-By Ritvik Bagga
The current pandemic has personally made me value certain things that were rather deprived of their deserved appreciation in the old normal. Aside from the more influential doctors, house help, and grocery stores, even the unavailability of parks, gyms and live entertainment has affected me more than I expected during the whole lockdown period.
The one thing which stood out for me was the lack of live sports. As an avid football fan, it was strange to accept that I couldn’t watch my favorite team play on the weekends. I also felt alienated when I could not watch live cricket during the IPL season. Personally, my life has always been revolving around either playing or watching sports.
I have tried to express some of my personal experiences related to sports in this blog.
How Cricket Came Into My Life
At an age where kids used to watch cartoons and sing nursery rhymes, I was watching the men in blue playing cricket with my family, humming the chants of Sachin. I remember asking my daadi (grandmother), a huge Yuvraj Singh fan (the love for cricket runs in the family), why is the Indian team wearing a white jersey.
She realized that it would have been difficult for a five-year-old to understand the difference between test cricket and ODI, so her instant response was, “Beta ye unki winter uniform hai” which translated to, “Son, this is their winter uniform.” Watching cricket with daadi became a part of my life, be it waking up all night to watch India play West Indies or waking up at 5 to see the first ball of the Test match on a bouncy track in Australia.
As I grew up, I realized the true power of sports and how cricket specifically acts as a uniting force in our country. The feeling of excitement and buzz one experiences before a big match day is second to none.
The news channels start their pre-match analysis on the penultimate day, temples are organizing special poojas, and people even perform specific superstitious activities to warrant their team’s victory. As a young spectator of the game, the kind of expectations people had from their players inspired me and I wanted to emulate that. Therefore, I started training and representing my school in tournaments which increased my tactical knowledge for the game.
In my honest opinion, sports taught me a set of skills that a book could never have. I learned the value of teamwork when the entire team performed their roles for the collective good instead of individual glory.
As a teenager pampered by my family, I could only perform the act of sacrificing when I used to get run out instead of the better batsmen. But the most important quality sports has taught me is redemption. Everyone falls in life; however, it is important to pick yourself up. So, when a cricket ball at the speed of 80 kph hit my eye and I had to get 12 stitches, instead of quitting, I focused on how to get back. Similarly, when I dislocated my shoulder while saving a goal, instead of getting scared, I worked on my footwork as I rehabilitated.
With a great level of hard work, commitment and discipline, I was able to get back in the team on both occasions, climb through the ranks and eventually represented the school team again. Thus, no matter what happens in life, if I fail an exam, lose money on investments or even get fired, I will always have that spirit to get back up.
Passing the Ball
It was during my rehabilitation period when a friend encouraged me to watch YouTube videos of Cristiano Ronaldo, his skillful ball play and his athletic physique. I was fascinated to see someone do such incredible things with a football while maintaining a level of fitness that is unparalleled. It compelled me to follow Ronaldo in live games representing Real Madrid, his club at the time, and in a few months, I was a hardcore Madrid fan.
Being a football fan, living in the Indian time zone is no easy work, as the Spanish and the European leagues have matches post-midnight Indian time. The odd timings have always been a challenge, but such is the passion for the team that I have never missed a live match of Madrid since the last six years.
The flurry of emotions I have experienced regarding the performance of eleven players with whom I have had no physical interaction or even a common language has been surprising. I was gutted when Dortmund knocked Madrid out of the UEFA Champions League, the biggest tournament in club football, due to a Robert Lewandowski masterclass.
I have screamed like a mad man at 2:30 am when Sergio Ramos, El Capitano (the captain of Real Madrid), scored a match-saving header when the clock struck 92:48 and Madrid went on to score three more in the extra time to finally lift La Decima (The tenth UCL Trophy).
10th July 2018, the day Cristiano Ronaldo announced his transfer from Madrid to Juventus. To non-football fans, the only way I could describe this transfer is like a breakup, but a hundred times worse. The reason I started following Real was because of Ronaldo, and during the initial days I was inclined to follow his new club as well, but the connection was not there with any other football club. People used to tell me that since I have never lived in Madrid, why am I so loyal.
The thing they don’t realize is that the club one supports somehow becomes a part of one’s identity. The identity of Real Madrid Football Club is to win, at all costs. Failure is not acceptable, that is why it is the most ruthless club in terms of firing staff. I resonated with this on a personal level as my goals in life are also to achieve success at all costs. Similarly, a friend of mine who is a Barcelona fan, enjoys the beauty in life.
Hence, he supports Barcelona as they play the most aesthetically pleasing football. We don’t necessarily choose the clubs we follow; the club chooses us as fans. So, no matter which player comes and goes, I’ll always be loyal to Madrid.
Football, coincidently, introduced me to my best friend throughout my college life. It was the second day of University with a Personality Development Session going on. With a lot of new faces around me in a new city and a different language, suddenly I heard a voice asking me, “Hey, are you a Madrid fan?” noticing the crest wallpaper on my phone. That sparked a great friendship, as we spent the three years of college discussing football and life.
More Than Just A Game
I believe sports bring people of different cultures together and make important social and political stands. When a team is on the ground there is no discrimination based on religion or skin color. In the picture, you can see the South African captain kissing the black bowler, this moment came at a time when South Africa was facing issues with mistreatment and misrepresentation of the black community on the field. This gesture sent a message all over the world and it has become a great moment to look back.
Similarly, in this picture, the footballer Gini Wijnaldum can be seen hitting out against racism by highlighting and celebrating diversity in the form of skin colour. Looking at India and the unfortunate tensions between Hindus and Muslims, I have seen a hardcore Hindu cheer for Zaheer Khan and a Muslim rooting for Sachin Tendulkar.
All I mean to say here is that when it comes to sports, there might be boundaries for goals and runs, but not for races and ethnicities. Sports promote and highlight equality. When India won the world cup in 2011, the entire nation celebrated. There was no need to mention the religion of the player who led us to victory by the toxic members of the Indian Media. Cricket, specifically, has always been a uniting force for our country and I hope sports keep bringing people from different walks of life together.
As we see live sports coming back (in Europe), it brings me immense joy that I have something to look forward to for the weekends. Like the lockdown, every day won’t feel like the same day and there will be a sense of normalcy that should reappear. The atmosphere in the matches obviously won’t be the same as all the games will be held behind closed doors. However, I am sure the void of the last months for all the football fans will be filled and we can enjoy the beautiful game again.
Image Sources: Google Images
Sources: Blogger’s Own Experiences
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