Scoring a jaw-dropping two points out of twenty in the preliminary round of a football quiz made me aware, for the umpteenth time, of my painful lack of knowledge of the game. I might have heard the lyrics of ‘Waving Flag’ sung and re-sung and distorted to glory, groaned over the inevitable ubiquitous use of ‘Waka Waka’ in the newspapers, but I soon realised what I didn’t know was central to the theme of the quiz- in short, trivia about the game. Intelligent guesses and wild shots in the dark are always thrilling when the answers turn out right, but sometimes, when confronted by people who know their stuff inside out, ignorance isn’t quite bliss.
The sulking skies opened up just before the quiz competition was due to start, and my teammate Airborne and I were hoping for a slice of extraordinarily good luck- the kind that led India into the 1950 World Cup finals, instead. It is another matter that they didn’t play because they weren’t allowed on the ground barefoot, as one version of the story goes. We were spared major embarrassment, of course, as people trickled in to increase the amount of competition (presumptuous of us to consider ourselves part of it, even so)- the quizmaster wanted atleast six teams to make a decent match of it, and his fears were unfounded. A decent number of people braved the rain to turn up at the prelims, and but for a bit of sparring, Airborne and I might have reached the royal score of four, halfway to the cut-off. Six teams made it to the final round, and no, we didn’t rue any lost opportunities.
As the questions flew around, we were treated to an intriguing collection of trivia scooped out of the massive amount of history the World Cup has accumulated over the years. Humour, controversy, corruption, and the crowning glory of triumph- football has seen it all.
Sport is no exception to the curses of human arrogance and senselessness. The brutal murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the ostracism of the Jews at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin are some of the more famous examples of politics sullying the reputation of global sporting events. Evidently, football has had its share of controversies- the inaugural edition of the World Cup at Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1930, featured only four European teams, a surprisingly low number for a continent that is home to some of the powerhouses of the sport. Defending champions Uruguay sought to retaliate by boycotting the 1934 championship in Italy, another controversial tournament where the hosts themselves had to qualify to play.
This is just a sample of the trivia that we were treated to. There were references to bizarre incidents, such as the one about a dog running on to the field to be caught by England’s Jimmy Greaves, who in turn had his lap graciously soiled, at the 1966 World Cup- yet another example of nature triumphing over man.
The magnitude of football’s reach is incredible. Its being a sport that can be played on the streets with a battered ball and goalposts traced out with a piece of chalk on a wall greatly helps matters. India may not have latched on to the idea of football asWe may be a long way off from having a football team to cry ourselves hoarse for. At a particular World Cup hockey tournament while India was still under British rule, the Indian team is reported to have sung ‘Meri Bhains Ko Danda Kyun Maara’, a folk song, to avoid singing God Save The Queen- Indian spirit, drawn straight from the rural heartlands. Maybe it won’t be too long before we have our own football anthems (and no, we’re certainly not taking the services of a certain bejewelled music director, thank you very much), and a football team that will give us someone to burden with our hopes and expectations (isn’t this what we do best?).
We returned from the quiz with our curiosity whetted- it was the perfect curtain-raiser to the approaching weeks of unbridled sporting passion, raw and real. The 2010 World Cup kicks off tomorrow, and here’s to the thirty-two teams that made it- the major hopes and the underdogs, the rookies and the players who will fight painstakingly to reach that one epoch before the swansong- this is one festival the world will feast on, undivided in spirit, for one magnificent month.