I watched Sunil Chhetri play for the first time. It was a night to remember

Dear Captain, next time, you won’t have to make a video and post it on Twitter. I’ll be there to #backtheblue.

 |  4-minute read |   05-06-2018
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I saw the video Sunil Chhetri, captain of India’s national football team and its all-time highest goal scorer, put up a few days ago. The plea was a punch in the gut. I identify as a Cule aka a FC Barcelona fan. It’s a club I have supported since 2007. I can name Barca’s starting 11, but not of the Indian football team. I am not proud of this declaration.

My brother Manas Singh, a television host and a die-hard Liverpool supporter, was present at the Mumbai Football Arena situated in what is popularly known as Andheri Sports Complex. Here he saw Chhetri score a hat-trick against Chinese Taipei in their 5-0 win in the Intercontinental Cup. He said he was one of the less than 500 people who cheered in the stadium. I was dismayed. But then am I not complicit in the apathy the national team faces? One which saw our captain shoot a video is his hotel room urging people to attend a game.

It’s disheartening to say the least. Why had it come to this? Are we just so hooked to our idiot boxes and mobile phones supporting teams far away that we don’t have a moment to spare to watch the exploits, however they may be, of our own countrymen. What’s our excuse when they are nominally priced and in our own backyard?

690-sunil-c_060518041953.jpgLightning, thunder and Sunil Chhetri made the evening electric. Photo: PTI

I told my brother to get me a ticket. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift. (No Manas, I still expect a Raksha Bandhan gift). And it was a night to remember, the atmosphere made more magical thanks to the forces of nature - rains, lightning and thunder. They didn’t spoil the party they only made it more electric. The Blue Pilgrims had a lot to do with it.

Having missed the kick-off by two minutes, we headed straight to Stand 4. It’s where the Blue Pilgrims gather, the most devoted and voluble fan base of the national team. They have made all the chants. They even have leaders guiding and leadings fans on the chants. They came with banners, drums, Chhetri faces masks and Indian flags (lots of them). Being quiet and simply watching the match wasn’t an option. I think the longest period I stayed silent was for 30 seconds. I can happily say my voice is a bit hoarse today.

It was just one of my list of accomplishments during the match. I turned my back to Abhishek Bachchan (I had to blend in with the Blue Pilgrims.) I happily sang AR Rahman’s “Maa Tujhe Salaam” innumerable times. I also crooned a modified version of “Hum Honge Kaamyaab”.

It went like:

“India World Cup Khelega, India World Cup Khelega, India World Cup Khelega

Ek Din,

Oh Ho Mann Mein Hain Vishwaas, Poora Hain Vishwaas,

India World Cup Khelega Ek Din.”

#Glorious

I learned the names of some of our footballers through chants – Sandesh Jhingan (the most dapper one in the field with his beard and man bun), Jeje Lalpekhlua (the player with the most delightful chant, one that comes with a few dance moves ) and Balwant Singh. (I had known only of Gurpeet Singh Sandhu, Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh before the match.) I learned that Indian fans are not fans of defensive play as evident by chants of “Aakraman Aakraman Aakraman” and “Attack Attack Attack”. I booed Kenya whenever they got too much of the ball or committed a foul, but as its players left the field I joined the chorus to chant Kenya.

And I got the ultimate high when united with the 9,000 fans I chanted “Blue” and did the “Viking clap”. First with Sandesh Jhingan leading us, and then again with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu joining us.

I saw a father perch his tiny son on his shoulders throughout so that he could follow the game. The boy happily posed with the Chhetri face mask. I saw a bottle of water being passed around fans. Surrounded by an army of enthusiastic fans, almost all male, I was welcomed and felt safe. I was given my comfort space, a luxury in a packed stadium. I saw a few women, older too, in the crowd.

I can’t thank Sunil Chhetri enough to uniting us football lovers with his words and more so for scoring a memorable second goal. That gorgeous chip will be one of the most beautiful things I will ever see.

Dear Captain, next time, you won’t have to make a video and post it on Twitter. I’ll be there to #backtheblue.

Also read: Apple's promise of better security and other highlights from WWDC 2018

Writer

Suhani Singh Suhani Singh @suhani84

The writer is Senior Associate Editor, India Today.

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