‘Baba (Alip Sinha) would have been thrilled to see his favourite team Germany (second only to Brazil) win a thrilling match, beating Portugal, last night! Remembering old times when Baba, Mishti and I watched football, yelling into the night, over tea and coffee, particularly the World Cup when Germany won...1990. They will remain my football partners for ever…. And what a team effort it was for Germany, as their superior possession and cross passing skills along with superb precision gifted us an enthralling match, and yes... #Ronaldo can sure run like lightning, before striking... @Monjima Sinha @AlipSinha #football May all fathers inspire their daughters to love football...’’
That was my Father’s Day Facebook post this year, right after the Portugal vs Germany match in Euro 2020 (played in June-July this year because of the pandemic), which Germany won quite decisively (4-2). We had lost Baba just a few weeks ago and this felt like the right tribute to a man who taught both his daughters to become football fanatics.
Football fanatics who would be staying up nights to watch Euro and then waking up mornings to watch Copa!
Portugal vs Germany in Euro Cup 2020
With the arrival of television came the advantage of being able to watch sports on a screen sitting in the comfort of one’s home, never missing out a moment as technology advanced in leaps and bounds.
The unmatched excitement of a game at the stadium shall remain unsurpassed, but in the 1980s, when we could not fly out to attend World Cup matches, the television proved to be a godsend. It introduced us to some superior quality football and to international professional football clubs, from Juventus to Real Madrid, which I knew nothing about till then.
PK and Chuni to Rossi and Baggio
‘Club to us was restricted to Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, maroon-and-green jerseys fighting with red-and-yellow’Amit Datta
Club to us was restricted to Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, maroon-and-green jerseys fighting with red-and-yellow. We were ‘Ghotis’ from West Bengal, supporting Mohun Bagan, most notable for its victory over East Yorkshire Regiment in the 1911 IFA Shield final. I remember my childhood days when the radio was the source of matches, celebrations, heartbreaks, fights and tears, as friends became foes and vice versa.
Chuni Goswami with the ballTT archive
PK Banerjee in actionABP archive
The Bangali adda over a cup of tea is an iconic image of Kolkata and at home this was a regular fixture. Whenever football came up, Ma would mention her encounters with legends like Chuni Goswami and PK, while anecdotes of other greats like Sailen Manna and Maidan heroes like Shyam Thapa, Manas Bhattacharya and Sisir Ghosh would liven up the evenings. Much later, I became a fan primarily of Italian players like Baggio, Donadoni and Paolo Rossi, though ultimately the game overpowered individual talent.
Strange that football in India has traditionally been a Bengal obsession, the only other exception being Goa. And every Bengali is steeped in their respective club colours, every member of the family deeply involved in goals and passes. A democratic game, it usually brought together joint families around radios, and later glued to the television — everyone including domestic help and neighbours.
My favourite image of football remains little boys playing in the rain, mud splattered, ecstatic and speeding in freedom.
'My favourite image of football remains little boys playing in the rain, mud splattered, ecstatic and speeding in freedom’.Amit Datta
Bengali cinema and the beautiful game
Bengali cinema, of course, could not be far behind, and while many films have had football incorporated in storylines and montages, there was Mohunbaganer Meye in 1976 with the one-and-only Utpal Dutt, the core of the story revolving round the legendary rivalry between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. The popular Dhonni Meye in 1971 had given us an iconic song Shob khelar shera Bangalir tumi football by Manna De, which aptly sums up the ownership all Bengalis take of football.
Manna De's 'Shob khelar shera Bangalir tumi football' aptly sums up the ownership Bengalis take of football.
I want to end with what is probably the greatest name in football on earth — Pele — and the Bengali fascination for every bit of the beautiful game. A few years ago I met a demure Bengali damsel called Rosemary. On being asked her exotic name, she explained that her grandfather, a Pele fan, had named his granddaughter after Pele’s first wife — Rosemeri! No prizes for guessing what her name would have been had she been born a boy!
More on Pele — who I had the good fortune to meet! — next time...