The Beautiful Game
26 May 1999. Camp Nou packed with over 90,000 anxious hearts. Millions glued worldwide. Manchester United were a goal down as the clock moved into 3 minutes of extra time. That’s all that was left. They would miss the Holy Grail, after having come agonizingly close. The dream of completing a ”treble” of titles was slipping away with each passing moment. UEFA President Johansson was on his way down to the pitch to present the trophy, already decorated with Bayern ribbons. Distraught fans cheered the team on amidst a plethora of ecstatic, but nervous Bayern fans as Beckham went up to take the corner. What followed was 2 minutes of nerve-wrecking, nail-biting and absolutely astonishing piece of football. As the clock read 92:17, the commentary followed, ‘‘Beckham.. Into Sheringham.. And Solskjaer has WON IT.”
As the ball sailed into the net, a sea of red fans erupted as the world witnessed one of the greatest comebacks the game had seen. Those words would go on to have a sense of history with the Manchester United loyals. Fans and players roared with uninhibited joy as Bayern fans and players alike were stunned with utter disbelief. A journalist described it as a professional nightmare, already having run the headlines of a Manchester United defeat. Drama! Emotion! Frenzy! The game once again got everyone around the world on their feet and in tears. Alex Ferguson said, the now legendary words, ”Football. Bloody Hell.” Yes, indeed. Bloody Hell. The opposing side, still trying to make sense of what had transpired, described it as wicked and cruel. Some fans termed it ”the worst 2 minutes” of their lives.
A friend, who doesn’t really follow football, thinks that the fans tend to hype the excitement. Do they really? Did your boyfriend/girlfriend ever seem reluctant to go out on a weekend to watch their favorite team? Or perhaps, a colleague who can’t take his eyes off the phone trying to stay updated? Yep! Matchday! If you have, then you’ll know that there is no such thing as ”just a game.” Never has been. Bill Shankly famously said, ”Some people believe Football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it’s much much more than that.’‘ Life and death? That is definitely taking it a step too far, isn’t it? Well, not for some at least. In the 1994 WC, Colombia faced a do-or-die game against the hosts USA. The players claimed they were warned that their lives were at stake. They probably didn’t realize it until they lost the game. Escober, primarily guilty for the crucial goal, was confronted at a local bar. The person screamed ”GOALLLL!!” before putting 12 bullets into the player. He was sentenced to 43 years. Yes, not a proud moment for the game by any means. The incident grabbed plenty of unwanted and unpleasant attention, serving evidence to the ever-increasing belief that football fans could be extreme.
Recent studies show that one of every four fans considered football as one of the most important things in life.
So.. What is so different about football and sets it apart as the beautiful game? It obviously has a greater reach, a wider audience and billionaires willing to spend insane amounts helping it. What else? Anticipation; Loyalty; Identity crisis; what exactly is it? I think it’s larger than that. It may stem from the fact that it is an analogue of our own place in the world, if not a mirror-like resemblance to it. Simply put, trying to find a way amidst forces of uncertainty, which we can neither control nor explain. The chaos and the unpredictability; Knowing the goal, but still riddled with the question if desire and intent is enough to get past the line? Or do we need a stroke of luck? Our life resembles football in more ways than you can imagine. Medical studies now prove that watching sports helped patients deal with anxiety, depression and even drug withdrawal.
I recently found out that a friend used football, more specifically Tottenham Hotspurs, to get over his personal demons and I can see it worked wonders. It began with limiting his moments of happiness to their success, followed with phases of emotional turbulence. Eventually, it was the game that triggered the movement, leading him to the epiphany where he realized he did not have to tie his happiness to the game; Ironic.
Now that I think of it, for me, it is a means of an escape. An escape from just about anything, the thought of which takes away the momentary peace we so desperately crave for. It may seem trite and irrelevant, but it has often helped me find refuge amidst the most difficult and calamitous moments- a magic I thought only Music could conjure. To many people, those 90 minutes are sacrosanct and provide comfort and occasionally, a memory one can hold on to; a memory you can reminisce at a time, when everything seems to be going wrong and you anxiously look around for something to help you through, although momentarily, the nuisances of life. It may not be ideal. Some may suggest it’s absurd and even obsessive. But if you’ve ever gone through that phase of life when your family and friends tirelessly try to cheer you up, but nothing, and I mean nothing, seems to work, you will know that you need something to obsess about.
I often take solace in sports. I bask in glory with elated joy, and frantically support in tough times. I would like to believe others do the same. That’s the only way you could put in context some of the extreme and perceived irrational behaviour from the fans.
The game never ceases to amaze. There have always been moments which have stood out, for better or worse. Moments that changed the game and transcended into the lives of millions. Be it the Magic Of Istanbul or Carlos Alberto’s crescendo in the 1970 WC; Or Zidane’s farewell game, marred by a moment of madness by a legend, who for me epitomized the beauty and elegance of the game more than anyone did. It can be best described by the Hillsborough Tragedy, which brought together different people- socially and politically. The fight moved beyond the bereaved families of the 96 victims. United by unimaginable grief and appalling treatment, families and friends endeavoured on the long path to seek justice. Together, they kept the flame alive in the darkest times, a disgrace that changed the face of football forever.
25 years on, the game has managed to shed the hooligan image attached to it. Football has come of age. Be its wide appeal to all corners of the world, or using football as a means for addressing a variety of issues through a platform which takes form of a global festival. The social and economic impact cannot be denied, and it will only grow in reputation and reach as the show moves to Brazil in 2014.
Not too long ago, the players were referred to as slaves. To that, the great Bobby Charlton said, ‘‘Some people tell me that we professional soccer players are slaves. Well, if this is slavery, give me a life sentence.”
There will always be moments which might remind us of the ugly side, but it also goes to make the beautiful legacy stand out. The game is not perfect. It was never meant to be. It’s supposed to make you forget and cheer; to cry and bravely applaud; to dance without any inhibitions; to drown yourself in the beauty of that moment and let go; to celebrate everything that life stands for. It is, rightly, The Beautiful Game.
Edgar Davis said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
I haven’t written about any of the artists who have graced the game with their elegance, but I hope to do it soon. What do you think? Is it deserving of being called as “The Beautiful Game?”
~Amor Sin Cera~