It’s a fact that there is no game like football. Especially if you play it on the field. Only thing that comes close is the Games People Play. But that’s a different ball game all together.
When the fields are small or uneven, every field has its own dynamics. Added to it if the population on the field is high, then you have a game which only the ones who play understand the intricacies of. At one point of time a large number of players are on the ball like vultures as if there life depended on having it. Legs hitting legs, ball moving like a helpless soul without any cue and players vying for it with mostly naked feet (some of them prefer to play in sandals). The concept of staying in your position and coordination sound a bit Greek to such a bunch of football enthusiast. Only a master dribbler can make a mark. Otherwise for most of the others, the field is a stage and they merely actors.
I had never won a football competition as a team until last year even though have been playing it since school days. For some reason, my teams got excluded and that too mostly on penalties. Last year the institute team with me in it won all competitions it took part in. Many of the matches went till penalty shoot outs. Justice done!
When we used to play at home, if it hadn't rained, there would always be a debate whether to play cricket or football in the evening. Football is an egalitarian game unless you are not a goalkeeper. At my home ground without goal posts, a goalkeeper didn't have much to do other than get abused in case he missed or his throw-in fell onto the legs of someone from the opposite team. But rest of the others had an equal opportunity to show their skills with the ball. Cricket on the other hand was preferred by the senior guys. It gave them an option to show bossism by batting at the top of the order, bowling maximum number of overs and standing in a wicket keeping position (the most comfortable position to field if you have positioned a man behind to fetch the ball in case you miss it).
At my undergraduate institute at kgp the facilities were excellent. That is where I learnt to play with some sort of professionalism. The concept of coordination, speed, positioning etc. took center stage besides working on personal skills. To make it clear I never went to the official training camps. Lack of ability is one reason plus the camp was held early morning! But games between halls were also played with a passion only known to kgpians. Halls of residence would have a self-appointed coach (sometimes) and an official captain. My position was in the midfield. Practice matches, team meetings, planning, inter hall rivalries and friendships being back beautiful memories. And then there was the fight for choosing the Jersey colour. Nobody wanted the yellow green one for some reason.
During work it was not possible to play. But Bombay has its own charm and it keeps you involved in numerous sorts of games from trekking in the rains to boarding local trains to meeting suspicious clients. But football was always missed.
Joining Academia at Ahmedabad again brought back the opportunity to kick some dirt. Owing to old age and effects of a thin stick and foggy lungs, it seemed practical for me to strengthen the defense. Looks to be one of the best decisions of my life till now! At professional institutes things happen professionally. Here we had the opportunity to play inter institute matches held at other similar institutes. Our institute team used to fly to the city of the concerned venue. My father made an observation that even the national teams in India do not have the privilege of flying during their tours! I enjoyed every bit of the game for two years with team members apart from a brief abstinence at the end of the first year. Playing football is like sharing a cigarette in the sense that people you do it with develop a certain kind of unique bond even if you may interact with them only on the field.
Then spring ended and so ended my football for around 6 months. 2 days back I went to the field again. The thin stick never leaves you so opted for goalkeeping after a few shots. A goalkeepers slot is generally empty. A cost benefit analysis of a society of people who are aggressive might show the least returns of playing in that position. Narcissists disclaimer apply here but felt good while goalkeeping the first day. In the night though, the superego knocked in complaining about the demotion (childhood biases). So was back to defending the next day.
Football mirrors life. A quote which as far as I know is attributed to Mike Tyson which says ‘Everybody has a plan until punched in the mouth’ suits the game. One could enter the field with all kinds of coordination and formations on paper. But once the ball gets rolling it comes on skills, practice and a bit of luck to win it. And sometimes as in life even these might not be enough!