Football Fever Engulfs India !
Viva Football - 1000's travel from India to Qatar for FIFA World Cup 2022
The banners and posters are out, huge cut-outs of favourite players are up, fans are gathering in dedicated droves at homes, clubs and theatres to watch one of the biggest sporting events globally, the FIFA World Cup 2022. Football fever is peaking across the country and not just in football loving states like Kerala, Goa and West Bengal.
The interest this world cup has garnered is quite different from the previous ones. As much as the players, football fans too have almost two years of pent-up energy that has been waiting to be unleashed after the pandemic waned. In many football loving regions of India, the world cup fever from decades has been immortalised in sports folklore. The enthusiasm continues to be high over the years.
Samuel Ralte, a choir conductor based in Mizoram said, "the World Cup is really huge in Mizoram. When we were young, we would often hear of our parents crowding around the only TV in the village watching Maradonna play in 1986. That love for football still lives on today. People even reschedule office timings to watch the matches. I remember leaving school early in 2002 because the teachers wanted to watch England play. The mood this year is still huge. I'm a choir conductor, and it's very hard to call choir practices at night, the choir strength has gone down.
People of ages are glued to the tournament and they support various teams, but England and Brazil probably have the biggest support here. The girls are all supporting South Korea though, because of K Pop."
In Kerala, especially in districts like Malappuram, the World Cup is a grand public festival. There are huge cutouts, rising almost 30 to 40 feet high, of star players including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar. Many have painted their houses in Argentine colours white and blue.
A local news report stated that some die-hard fans went to the extent of 'buying' a house for Rs 23 lakhs just to watch the world cup together. The enthusiasm hasn't escaped the politicians and leaders either. Leader of Opposition in the Kerala state assembly V D Satheesan was seen playing a match with his party colleagues dressed in Brazil and Argentina jerseys.
For Keralites, this world cup is extra-special as Qatar, the host of the world cup is also home to a large number of Malayalee expatriates. Many of them have been instrumental in putting the World Cup together, in various capacities.
Vishnu CK, a 42-year-old planning engineer said, "This is probably my only chance to witness a world cup. This is as close as it may ever get," while on his way to watch the Morocco-Croatia match on Wednesday.
Vishnu travelled with his wife and son, also die-hard football fans, all the way from Kerala. Vishnu and his family decided to attend the World Cup in 2010, when Qatar was announced as the venue. They have been planning their finances carefully since then.
Skariya, a Malayalee expatriate who came to Qatar in 2007 and currently works in the maintenance sector for the Qatari government said, "It was in 2010 that they announced the World Cup would be in Qatar. I've been dreaming about it since then. This is the first time the World Cup has come to the Middle East in its 92-year history. And Indians have been a vital part in making this happen, in terms of all the preparations that have been taking place over the years."
He added, "After the announcement in 2010, the first work started on the metro. Almost 80 percent of the work was being done underground. For eight years, we had no idea that something was happening underground, so when we finally saw it, we were all stunned, it was a whole new world. After the metro, the work on the stadiums began. Eight huge stadiums ranging from 40,000 to 80,000 seating capacity were built.
"This is a big moment for Indians and Asians, as it is probably the only opportunity for many Asian and Middle Eastern countries to witness a football World Cup. Apart from Indians who work here, thousands of people have travelled from India to attend. Qatar is expecting at least 15 lakh visitors during the world cup. Many people from countries like Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi even travel back and forth every day. There are three ships anchored in the Cornish islands along with tents, hoping to cater to the thousands of foreigners visiting."
As the fever kicks in, even businesses across the country are quick to make use of the marketing opportunity. In Goa, for instance, popular restaurants are decked up with flags of all the world cup countries and renaming everything on the menu to items like Maradonna beef.
However, some fans also complain that although the game has become more widely known, the 'fan spirit' is not the same as it was decades ago. "Even in Kolkata", Mayukh Ganguly, a social worker and former footballer for Mohun Bagan football club said, "The city is enjoying the moment to the peak. Decorations are all around and streets are lit up. Most of the support is for Brazil and Argentina. However, love for the game is not the same as it was once. The earlier charm is not there anymore. Football has become more technical, there is little romanticism left."