April 2nd, 2011. 10:49 PM. Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.
India needs 4 runs off 11 balls to beat Sri Lanka and be crowned ICC World Cup Champions. Kulasekra starts to take his strides to bowl as every Indian holds his/her breath. The last 27 years start of ‘nearly there’ flash before their eyes. The ball leaves Kulasekra’s fingers. The stadium becomes silent. The country becomes silent. In unison. Silent.
Ever so often a moment comes along that makes 28 (now 29) states into one country. That makes Hindus-Muslims-Christians, Tamilians-Punjabis-Bengalis into Indians. That unifies.
Dhoni smashes the ball on the onside for a six.
The stadium goes wild. Mumbai goes wild. India goes wild. We are world champions.
The moment had arrived.
April 2nd, 2011. 10:50 PM. L & T South City, Bangalore.
Baba was crying. Muma was laughing. My cousins were screaming. I was just smiling. Completely satisfied with the win. With the last 12 years. With cricket.
That was the last time I watched a cricket match with the passion of a cricket fan.
My heart was already set on a different sport. On a different team. On a different world. My brain finally accepted it.
India lives and breathes cricket. Indians learn to hold a cricket bat before they learn to walk. We have it our blood. To say that it is our national most beloved sport would be a massive understatement. It is a religion. In a country divided by different religions, Cricket is the religion that unifies. Needless to say, I grew up loving it too. Playing it. Living it. If you don’t count my dream to be the Pokemon Master as my first official dream, aspiring to become a cricketer would be it. A dream you work towards; studying it, training for it and everything. Just like how I studied Pokemon cards and pretended to train my toy Pikachu. I had so much potential. Sigh.
We used to play cricket almost every day, taking breaks for ‘Chor Police’ and ‘Chor Police on Cycles’ every now and then, and on rare occasions, this game in which all the kids would chase behind one ball, with the fastest kid kicking it and everyone run behind it again. We used to call it “Fudball”. Years went on in this fashion.
September 21st, 2008. 08:30 PM. L & T South City, Bangalore.
We were growing up. Gully cricket had become Parking Lot Cricket. ‘Chor Police’ had become ‘Cops and Robbers’. Cycles were ridden without training wheels. And ‘Fudball’ became Football.
I remember this one evening distinctly. Raged at watching Ash losing yet another Pokemon League, I flipped the channel at random to ESPN. It was a football match, some team in blue called ‘CHE’ playing some team in red called ‘MUN’. The blue team were losing, trailing by a goal, desperate for an equaliser. I don’t know why, but I kept watching, pacing up and down and becoming very fidgety. I was tensed. I wonder why; I didn’t know the teams nor did watch football. I had no emotional connection whatsoever. A blue player shot the ball way over the goalpost and I let out an irritated “Ahhhhhh”. Frustration. As if Ash thinking ‘power of friendship’ could win you championships wasn’t frustrating enough. Idiot.
Mom calling me for dinner signalled that the match was about to end. Just when I had lost all hope, the commentator screamed “Kalouuuuu Scoressssssss”. The blue team had equalized. This feeling of immense joy took over, a feeling that I had never felt before, a feeling that cannot be explained. Before I knew it, I started running around and screaming in delight. My parents must have wanted a refund for my school fees. This was only the beginning of my extremely aggressive actions while watching football, and in particular this team ‘CHE’, that would disturb my parents. And friends. And neighbours.
I would like to apologise to absolutely no one.
The next day I fired up my FIFA 09 (what a game that was) to look for this team. I played endless hours on my PC with this team, learning about each player, formation and strategy. I researched them and started watching their highlights. My curiosity knew no bounds. Every goal excited me. My mind was made up. That evening we went to the parking lot to play football. We distributed ourselves into teams. The opposition team’s captain said they were to be called Manchester United. I stepped forward and declared,
“My team is Chelsea”.
And I haven’t looked back since.
Chelsea Football Club. These three words have become such an integral part of my life in the last 11 years that I cannot fathom a life without them. They are a part of my identity. My source of pure sorrow and happiness. Of moments that destroyed my day, week and year. Of moments that cheered me up no matter how bad life had gotten. Of learning to deal with failure and appreciate victories in life, however small they may be. Of helping me grow up from boy to an adult and yet keeping those childish emotions alive within me.
We live in a day and age when youngsters make a mockery of the concepts of love and relationships. One day its “True Love” on Instagram and the next day when faced with a problem, they call it quits. These youngsters should observe a relationship of a football fan with the team he/she supports to really understand the concept of ‘love’. You are there for each other every day, every night. Every game, every season. In victory and in defeat. In sickness and in health. No matter how bleak the future looks. No matter what. There are times when you feel betrayed, when you are hurt. I can’t count the number of times I have heard an Arsenal, Liverpool or United fan say “I’m done with this club”. I won’t lie, I have experienced that feeling too. But a couple of hours later you are back to being hopeful for your team, hope that has no plausible explanation. No matter how bad the situation gets, you just have this inherent feeling that things will become better. You never give up. You get hurt together. You heal together. You celebrate together. You stand together. It takes commitment and hard work. But in the end, it is always worth it.
June 29th, 2019. 11: 50 PM. Karvenagar, Pune.
I am writing this article tonight with the hope that one day football will be given as much importance as cricket is in India. That kids will grow up playing football with quality infrastructure in place, with a pathway to become football professionals in the same vein as the highly paid players in Europe. As cricketers are enjoying in this country. There are kids in India with magical talent. Trust me, I have seen it. They never get a fair chance to show and hone it, that perhaps, a cricketing talent gets. They are forced to give it up to become engineers, doctors and bankers, as there is no future here for footballers.
Take them to watch football matches. Encourage them to dream about football. Support them on their journey. Support this sport, in whatever way you can.
You see, I am a hopeful person. I hope to be at Stamford Bridge someday, to be season ticket holder and I know will. This hope is derived from a connection. A connection that spans years and covers a million miles. A connection of a million emotions. A connection shared by an English club and an Indian boy. A connection shared by football and me.
I am no pundit or expert but will do my part, however small it may be, to support this sport and share this connection, by writing about. In the only way I know how to;
The Chelsea Way.