'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Soccer Memories - International

Euro 2008 Football is on. The Russians, playing in the 'zone' have just packed off the more fancied Netherlands. Memories rush back a round 20 years to yet another match between these two countries - the Euro Final of 1988; Russia was then USSR. More than Marco Van Basten's brilliant winning strike for the Dutch, I remember being the only one in my then class supporting 'Orange' against 'Red' ...

Still earlier. The year is 1985. India used to host a soccer tournament - the so-called "Jawaharlal Nehru Gold Cup International Football Tournament". (I used to find the word 'Gold' more revolting than the 'sycophantic' Nehru bit). In '85, Cochin was chosen as the venue. The Maharajas Ground had no proper stadium so immense temporary galleries were built (from the stems of 'choola' trees; the newspapers used to say the temporary stadium deserved an entry in the Guinness book).

Our neck of the woods was just beginning to receive TV signals. And Doordarshan was NOT covering the 'Nehru Trophy' at all. With great effort, Pop got tickets for our family for the match between USSR and China. We reached Cochin (50 km from our place) about 2 hours before the match was to begin. The entire area around the stadium was teeming with people. A good percent of them were in red shirts, outnumbering the hundreds of khaki clad cops. We found the queue to enter the stadium was about a kilometer long.

Slowly we progressed in the queue towards the gate. A swanky bus drove up. There was a buzz: "The teams!", "Russia!" ... The bus paused right before us and several white and blonde faces peeped out. The crowd - self included - yelled "Russia! Russia!" and waved enthusiastically. The pale faces looked down at/on/through us with no visible emotion. Then the bus moved on, into the stadium...

The "China!" bus came soon after. I did not wave at our "Old Enemies". But plenty around us did - and exactly one player actually waved back at us.

A hundred of so meters from the gates, the queue gets stuck. There is a commotion up ahead. People around us say "The stadium is full. Maybe they wont let in any more people!". Pop asks: "But how? We have proper tickets!" Minutes later, there is a huge roar from near the gates and the crowd breaks and runs - cops seem to be baton charging them. There is general panic. Pop says: "Let's get the hell out of here!". We leave the scene, tickets and all.

Rumors fly thick and fast: "Far more tickets than there were seats in the stadium had been sold. The local Congress party leaders (CongI was in power in those days) distributed thousands of free passes to their chamchas. These chaps filled all the seats, and so folks had to be kept out, else the galleries would have caved in...!"

For the record, the Soviets won that match - we came to know that from the next day's papers.

A few days down the line, Pop again bought tickets - in the more expensive chair class - and we went to see USSR play Yugoslavia (another historical entity). This time we reached 3 hours before the match and could get in rather painlessly. I had never before seen such an awesome crowd. Vast stretches of the galleries were filled with swarms of red-clad youths. Presently, groups of hefty men in khadi and wearing 'Volunteer' badges started entering and occupying the chairs. The galleries greeted them with loud roars of: "O.C! O.C!!"(*). Some khadi wearers smiled sheepishly at the crowd, some waved and a few did mock 'Namaste's. And there was one chap who bravely faced the crowd and lifted his dhoti...

Yugoslavia won the match, playing on the whole, better football.

Another few days later, the same two teams faced each other in the final. Only Pop and I went this time; we could get only gallery tickets - and they came at an obscene 80 rupees apiece. We reached the ground by 2 pm for the 6.30 pm match and squeezed in. So packed were the stands that we could not so much as stand up for several hours! There were again huge numbers of red shirts around - some with the letters "CCCP" printed - and again, groups of khadi-wearers were greeted with deafening yells of "O.C!"

The teams trooped onto the field and the officials were introduced. A linesman was introduced as 'Natarajan'. Now, Natarajan is a more common name in neighboring Tamilnadu than in Kerala and the crowd greeted the man with loud yells of "Edaa Paandi!" (approximately, "Hey, you Paandi!", 'Paandi' being a slang word for Tamilians). Note: This Natarajan was also darker than the average Mallu and fit the stereotype of the "black Pandi" rather well.

The match kicked off and this time, the Soviets were dominant right from kickoff. Then, a threatening Soviet attack was flagged for offide by Natarajan (he was posted near where we sat) and the red crowd erupted: "Edaa, parappaandi!" (approximately, "You filthy Paandi!").

Yes, the Soviets eventually won 2-1.

The very next year, the world cup was held in Mexico. Doordarshan, rather surprisingly, gave in to public demand and started telecasting all the matches live. We, especially Pop and I, used to brew black coffee and sit up almost overnight to watch some serious soccer and yes, the awesome 'Mexican Waves'. In one of the more exciting matches, we saw Kerala-sized Belgium beat back the mighty Soviets. Of course, Maradona won the Copa for Argentina.

I have seen every world cup since then and most Euros - and a fair bit of Premier League as well. And I used to play soccer off and on until just after 2000. But 1985 was the last time I watched any sport in a stadium - full or otherwise, built of choola stems or otherwise....

(*) - "O.C" is an acronym dating back to British Raj days and is an adjective applied to any service obtained without payment (and usually thru shameless 'chamchagiri').


  • At 7:57 AM, Blogger Abhilash said…

    Soccer??? It should be football if you are outside the US. Good post nevertheless.
    Btw, I am also an ardent football fan, though I am one Worldcup less experienced than you! I exted watching from Italia 90(and that memorable Omam Biyik goal). I am a fan of England, who made it to semis that year. Too bad they did not qualify for this Euro.

  • At 9:23 PM, Blogger Karthik said…

    That 1986 world up will remian my most favourite though I have very few memories of watching it with my father who still believes that "Maradona is the greatest footballer ever".

    Those 2 goals against England were stunning!! And what a finals!!! Germans came back to level it 2-2 in typical fashion and then Burucchaga sealed it in extra time.

    But the Russians have come really good this Euro 2008. Though I felt the Dutch were not so energetic as in the matches when they thrashed Italy and France :(

  • At 10:43 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks abhilash for visiting.

    italia 90 was a pretty defensive world cup, although there was cameroon! things have opened up in recent times.

    actually, 'soccer' has been used as a synonym for football in india and specifically kerala for several years now. i remember the word being freely used in local dailies even in the late 1970's.

    thanks karthik.

    yeah, the photo of maradona hanging in midair about to punch the ball past shilton - his pose akin to that of hanuman in flight, balancing the mountain in his palm - left such an indelible impression. but if i remember right, the then tv replays totally failed to catch his feat!


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