FIFA U17 World Cup: A walk to Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata that one may not want to remember
India got a taste of any FIFA event for the first time when Colombia took on Ghana at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, and New Zealand took on Turkey at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on October 6.
Well, technically yes, it may be true. But it is also equally true that if it comes to a matter related to football, it hardly gains currency if it does not take place in Kolkata, the spiritual home of Indian football.
One can very well then say that the ‘real’ U17 world cup started – albeit emotionally – on October 8 when the once second largest stadium in Asia and still the largest one in this country was host to a game in this edition of the competition.
It was a Sunday and a pleasant spell of sunlight had broken the monopoly of the muggy weather. An array of feet, in sizable forces, were ready to pitter-patter to the stadium in a jolly rhythm.
But once anyone alighted on the other bank of the end-to-end divider-partitioned road, opposite to the main-gate of the multi-purpose facility in Bidhannagar, Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (VYBK), instead of a short walk to the venue, the traffic police had diverted the pedestrians to move about five hundred meters in the opposite direction.
This required them to cross a 4-way traffic signal and towards the subway, climb it up and down again to the side where the stadium is situated, and trek all the way to the main gate again by crossing that road at the traffic-signal point. Needless to say, the common man, who had come to watch the beautiful game, were the main sufferers. And why wouldn’t they be? A 200 meter, 3-4 minute walk snowballed into a massive 1.5 km, 12-15 minute trouble.
“All we want is to watch a FIFA match. Is that our crime? Why create so much of unnecessary hassle and make us walk all the way just to see a match, just to make your job a bit easier and also just because you can," said Sujan who had come all the way from Kasba.
Curiosity got the better of me on route as I discovered that there was more support for Chile by default, as they are a Latin American team.
“We have a soft-spot for the LatAm teams – Latin magic! We are eager to see how these 17-year-olds play. Small kids, they are – eager to see how they play,” a group of middle-aged fans collectively voiced.
The younger, college-going ones were found to tilt towards the Three Lions, thanks in no small parts to regular broadcast of EPL. Also spotted, was a pot-bellied, mixed-race sextet with proclamations of patriotism written decisively on their bandanas.
I asked them, “India are not playing here, so why the get-up and face-paint?”
“We love India, we are Indians. We should always support our country,” was their unanimous reply.
“Even after that opening match?"
“So what. We are participating in a World Cup," they said, laying special emphasis on the last two words. "That’s enough."
“We love football”, chimed one of these people. “See now, we have to walk so much – not very happy about it – but it’s all for football. You’re also walking for football isn’t it?"
“So who are you supporting?”
“Haven’t decided. We’ll decide once on the ground – whoever plays well, we’ll support (them).”
A little ahead a strange vernacular speaker was heard bellowing out, “CM had extracted good mileage out of this WC. Well the PM has also taken a 'good pumping', out from the event."
Before the argot could be deciphered, we had reached the lion’s den. A loud roar was being rehearsed. Lethargic feet gave way to a brisk dash.
Long walk or short, once in they will ‘let the football take over’.