are hopeful of his chances in the Steward's Cup at Goodwood, so take special note.
Dettori rode his third winner for the afternoon in the next race booting home Jimmy Gosden's Rhapsodist from Compton Admiral O'Peslier and Dashiba (K. Fallon). Follow Dashiba for an early break- through.
The final race on the third day went to raging hotpot Sir. M. Stoute's Double Classic who won the King Geroge Stakes a Handicap from Emerald Heights, Blueprint and Indimaj. Ridden by John Reid Double Classic rounded up the distance in good timing though not anywhere near the course records set earlier.
The final day's comments expect in next issue together with other details.
By Marcus Joseph
Fifty seven school teams have qualified for the second round of the all-island inter-school Under-17 Cricket Tournament 1998 for the Singer Trophy, conducted by the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association. 169 school teams participated in the first round.
The teams for the second round are: Division I - 20 teams, Division II - 10 teams and Division III - 27 teams. The matches are played on a league basis and the winners are qualified to play in the semi-finals. Teams in Division I and II should complete their matches on or before July 19 and Division III, on or before July 05.
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