World Cup Soccer and New York City

I had to answer nature’s call and was away from the television set for a brief moment.  It was a cloudy afternoon in New York City and the living room was a bit dark, lit only by the flicker of the screen. “What happened” – I asked almost like a habit, not entirely expecting a detailed rundown of the 5 mins I might have missed – as I got back into the room. But it was not any ordinary five minutes. “They showed Zidane out”, said my friend who looked somber and evidently unhappy, neglecting the big bag of Doritos lying limp on the couch. “But I think he deserved to go out – he hit a guy”, she added righteously. By then the channel had managed a small window and showed the replay of Zinedine Zidane leaving what could have been his stage for the night in Germany into some levels below – quite symbolically. He had played his last soccer match and would not hold up the World Cup that he brought his team so close in the past thirty days

I watched the 2006 Fifa World Cup in the United States – or more precisely in New York City. With the cultural and ethnic melting pot that is the Big Apple, it was an experience like none other. Watching or discussing sport in India is extremely linear. Passions are mostly patriotic if India is playing the event or most people end up supporting a single team if it is something like the soccer world cup (I come from Calcutta, where everyone supports Brazil. I suspect they would even if India were to qualify). Not to say the diversity of support is nonexistent but it mostly arises from an analytical evaluation of possible success rather than the hoarse-throated, die hard micro-patriotism of following a particular team, no matter what. NYC on the other hand was a total contrast. I had to meet the CFO of an SBU in our company and found him red in the face, delirious and animated in front of a TV set in the 4th floor cafeteria, rooting for the Aussies as they played Brazil (“rooting” when applied to an Aussie has a meaning very connotation to what you would normally expect from that action). It was only then that I realized he was from Australia. In another instance, I was lunching with a colleague at the downtown Manhattan joint Pound and Pence when a group of Wall Streeters (they all wear black suits and starched white shirts) – evidently Italians mostly – were following with much gusto a match their “home” country was playing. The crowning glory of vibrancy of the cultural milieu had to be a lunch at the home of a friend’s sister. Also invited were a colleague from office and his wife. Overlooking a spectacular view of the UN on First Avenue and the East river, we ate an Indian lunch while watching England and Portugal battle it out right into penalty shoot-outs, all while we had the most enjoyable company of our colleague, who was Portuguese, and his beautiful English wife!

The quality of soccer played in the 2006 World Cup was insipid with as many as four matches, including the finals, decided on a penalty shoot-out with the 120 mins producing no more than a 1-1 draw. Germany surprised everyone with their attacking style of soccer and Argentina dazzled with the 26 pass goal against Serbia and Montenegro. But those were more like exceptions.

The next one month will be tough on us Indians based in India. The second kick off happens around midnight. I am lucky to have the telecommuting option but I am sure my fitness regime shall take a heavy beating. I pray the quality of soccer makes up for some of these non-trivial sacrifices.

Let the games begin.