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FIFA World Cup
A Manipuri's memoir for his 'Football World Cup' love since 1980
One tenth of the world?s population is said to have watched the Spain-Netherlands final match on TV in the last FIFA World Cup in 2010. It was an estimated population of 700 million people out of which 155 million were from India alone. Hopefully the count might include all football freaks in Bishenpur?a semi-hilly town sandwiched between Laimaton Hills and Loktak Lake, around 30 miles down south-west from Imphal and my birthplace, where I spent most of my early teens playing some good soccer with a bunch of skillful skinny tribal boys from the neighbouring villages.

It was a time in the late-1980s when most of the households in the town started owning black and white TVs and young boys in my circle of friends were deeply inspired by some international football tournaments viz. FIFA World Cup, Euro Cup, of which we just caught glimpses on Doordarshan - the only channel available on air in the then pre-cable TV era while Internet was not even in embryonic stage.

However, it was not on TV but in a theater called Vishnu Cinema, about a five-minute walk from my house, I and my group of skinny friends watched the first international football in a docu-movie on 1996 Mexico FIFA World Cup. It was really a turning point, which turned every one of us to pick up a football for a grapple every breezy afternoon on the green-grass stretch near the bank of Loukoi Lake, imitating those Argentineans we saw on the big movie screen.

This was how team Argentina found a chunk of fans in an unlikely place called Bishenpur, which Diego Maradona would never believe a boy like me in this sleepy town worshiped him as a football god. Maradona was the talk of our town - his dribbling style, infamously popular ?Hand of God? goal and other stories about the Argentine legend that every single skinny friend of mine orchestrally shared overlapping one over another.

There were star players like Michel Platini, Gary Linekar, Hugo Sanchez, among others who played timeless football in the 1986 FIFA World Cup and we saw their competencies in the Vishnu Cinema movie too, but it was of no use since Maradona obscured them all. Euro Cup introduced Rudd Gullit to us for whom every skinny friend of mine applauded, but not in front of Maradona. Yes, Pele the Brazilian prodigy was someone so special to elderly folks in Bishenpur who called him ?classic? and always compared against Maradona, but it did not convince us even after digging up the fact that Brazil bagged three World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 1970 under his captaincy.

My circle of friends were a horde who lived under ?seeing is believing? principle. We never saw Pele playing either on TV or any movie. He retired from the game long time before we watched the World Cup movie at Vishnu Cinema, where our spotlight totally beamed down only on Maradona.

It was Television that fueled us to adapt new trends in music, fashion or sports in the 1980s. Mass popularity of cricket telecast on Doordarshan in that period instilled everyone in my circle of skinny boys and others around Bishenpur to give the gentleman?s game a try. It absorbed! And it took us no time to get our bedroom walls wrapped with posters of popular cricketers?Richard Hadlee, Vivian Richards, Dilip Vengsakar, so on.

Subsequently, everybody kept football far behind like a forgotten chapter. Then after the momentary lapse, the year 1990 brought again the greatest quadrennial sporting show on earth?Italia 1990. The Sleepy town of Bishenpur finally woke up to the explosive cheers when a striker rumbled near penalty box and commentator shrieked ?Goaaalll!? as the ball found the back of the net. In such ambiance, who else in my circle of skinny friends could remain rubbing the cricket ball on the trouser to get the shine?

?Italia 1990? unpacked a fresh fervor none of my skinny friends ever savoured in 1996 at Vishnu Cinema. Everything sprouted different as watching the tournament was not limited to cheering for Maradona and Argentina. Italy, Cameroon, Colombia, France, Germany, Spain, everyone of us picked our favourite countries and cheered for newly found star players like Roger Milla, Salvatore Schillaci, Carlos Valderrama, Robero Baggio, whereas my stand still glued to team Argentina and Maradona who was still best remembered for being the one showing me the road to FIFA World Cup. In a sense, my tradition of supporting Argentina has been strengthened by the romance surrounding Maradona.

Years have goneby since my FIFA World Cups at Vishnu Cinema. Batches of players appeared and disappeared every four years over the last three decades, except some familiar faces of coaches who remain unchanged. This year, youngsters in Bishenpur, who care and know little about Maradona, go cheering for their favourite reigning stars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar da Silva Jr, who have set their legions of fans across geographies and demographics.

Of course, I like them too. Seeing them grappling in the ongoing World Cup in Brazil is indeed a new delight. New for the fact that every World Cup and its venue always float up with brand new contentment.

Brazil is special to me not because of the reason that it stands hosts to the ongoing World Cup. Also, it is special to me not for being the only country that never missed FIFA World Cup since the tournament?s inception in 1930 in Uruguay. It is simply special to me because it?s a home to the legendary Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janerio which old football freaks in Bishenpur describe to be a special place where Pele was shaped as a soccer legend. Everyone in my sleepy hometown is ready to catch the final of FIFA World Cup 2014 at this historic stadium on July 13. Be prepared!

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