Connecting the dots through World Cups

Inspired by Chandrahas Choudhary here, I was also inspired to write something similar. Always had an thing for looking at the past through critical incidents which occur around that point of time – they act as streetlights to guide me through the fog of the past. Cricket series are more frequent and hence more focused milestones, but since we’re in the middle of the world cup – I want to look back at life through that prism.

The first two World Cups of my life I wasn’t even aware of. 1990 Italy I was obviously too small to be aware of but I’m a little perturbed that I have absolutely no memory of USA 1994. I can understand not remembering the specifics, but I have no recollection of the event at all. It’s also not like I don’t remember things from 1994 – I seem to remember Aishwarya Rai becoming Miss World pretty well as well as a lot of personal incidents. Maybe my family was too occupied or not interested then. Strange.

1998 – I was 10 years old by now, we had cable TV and I could read a little bit. I remember ESPN at that time having a commercial which must have been played again and again through 1997 about ‘hosts France & raining (sic) champions Brazil’ being through but 30 other teams still need to qualifying. I’m assuming they played this commercial a lot in late 1996 and 1997 which was when I had chicken pox, had fractured my arm amongst other reasons which allowed me to watch cricket matches on ESPN all day long and then the highlights as well. Seriously, I used to see 3 highlights of India’s tour to the Carribean in 1997, I remember my father being stunned as I coolly sat on the sofa and predicted which shot the highlights show would show next. And checking the early morning news to find out what happened late at night – no internet then! I was so delighted when Sidhu scored 201* or something – that was the first really big hundred or double hundred I’d seen an Indian batsman score. I digress as usual. But a friend had bought a cassette of that Ricky Martin song which you simply had to like to be considered cool then.

We used to have afternoon school that year – so the early kickoff used to start once we got back from school – I seem to remember England playing a North African team (Tunisia or Morocco?) while eating chivda in the evening. I remember Yogoslavia beating the US 5-0 and my mother explaining to me what a big deal that was due to the war in the Balkans around that time. A little bit of Croatia, then Ronaldo being ill, not going to play, then playing but practically not turning up for that big final which France won 3-0. And suddenly Zidane became a household name in India to match Ronaldo. The 1998 tournament is like some happy yet very unclear childhood memories.

2002 was in Korea Japan. The build up to this world cup was in 2001 when we finally, finally …finally bought a new computer. And my cousin took me to Lammington Road where we bought a pirated 6-in-1 CD. One of those games was Fifa 2002. Now I’d seen my cousin play Fifa 1999 on his home computer but had never managed to match up to those levels. Finally, with it at home and with him over for the summer vacations I earned a mastery over that game. I knew the players, the clubs, and their nationalities. We also subscribed to an English newspaper by then, football was big enough in India in 2002 for the Times of India to have a few extra coloured pages in their sports section for the duration of the world cup which is really pretty much all a pimply 14 year old can ask for. Also Ten Sports was launched in India with great fanfare then – Ten Sports which also bought back the WWE to India by the way! We had a really cool new channel after years and years of only ESPN, we had Anastacia singing that theme song ‘Boom!’ which I’ll never forget upto my dying days plus summer vacations – put all of that together and you have one occupied teenager. Remember Germany, which was unfancied at that time thrashing Saudi Arabia 8-0 and then winning each game by just a 1-0 margin, Ronaldo scoring a lot of goals, feeling Turkey should have actually beaten Brazil if the referee had been a little more fair, Roy Keane throwing a tantrum and leaving the Irish camp (hey, I’d just gotten to know about the great Manchester United!), South Korea running hard and beating all Spain while I was watching Star Wars – the Phantom Menace, almost missing the finals because my brother threw a tantrum in Bhandup and a dejected Oliver Kahn sitting morose near the goal-posts as the Brazilians celebrated.

2006 is surprisingly more hazy than 2002. I think that’s because 2006 was HSC year which in India makes your life very unidimensional. Worst year of my academic life. Anyways, let’s not go there. I remember the closing stages, where the much favoured Germans lost out to Italy at home, then obviously the final with the legendary head-butt and the game being decided on penalties. Also a lot of email forwards about Roberto Carlos searching for his earrings were from this period if I’m not mistaken. This was a period of life when I was very confused, a lot happening on every front. In comparison I actually remember Euro 2008 a lot better, which makes a lot of sense too. Life was secure and clear at least for the time being, 2nd year of Engineering just completed, nothing to worry about in the immediate future. Life was good, had an awesome set of friends plus the 3rd sem results had been kind to top it off. The Euro coming bang in the middle of our Engineering University examinations could get a lot of attention. Then the semis and finals while on a trip with school friends to Panchgani, with a lot of magical spirits. Rooting for the underdog Russia then. Relaxed times.

2010 isn’t too clear either although I know why. I remember the build up to it – I loved the music video for Waka Waka – used to play it before the final engineering exams. But then I travelled to Jamshedpur with a whole lot of trepidation. Sat in the train at 6 am in the morning after the first kick-off and Mandela’s granddaughters accident was what I read about all day in the train then. There were a whole bunch of guys who watched the matches late at night in the common room of Father Enright but I was hardly an ‘educated football fan’ and was too initimidated by all impressive credentials to open my mouth too much. By the time the 2011 cricket world cup came along I was much more comfortable in my own skin and cricket was also more firmly our turf and that same room was the stage for some epic games. But back in the summer of 2010, it wasn’t a place I frequented too often. With no internet either for the first couple of weeks in Jamshedpur – I wasn’t surprised when it took a good friend telling me about the Suarez hand ball for it to all come rushing back.

2014 seems like a long long way away from 2010 in terms of how different life is! Or maybe it’s just the recency effect. I’m 26, with a job that pays for my existence and doesn’t make me crib anymore than my peers, in good health sustaining a peaceful existence in great city. I have a flat screen TV, a big ass living room with some cool chairs, the games are scheduled nicely after office hours but it just seems like too much of a chore to watch – almost as if interest has to be manufactured – because world cup hai toh dekhna hi hai yaar. The pre-tournament hype was almost non-existent for me. Also it seems so much more easier to actually follow the sport without actually following it. With intenet on everyones phone – something which was not at all commonplace 4 years ago! – I get a quick recap of all the action from last night while I’m on the pot in the mornings. I’ve even scoured the web for a cool app which shows me all the goals from each game. Add snarky twitter comments telling you all the interesting and controversial things from the game, a couple of good sports websites on your facebook feed and you’re basically good enough to be an authority about the tournament without actually watching the tournament. I will watch the 9.30 pm kick off with my dinner every evening and keep watching the replays on the gym TV monitor but that urge to stay up late and watch isn’t quite there. Which may be a function of the circles I am in – no really big football fans unlike when in college where you always find a huge mix of authentic and pseudo fans, or it may just be that as you grow older (and hopefully more mature!) you automatically start picking and choosing what you will emotionally invest in. And although the football game must have been magnificent, I still personally chose to tune in to the last hour of both the England – Sri Lanka test matches last week. C’est la vie!