It is the most popular sport in the world – played by over 250 million people across more than 200 countries. And there is a simple reason for it – all you need is a spherical object which can be kicked without much pain, barefoot, and a set of willing paricipants. Goal posts could be etched into sand, or could have imaginary boundaries based on your surroundings, leading to healthy discussions (without a referee, mind you) on whether a goal was valid. I have seen soccer being played with balls of hay, and with balls of tightly wound lumps of cloth; and have seen soccer “balls” as small as baseballs and as large as fitness-core balls. I have personally played in teams as small as 2 players on each side, and as large as 30 on each side.
It doesn’t matter.
The aim is to run around and have fun chasing a dream – the dream of becoming the next Pele, Beckham, Maradona or whoever your role model could be.
It is a game of passion. Of serious outcomes. Of lifelong partisan-ships. And lifelong relationships – good and ugly. You see the emotions on the field, in the stands, outside the stadium on the roads and squares, and within households.
I was born and brought up in Calcutta (now, Kolkata) where the soccer fever is chronic. We are not any good at it, which makes the passion in the game a curious endeavour. It was introduced by the British in the late 1800s when Calcutta was the capital of the British Raj. The first indigenous team was Mohun Bagan AC, formed in 1889.
In June 1911, while still heavily under British rule, Mohun Bagan entered legendary status by defeating a fully equipped East Yorkshire Regiment of the British Army 2-1, while playing barefoot! They did it again (sort of) in 1977 by playing for a 2-2 draw against the New York Cosmos which counted stars such as Pele and Franz Beckenbauer amongst their ranks.
Today, the rivalry between Mohun Bagan AC and East Bengal FC carries no less weight than the fistfights between Manchester United and Liverpool. The losing teams’ fan bases typically go without dinner and lunch for the next few days in depression. Their games typically hosted crowds of 132,000 people in a stadium built for 120,000, and hundreds of seats of the stadium go missing after the final games.
The FIFA Soccer World Cup injects a fresh doze of excitement and adrenalin into the kids of every country every year that it takes place. There is suddenly more interest, more players, and more matches in every literal nook and corner. We have tried to capture some of these moments from across the globe, having witnessed hundreds more that fleetingly whizzed past us in our rush to get to the next spot, and regret missing each one of those.