It was on a friend’s birthday recently that we exchanged thoughts on what we felt about having lived through, realistically, half of our life !!! My friend, in fact, went a step ahead and said we might even have crossed the midway, who knows !! Well, midway or not, I felt it was time to look
back on far I’ve come – quite literally stealing the lines of a poem from one of my all time fav movies:
” Chhoti-chhoti chhitrayi yaadein
Bichhi hui hain lamhon ki lawn par.
Nange pair unpar chalte-chalte
Itni door chale aaye
Ki ab bhool gaye hain –
Joote kahan utaare the “
And as I look back I realize that apart from cycling, there’s one more thing that I’ve quite fortunately managed to hang-on to and that is – FOOTBALL !!!
Of course, as with every Indian kid, cricket was a big part of my childhood but there are two important factors that brought football into my early life. One – my father – who introduced me to watching football and second – my school – where there was no cricket and only football. So watching late night football matches on the national television in those good old days and playing football every single day of school have been amongst the constants of my childhood !!!
It might seem like an overstatement that we played football almost every single day in school but that was exactly our routine. Football before the morning assembly – at least 15-20 mins and football in the long recess – 30 mins. There was nothing else that we ever really did in our free
time in school. Fortunately or unfortunately, most of our class remained the same for the entire 12 years of school life. Never even did our divisions change. So the same set of players played against each other for years together. While we all are good friends now but back then the football rivalries did overflow outside the field as well.
There were some other peculiar things as well :
- We hardly ever got the actual size football to play with. We always played with the much smaller rubber cricket ball.
- Just like us, there were teams from almost every class that played on the same ground. So the ground always had about 40-50 players if not more and about 7-8 of those small balls. And yet everybody managed to play their own matches and score their own goals. In fact anybody who did manage to get confused was looked down upon extremely ruthlessly.
- Considering it was a mud ground with lots of pebbles around and the small size ball, torn thumbs of the shoes was quite the norm and we would get equal amount of thrashing from the school and parents for ruining the shoes frequently. But that still didn’t stop us in any way !!!
I still clearly remember the joining day. I had never left home until then so when my father and uncle left the campus after dropping me, for some reason I ran like crazy behind their auto – that’s how terribly homesick I felt at that very moment…!! But I also remember that day for more thing – almost immediately after the behind-the-auto-run, we were asked to “fall-in” on the ground for the evening games and fortunately for me – it was FOOTBALL for our section !! For that one hour, I completely forgot about my home-sickness. In fact the encouragement I got from my seniors during and after the game helped calm my anxiety to a large extent.
That was the start of an amazing chapter of football for me. We had an amazing ground, a proper standard size football and an amazing football kit that included proper football
shoes (studs), shin-guards et all. We even had a coach who gave some valuable tips that did improve my game.
Although we played with some very fierce rivalry in the inter-section matches, somehow my course (my batch) fell in love with the game later on. There is a time when the seniors move out of the school and there is still time for the juniors to join – its called semi-seniority. It is always the best time for every batch for more reasons than one. One of the reasons for our course was – football !!!
So every evening 5 days in a row, we would just play football. As per the military tradition and rule, PT and games dress-code was white shorts and vests. Now playing football in dry weather was fine but in the monsoons (just before the juniors arrived), it was a pain to maintain the whites. To help identify team-mates from opponents, there was a rule that whichever team conceded the first goal would have to remove their vests and play topless. It started off as more of a punishment but in the monsoons, it became a privilege to play “vest-out”. Soon the rule was whoever scored first would get to remove (and thus save) their vests. All of us got so addicted to playing football that we continued playing amongst ourselves even after our juniors arrived.
Finally specific orders were passed that the seniors should now stop playing amongst themselves. It was such a heart-break for us that for the first few days we hated our juniors like
anything – for no fault of theirs but for the sheer amount of fun we had playing amongst ourselves.
Of course, the pleasant memory we have with our juniors is when we managed to thrash the boys from the Institute of Hotel Management (same college as Sakshi Dhoni’s) in one of the friendly matches. Although the victory was special, the icing on the cake was when the “gorgeous supporters” the IHM boys brought along turned hostile on their own team and started supporting us. Never before had I played with such “amazing” supporters on the sidelines cheering for us (smiling ear-to-ear as I write this).
And to level out this pleasant memory, was the thrashing we received at the hands of one the best football clubs in that area. Thankfully that club had not brought along any female supporters and so the thrashing was a bit easier to swallow !!
This is generally the time when most activities of our childhood including sports take a back-seat. Personally for me, the start of my corporate life was forgetful to say the least. And it was only football that helped me survive through the otherwise treacherous and torturous times. Here again, a bunch of us batch-mates participated in an internal tournament. We were obviously the underdogs, so much so that we ourselves thought we wouldn’t make it through the league round. Surprisingly, we not only made it through the league, we also finished on the
podium. On a lighter note, I guess we rightfully lived up to our team-name of “Stiflers” (remember the American Pie movies ??!!).
But the pleasant surprise came afterwards. I was not aware there was already a football team that represented the organization in the local Inter-IT championships. And after our podium finish, I was asked if I would like to join the organization team. I was elated to say the least and joined the team for the weekly practice sessions soon. And thus started yet another amazing chapter !!!
It was for the first time that I truly empathized with the pains professional footballers have to go through:
- travelling long distances mostly in the early mornings.
- grueling training sessions that left you pretty much exhausted for the rest of the day.
- the pressure to show up consistently for all practice sessions or risk losing the place in the team.
- playing matches every weekend on the trot.
- captain and the seniors giving you a nice dressing down when you don’t play as expected.
- those intense team meetings and discussions (chess-boards and pawns being used to explain strategies on the sidelines of the ground).
- losing matches due to mistakes that only you are responsible for.
- winning a trophy even if it was for the 2nd division and thus realizing why winning a trophy is so important to every player.
- and finally sustaining an injury that is termed as a “sportsman’s injury” which literally kept me away from the game for a good 6 months. The only reason I focused sincerely on the rehab was because I just couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to play football ever again in my life.
To be honest, I never ever felt so passionate about the actual work I was “trying” to do in the organization. The fact remains, had it not been for these amazing moments with the company’s football team, I don’t think I would have been able to survive whatever I went through then.
When I switched organization, the only concern I had was – will I get to play football ??!! Initially, we did have some amazing employee engagement activities but football wasn’t a part of it. Meanwhile I got an opportunity to travel to the UK. The football lover in me couldn’t ask for more. While I made the most of watching football at the home of EPL, I also managed to play a
few games there. That was the first time ever I played on a poly-grass turf, under lights and that too with an unknown group. Each of this was an unique experience since none of this happened back home in India. So I kept thinking I hope I get to play on poly-turfs when I return home. Lo-behold, as I returned to India, I was told the company has organized an internal tournament and guess what, it was indeed on a poly-turf. From then on, we had a regular group of players from the office who would get together twice a week after office and play on the poly-turfs and that too under lights. For someone who for the most part of his childhood played football on a rough mud ground with a small rubber cricket ball, this was as good as it could get.
For close to 10 years since, a game of football every week has been a “constant”. As I put all this together into perspective, I realize its been close to 30 years and counting that I have been playing football. And when you engage in something for that long, it does leave a major impact on your life:
- Apart from pushing me to keep myself fit and mobile to be able to play the game, it has been an excellent “constructive” stress-buster for me, helping me get through some of the most challenging times of my life.
- In a world that tries hard to portray that good socializing and networking can happen ONLY over a couple of pegs or puffs, football has given me some of the most amazing friends for life !!!
- It’s an age-old adage that sports in general and team-sports in particular help in building the character of an individual. It’s a cliché that sports teach you how to take defeats and
victories with the same spirit. And today, I can safely say both the facts are absolutely true !! It has not only made me stronger and wiser, it has also helped me identify some of the
most amazing men that I truly look up to; for the game has this amazing quality of bringing forth the true nature of every individual.
- Of course I cannot end the blog without mentioning this very interesting comment I received recently. So this lad who played just a few games with us, walked up to me
and said – I want to be as fit as you when I get as I old as you !!! He himself being a good player, I knew exactly what he meant. And so yes, honestly, I was flattered !!!
Looking forward to the Saturday morning game…as usual…. !!!!