Football Fever

India has never been a football loving nation and I was not an exception to that.

There used to be hardly any coverage on Doordarshan then and hence never followed the game. The first real experience of football was the World Cup 1982 which was held in Spain. Fortunately the colour telecast was started in April 1982 on a experimental basis as a prelude to the Asian Games @ Delhi in November. Hence watching the World Cup in colour had that extra glamour quotient. I still vividly remember watching 2 matches of that WC. First one was the second round match between Italy and Brazil on 5th July. The hat trick scored by Paulo Rossi sent the favourites Brazil packing.

We 4-5 friends had gone to Khandala for Rain Trip on 10th July but wanted to see the finals scheduled on 11th July. The lodge which we were staying had no TV so one of us came up with a brilliant idea. We went to Biji’s Hill Retreat (which used to be then Biji’s Ingleside Inn) and literally begged with the manager to allow us to watch the match without insisting on any order from us. That was simply because we didn’t had that extra spare money to spend. Luckily the manager relented. Italy beat Germany 3-1 in the finals to win the WC.

However after this experience, I started following football with some added interest but it was mainly restricted to the World Cups only. Then I vividly remember the match of the Euro Competition between Germany and England on 26th June 1996 which I watched it in my friend, Chinmay’s, house in London. The match was played in Wembley Stadium packed to the capacity (75000 then) which Germany won on penalties.

My real interest in football started building when Chinmay shifted to India in 2001. The 2002 World Cup Quarter Final match was between Brazil and England on 21st June. Again 4-5 friends got together and watched the game at Starters & More (above Eros Theatre). When we entered the place, we were completely taken aback when we saw 90% of the crowd wearing the Brazil Jersey. I think Chinmay was the only one loyal English supporter in the entire place. We really had a ball and still don’t remember how much beer we drank that day. As expected England were knocked out 2-1.

Slowly my interest in football kept going up and I started following EPL and Champions League. Of course it is impossible to watch all matches as many of them are at odd hours for us. But I was enjoying. I had watched Cricket & Wimbledon live from the stadium and keeda of watching live football kept growing. Luckily Chinmay was always ready for it and we managed tickets of Manchester United away match at Fulham ground on 2nd November 2013. We both did a trip to London only for this match which somebody might feel ridiculous waste of money but we thoroughly had a ball. The ticket itself costed us £ 150 per person. Of course Fulham wasn’t a great team and as expected ManU won comfortably. The ground was also not too big with capacity of around 26000. After we came back, both of us felt that we should have planned such trip for a much bigger game.

After few years, my friend, Shriram also joined our madness trip and again we planned a trip for a Manchester United away match at Chelsea (Stamford Bridge) on 5th November 2017. Naturally the ticket was much more expensive at nearly £ 300 per person. When I met Chinmay 3-4 days before our trip, he told me that one of his friend in London has offered him tickets for a VIP Box at Wembley Stadium for Champions League match between Tottanum Hotspur Vs Real Madrid on 2nd November. This ticket was at £ 300 per person as a discounted rate. We decided to go for it.

We left India on 2nd early morning & reached London by afternoon. Had a quick shower and a little rest and off we went to Wembley Stadium.

This stadium is one of the biggest in the world with capacity of 90000. Since it was Real Madrid, the stadium was completely full. The VIP boxes are located at the upper deck with private dining room and executive seat out. It was royalty at its best.

The English fans were overjoyed as Tottanum beat Real Madrid 3-1 and totally dominated the game. The Real Madrid was not at their best in spite of Cristiano Ronaldo‘s efforts. We had the satisfaction of watching a big game in a big stadium.

Our next match was scheduled on 5th November and weather gods were not very kind on that day. The temperatures had started dropping from 3rd itself and it was expected that 5th would see lowest temperature of -2 deg C. Now we Mumbaikar’s are not used to such extreme weather but we had to bear it. The match was at 4 pm kick-off. We reached Stamford Bridge around 1 pm. We tried to get into few pubs to grab some food & beer. Every single pub insisted on showing the ticket of Home Team Supporter Stand. But we had tickets for ManU supporters stand and hence the entry was not allowed. Finally had something to eat on the street and entered the stadium at 3 pm.

The stadium was choc-a-bloc with around 42000 spectators and even before the kick-off the noise level was deafening. Though we had a proper allotted seat, we couldn’t seat even for 5 min as entire crowd was standing for next 2 hours. The cold winds were blowing but didn’t stop people from drinking beer pint after pint.

Overall the match was a big disappointment with both teams more intent on defence. Chelsea beat ManU by a solitary goal. The match got over at 7 pm and there was absolutely no chance to get taxi to go back to our hotel. We checked on Google Map and realised that our hotel wasn’t too far off from there and we decided to walk. Though the distance was only 4 kms, which we comfortably walk in Mumbai, it was very difficult due to severe cold. We finally reached hotel in about 50-55 min. We realised the ill effects of walking in such cold weather as the whole body was aching and very stiff.

However the match at Wembley was in true sense pinnacle of watching live football. I don’t think I will ever again go out of my way to watch any other football game now. I am fully contented.

Yeshwant Marathe

#ManU #Chelsea #Hotspur #RealMadrid #Wembley #Ronaldo #Rossi #Football # Soccer

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