Ready for kick-off

The Telegraph goes football-fever hunting in the city as the Fifa World Cup begins in Russia tonight

  • Published 14.06.18
Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium that will host the opening and closing matches

Football is admittedly not as big as cricket in the city, but there are enough signs of the Fifa World Cup fever gripping Patna. 

Like when you hear Ashish Kumar, a second-year student of Chanakya National Law University, humming in a bus One life, the official World Cup theme song featuring Will Smith. When customers in restaurants request that the TV channel be changed to a football match. When sports outlets prominently display footballs with country flags and t-shirts bearing pictures of the game’s biggest stars. When TV sets fly off shop selves.

Rahul Kumar, owner of Chhabra Sports at Dakbungalow roundabout, said that replicas of the Adidas Telstar 18, the official ball of the Fifa World Cup, have sold out within a week despite its price tag being Rs 2,500 for each. 

“We have sold 10 pieces of the replica of the official ball and ordered for more such balls. It was the most expensive football in our store,” Rahul said.

Electronic goods shops are also seeing a spike in TV set sales. Many, such as Ashiana Electronics on Fraser Road, are offering rebates if customers buy two LED TVs. 

“We are amazed at the recent spike in the sale of television sets. At first we were a bit clueless why, then I realised it was because of the World Cup,” said Mukesh Singh, owner of the shop.

It is undoubtedly easier to find cricket fans in Patna, but there are many who are very clued in to the world of football. A group of youngsters at Gandhi Maidan, asked who their favourite footballer was, named Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian forward who plays for Liverpool, and Toni Kroos of Germany along with usual suspects such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar. 

YOUNG DREAM: A schoolboy checks out footballs bearing flags of countries taking part in the World Cup, at a shop in Patna on Tuesday. Picture by Manoj Kumar

Unlike Sunil Chhetri, captain of the Indian football team who named Germany, Brazil, Spain and France as the hot contenders this year, many football aficionados in Patna consider England and Egypt as the tournament's dark horses.

“I would not single out anyone, I am just really excited to see the best players taking on each other in the month-long battle of supremacy in the world of football,” said Ayush Priyadarshi, Class XII student of DAV BSEB school, who lives in Kumhrar. 

“I will watch all of Germany's matches,” said Akram Khan, a government servant who lives in Phulwarisharif. 

Veteran players recall that in undivided Bihar, football was popular in south Bihar districts of Khunti, Gumla, Simdega. Tournaments would also be held in Patna. “During the fifties the state government used to organise national level tournaments, through names of tournaments were changed at regular intervals. But for past two decades the tournaments have stopped,” said Jawala Prasad, a former footballer. 

“The main reason was the lack of open space.”

Patna’s only football club is owned by Raj Milk. 

“Our team has players from West Bengal, Sikkim, Manipur and even from Nigeria along with some players from Bihar,” said Vidya Bhushan Singh, the owner of Raj Milk. 

“We are hiring players from other states as we don't get good players from Bihar for playing senior league matches. Most of the open spaces in state capital have been developed into parks where old people go for morning and evening walks.” 

Mohammed Sarfaraz, who plays for Raj Milk and who has played national level tournaments including Santosh Trophy, said: “Till a decade back, sportspersons in different fields including football used to get government jobs at different departments on sports quota, but the government has stopped the practice.”

Lionel Messi
Cristiano Ronaldo

Reporting by S.M. Shahbaz and Roshan Kumar