"God created me to delight people with goals." Romario (Brazil, Barcelona and 9 other clubs)
I will go ahead and say God created the Brazilian football team to delight people with football.
When I started understanding various sports in late 1980s India was a different country. No open economy, no internet, not even foreign sports channels. And hence like many of the Indian kids of that time I got familiar with names like Kapil Dev, Srikanth and Azharuddin pretty quickly. I loved cricket as a kid and that’s the very first sports which I adopt.
But then football has its global presence and own appeal. It’s difficult to ignore it and being a bong I started remembering names like Chima Okery, Subrata Bhatttacharya, Krishanu Dey and Bikash Pnaji and I still remember the evening when while watching a live match in the television my father explained why I should support the Mohun Bagan club and keep a constant dislike towards those red and gold players playing against them. But International football, what’s that? It’s only a few clips in the Sunday afternoon sports show in DD with Kishore Bhimani’s baritone.
Then came Italia’90 with its peculiar looking logo and a bubble gum which would give one free card with the picture of a world cup star and being the eternal fighter I get into a fierce rivalry with many of my friends to collect more cards than others. I remember having cards of Walter Zenga, Robarto Donadoni, Juregen Klinsmann, Careca and Roger Milla. I also went great length for collecting the card with Diego Maradona’s photo but not because I liked him because it was difficult to get.
And why I did not like him? Instead which player I supported? That’s the topic of this blog post.
During late 80s and early 90s there was a popular weekly magazine called ‘Saptahik Bartaman’, I think it’s still available but not sure whether it’s equally popular. My parents had a regular subscription of that and just before the 1990 FIFA world cup; the magazine started a feature where every week they had one page describing some key highlights of one previous world cup with hand drawn black & white pictures. I remember reading all of them from 1930 to 1986. I remember reading about ‘Battle of Santiago’, ‘The rise (8-3) and fall (2-3) of Hungary’, ‘The 1974 final where Netherlands took the lead before even a single German player touching the ball’ and ‘The hand of God’.
But the ones I remembered the most at that age was Maracana stadium and the heartbreak of 1950, Pele and the little bird mesmerizing the world in 1958, then again in 1962, and greatest Brazilian team of 1970. And I started having a soft corner for the Selecaos and knew that Argentina is the name of the arch enemy when I was just 6 years old.
Then came the actual world cup, I was in my Masimoni’s place, she was a big time fan of Maradona and I remember the party atmosphere on the opening day of world cup. I remember my mother saying, Argentina might lose! But no one took her seriously, why should they? Argentina, the remaining champs were playing with Cameroon, just another African country making up the numbers. But my mother’s strong intuition worked again when Cameroon gate crashed Argentina’s party thanks to a goal from Omam Biyik. I remember that I started watching the match but slept midway and next morning woke with news of the upset. I do not remember many matches of that world cup but I remember reading in the same ‘Saptahik Bartaman’ in the World cup final special issue about how Brazil was beaten by Argentina in the second round by the solitary goal from Cannigia. I read about the tears of Brazil supporters and my dislike towards Argentina just grew more.
Although I did not remember any other matches but I do remember names like Schillaci, Goycochea and Gascoigne and that was my short memory of international football for time being.
4 years passed and another FIFA world cup comes with a lot of hype because it’s happening in USA, the land of hope and dream. In those last four years I was busy with Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli, Anil Kumble and Hero cup win and India’s spin trio and home test wins but as the world cup came I have started rooting for my favourite yellow jersey. But that time I am 11 years old, read the newspapers and magazines in more details. I knew about the teams, their stars and the groups. The world cup being in US, the matches were really really late, and I remember lots of matches where I was scolded by my parents for sleeping with TV on. But I did make a point to watch all the Brazil matches staying up as late as possible. Romario was the hero who scored 5 goals to take Brazil in the final. The up-front partnership of Romario and Bebeto was lethal. And then Bebeto become the most popular player of that world cup with his baby rocking celebration after scoring against Netherlands in the quarter final just after few days of the birth of his 3rd children. In the same match, Brazil very typically from a 2-0 score line managed to allow Netherlands to come back at 2-2 but then Branco converted a direct free kick from around 30 yards to take Brazil into the semis.
The final between Brazil and Italy started around 1 o’clock in the night and with 120 minutes of goal less draw and penalty kicks when it was finally over with Roberto Baggio’s missed penalty kick it was close to 4 o’clock. Never before I was awake so late in my 11 years of life. I was much tensed during the tie-breaker and remember spending some of it in the room and some of it in the balcony as I could not watch it out of nervousness.
The real transition happened from 94 to 98. Mind you, no internet and not much ESPN yet but the sports page of newspapers and magazines like ‘Sportstar’, ‘Khela’ and sports section of ‘Anandamela’ taught me a lot about football. I started knowing about the club football. I came to know about AC Milan, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona. I came to know about Copa America and UEFA Cup. Cricket was still my sports of choice but I was not as oblivious about football as in the first half of 90s.
The new megastar of Brazilian football was coming up. The shaved headed Ronaldo Luis Nazario De Lima came along with the group of superstars like Roberto Carlos, Dunga, Rivaldo and Denilson. By that time it’s not any more just watching your favourite team play, it was the whole hearted crazy support of the team. Fighting with friends in the school and memorizing history to use them in the argument. The prayers have started before the game and all the superstitions about what to wear and where to sit during a Brazil game in world cup has started.
That fanatism just increased in all these years, from the heart break of 1998 final to the ecstasy of the 2002 and then again the heart breaks of last two world cups it was a wonderful journey. I have a special feeling for world cup 2002, it was amazing to see how could one single man, in this case Ronaldo, came back like phoenix from the ashes of his mysterious illness to ’98 final to became the main architect of Brazil’s world cup triumph of 2002.
In the meantime another dimension of world football was opening to me. I came to know about David Beckham and the great man Sir Alex Farguson. I watched the highlights of their breath taking win over Bayern Munich in the Champions league final and became an instant fan of the Baby-faced Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Slowly my love towards Manchester United grew and with the advancement of internet I started following Man Utd religiously but I never stopped keeping track of my Brazilian heroes.
I do get upset about the fact that the most of the Brazilian players choose Italy and Spain as their preferred country for playing club football and hardly any big name of Brazilian team came to play in Manchester but I never stopped keeping track of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Pato and Fabiano and always wish them to do well whenever they are playing any match for their club side (except against United). I also have a special feeling for Jose Ramirez Barreto who is represents that awesome and rare combination of my love towards Brazil and Mohun Bagan. And when it comes to their match for the Selecaos, be it Copa America, Friendlies or World Cup qualifier I try to follow it and support them with as much passion as possible.
The world cup is going back to Brazil after 64 years in 2014 and although I have made plans with Kanad and Madhumitadi to visit Brazil to watch 2014 world cup but I do not know how realistic this would be but be it in India or be it in Brazil, in my mind I will be there with my heroes as strongly as possible, may be more closely as I know that this team is not as strong as the team of 90s or early 2000s. And that’s how I see a fan’s role become important. Everyone can support their team at the time of success but a true fan is who stays with his team even at the time of difficulty and heartbreaks. The life keeps moving and you never know the glory days may be just round the corner.
So, my beloved Brazilian team, keep playing well and keep entertaining people. Trust me, no other team makes football as beautiful and graceful as you can do and I do believe you know how to win trophies through your beautiful style. I will be always there to cheer you and cheer those mesmerizing moments you create on field.
My most favourite Top Five Brazilian player (In order or preference)
My Most favourite Brazilian moment on a football field
Ronaldo’s two goals in 2002 World Cup final
Bebeto’s celebration in 1994 quarter final
Ronaldinho’s free kick against England in quarterfinal 2002
Roberto Carlos’world famous free kick against France