“Goal!” screamed the fans who had gathered in front of the giant screen at what we call the T&T ground near Indira Road. The roar that followed was even more deafening than those that came after the first two goals. Wait a minute. This was not the third goal by Argentina but the first by Nigeria. There were supporters of Nigeria here?
“‘Brother,” I ventured, this is a Nigerian goal not one by Argentina, so why are we cheering that?”
One among the half a dozen or so nearest to me grinned and said, “We are not supporting Argentina!”
The surprise on my face prompted another neighbour to say, “Look, we are not supporters of Argentina. What you see around you, we friends, we are all diehard fans of Brazilian football. Brazil is the best. They didn’t become world champions the last time because they were ‘unlucky’ but the next time ‘we’ll’ show them.”
They asked me (because civility as well as curiosity demanded) if I was supporting Argentina. I told them, a bit cautiously because some football fans can get carried away and become emotional and a manifestation of that is violence (remember what happened in the UK recently?) that I had come to see a great match, even if this was just a friendly. And yes, I had come to see Messi and also the way team Argentina played.
I also confided that like them I was a Brazilian fan, but less of a fanatic and never got hysterical or churlish, not because of high morality but because of practicality — behaviour like that is a sheer waste of time, and at my age who knew how much of that I had left? Besides, in sports at least I didn’t believe that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. They had actually called Argentina a ‘shotru’ (enemy) of Brazil and not ‘protipokkho’ (opponent).
They were peeved a bit at first but then I told them just to watch the game and how the players played, that this was the best theatre on earth and its best part was you didn’t know what was going to happen next, who would win and who would lose. No event on earth could compare to a football match, certainly not cricket, not even the T20 version. But it had to be such a match as we were watching, that of the highest level.
A few minutes later I could see they were trying to appreciate the ball control, possession, playmaking, the surges forward and the attempts at the goal. How I knew? Well they seemed to be concentrating hard and there were no anti-Argentina sniping.
After the third goal by Argentina one of them demanded to know one thing. On the face of it, it will sound like an imbecile question, but I decided it was just an innocent query. “If he is the best player in the world, how come he didn’t score even once? And they scored three!”
I readily pointed out to the inquirer that Messi had a hand (read legs) in all three. I looked at his friends and immediately they shook their heads vigorously in assent. “And he was constantly terrorising your Nigerian friends in defence! You could not have missed that there were at least four Nigerians always around him whenever he had the ball and was close to their D!” This brought a grin on almost every face, except the Messi detractor. Ok, I decided, you cannot cure everyone and I was not a curer anyway.
Then they wanted to talk about something else. Will these events in anyway improve Bangladeshi football? Well, I told them, it was a pertinent question but there were no easy answer. Then one among them said the best words of the evening. “Bhaiya, if we could send 50 ten-year-olds to Brazil and Argentina or even Spain or Germany where they would only play football and do nothing else for ten years and brought them back, then we would have made ‘birat ekta laap’ (a giant leap) in football!”
There was silence for a few seconds before some of them turned on him. “Yes, and who would organise something like that, your uncle?”
“But people have money in Bangladesh,” the guy protested, “many have hundreds of crores or more each, so why can’t they part with some? Can you imagine what it will do for the game? One madman even built a Taj Mahal in Sonargaon and they spend crores in their children’s marriages. I heard too that one decorator charges Tk 20,000 for a bridal make-up!”
‘Beautician,” I said.
“Bridal make-up is done by a beautician and not a decorator!”
“Okay, bhaiya. So why can’t they donate for a worthy cause. After all there are no pockets in a kafon (shroud)!”
That seemed to scare everyone, it does, the mention of death brings everything to a halt but it was only for a short time. Then one said he had seen a respected editor of a daily say on television that the organisers had organised a dinner which was to be attended by the Argentinean team, but the players refused to attend when they heard that the organisers were charging tens of thousands from each guest, but since the money had already been taken the organisers began coaxing and cajoling the players and whining so the players said they needed concrete assurance that the entire money would go to charity and only then they would attend this dinner.
Would they accept ‘promises’ and ‘oaths’ by the honourable organisers? No. But what prompted their final refusal to attend that dinner was when someone told them that about five percent of that money had already been spent on ‘pagla pani’ (liquor) in that very hotel.
I told them that this was hearsay, gossip, and was probably the work of detractors.
“They why did they leave at 3 in the morning, if it was not to avoid those who did not get their money back?”
“I don’t know, brothers, but if you care about such things you could write to Messi.”
“By the way, bhaiya, how far apart are Nigeria and Argentina?” A couple of them actually pronounced it Nizeria and Arzentinia but I didn’t want to be impolite and let them be; in fact, many in this country continue to pronounce the letter ‘z’ as ‘jed’ and there is nothing one can do about that. But then we sound much better than most others. Have you heard the French or the Chinese or Japanese speak the language?
“Argentina and Nigeria are quite far away from each other,” I said, wanting to get away.
“How far, 100 to 200 miles, or more?
“Much, much more.”
But ‘Brajil’ and ‘Zarman’ are side by side, aren’t they bhaiya,” offered another. He had earlier mentioned that he had a Masters degree in Sociology from Dhaka University.
“No, they too are far away from each other, far, far away,” I said before shaking their hands and taking my leave.
I am glad he didn’t ask how far away they are from Bangladesh and our football.
Ishrat Firdousi is a journalist, writer and a sports enthusiast.