In the mid nineties, I was in middle school. Those were heady days with me trying to understand the relevance of logarithmic tables and whether I would ever get to date Ms Christina, the third standard class teacher. That was also the period in my roller-coaster athletic career when I used to play football. I know it’s difficult to visualize me on a football field but for around three years I was a member of my class soccer team.
My talent was first noticed in the sixth standard by my class captain while I played defence in the annual Students Vs Teachers match. Our school had a devilish custom where every year a faculty versus students football match took place. But the catch was that the student team would comprise not of the best footer players from each class but of people who had ranked first academically! The dastardly scheme was based on the presumption that top rankers were usually athletically challenged. As a result the mostly pot-bellied faculty members would end up looking good and a few of the teachers could then perhaps manage to impress the oh so gorgeous Ms Christina. I apologize for the repeated references. But she is the still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
Of course this plot came unstuck in 1996 when the top rankers curiously also happened to be a bunch of reasonably fit individuals with an acceptable flair for sporting events. Yes, I just described myself as reasonable fit with an acceptable flair for sports. I played defence and our team won. My class football captain and his advisors appreciated the fact that I didn’t wince in tripping the vice principal multiple times and pushed the principal into the mud. They agreed that what I lacked in experience in football, I made up in stupid courage of standing in the way of rampaging over-weight forwards and possessed a deft foot which could make a career out of tactical fouling. In short I would make a decent centre back.
My three year soccer career was not spectacular but it wasn’t a disaster either. I committed an average of three fouls per match and usually got substituted after a half. The highpoint of my career was my last match in standard eight where we were playing the other section in the finals. The match was sponsored by Milo and the members of the winning team would be getting free 500gms packets of Milo. The match was a humdinger with the score tied at 1-1 before our defender Srikanth Gupta let in an own goal. With that we lost the finals and the Milo packets. I decided it was time to move on to cricket. The move would have suited Srikanth better who unfortunately continued in football the next year where he scored yet another own goal in the very first match of the season. Till date he remains the only player in Don Bosco’s history to score two own goals in consecutive matches.
Since that fateful Milo sponsored afternoon, I never played competitive football again. Till a couple of weeks ago. With the world cup on, I was losing tremendous amount of money in the syndicate and beginning to feel that perhaps I have completely lost my feel for the game. The fact that the intra-office Futsal tournament was happening at the same time was a happy coincidence and I signed up immediately for the green team. A big indoor Futsal court in the basement of the twin towers was an impressive setting for my return to the game after eleven years. But the huge turnout from the various departments was unnerving as it meant that I stood a good chance of making a fool of myself in front of half of the organization’s staff in the East.
My team gathered around for a mild warm-up session before our match against the yellow team. We stood around in a circle and kicked the ball around without allowing it to hit the ground. Till it came to me, of course. Without getting into graphic details of my comic attempts at keeping the ball in the air, I will just mention that my team quickly developed a fair idea about my proficiency in soccer. My captain showed his tactical genius by not playing me in the starting five. The match begun and I have to mention that indoor footer with its relaxation of a few of the rules of regular soccer did have its thrill. Though the total game time of just fifteen minutes instead of ninety did seem a bit brief to me.
Our team started well. The defence was solid and the way the team was playing, one could see glimpses of Johan Cruyff’s Totaalvoetbal. But frankly with only four players on the field, every tactic would begin to look like total football at some point. A blistering counter-attack in the fifth minute took the opponents completely by surprise as our team put one pass the goalie. Two minutes later as the referee blew the whistle signalling half time, I began to sense that I may play an important role soon enough. We were two minutes into the second half when the inevitable happened. I was asked to go in.
In view of the really limited time, my tactic was to get into the thick of the things immediately. I was mentally prepared to play defence who often made attacking forays along the flanks. There was no strategic thinking behind that plan. I just thought the whole thing sounded cool. It didn’t take too long for the ball to come to me. After a futile attempt on the goal by our opponents, our goalie passed the ball to me. As the yellow team player charged towards me, I tripped over the ball and almost fell. But this inadvertent move managed to flummox the charging player giving me enough time to pass the ball. The spectators gasped at what they considered an intentionally brilliant fake move. Having had a narrow escape where a dreadful error was misconstrued as a skilful shuffle, I decided to take care as I wouldn’t be so lucky the next time. The best way to avoid messing up with the ball I assumed would be to avoid getting it in the first place. With only four minutes of the match to go I decided to keep marking all the yellow team players but stay out of the ball’s way at the same time. The ploy worked beautifully and I was seen doing a lot of running up and down the court without embarrassing myself. Unfortunately my team management noticed that I was actually not adding any value to the proceedings and I was summarily substituted with a minute to go till the final whistle. I spent a staggering four minutes on court and was proud as hell that I didn’t do anything to squander my team’s slender one goal lead. To cut a short story shorter, we won.
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