After having dinner, they had started chatting at the table.
Most of the nights the four of them would sit down and share their daily
experiences and their personal problems for some time. Today’s conversation had
turned to Ghunu Mitra and Nilmoni Gargari.
called footballers donkeys and cows. That means, Naku you…’Intolerable surprise
coupled with extreme rage could not let Rekha Gupta complete her sentence.
sensed an opportunity. ‘A donkey or a cow. Samiran Gupta, do-co.’ She then
whispered in Samiran’s ears, ‘Just like you have invented the word “beggar”.’
joke, Mala, not a joke.’ Himadri’s face turned serious. ‘Dada could not get to
read the Bengali newspapers in Bangalore: then he would have realized that star
footballers are really do-cos. Just the other day, I heard that Jatri’s Patu Ghosh had offered Sarathi’s Ranen Pal and Debi Maiti a
contract of two lakhs eighty thousand. They told him that they would not take
any step without talking to Bata Biswas. They came and told Bata that Jatri is offering so much to us, if you
do not increase our money we will go to Jatri.
Bata then told them that he would give two lakhs sixty thousand to each of
them. Both of them had an arrear of twenty five thousand in the previous year,
which was also to be paid off. They
accepted his proposal and took the advance. Do you know what they then did?
They went to Patu Ghosh and said, if you give us three lakhs, we will return
the advance that Sarathi has given us.’
this news been published in the papers or are you making up all these, Kanu?’
Rekha Gupta asked, amazed.
the newspapers are still in the house, I can show them to you, it is the
absolute truth. But I won’t.’
you will not permit Dada to play football.’
won’t I? He has learnt the game by hard labour; he plays dozens of matches in a
year, why won’t he take money for that? When labourers, clerks give slogans,
take out processions claiming better wages, increased salaries, no blame
attaches to them, why should all hell break loose when footballers demand
money? Naku, you play for those who offer you more money this year.’
laughed. Bending his head and thinking for a few seconds, he said in a slow,
heavy voice, ‘There is much truth in what Nilmoni Gargari said, Auntie.
Footballers have lost their self-respect themselves in many ways. This constant
shuttling between Patu and Bata and Patu again just to increase their demands—these
might help them to bargain for a few thousand rupees more but will the supporters
ever place them on a high pedestal as human beings or will they be able to
think of themselves as honest human beings? Just think auntie, what is the
position of football compared to that of other sports in the country today? It
is only in Bengal that there is some craze regarding football. If we walk on
the streets, people stare at us, the boys want autographs. But in outside
states, footballers do not have any honour because we have zero performance at
the international level. Cricket has got this esteem since we have won the
World Cup. That is why everybody runs after cricketers. I have seen this in all
big towns, except those of Kerala. Why should it be so?’ Samiran’s voice
expressed the anguish n his soul.
why should footballers be responsible for it?’ Having found a path to argue,
Himadri stepped on the cycle of logic. ‘India never goes to play at the
international level, so how will footballers be produced? Those who go to the
cricket board are a better class of people and in football—Patu, Bata,
Ghunu—these are the names. The names are enough indication of the class of
people they belong to,’ Himadri grimaced.
forget that the 1982 Asian Games was held in Delhi. To prepare our football
team for the tournament, our team was sent to international tournaments a
number of times. The Nehru Cup also started at around that time. India has
played a total of thirty four matches in this tournament till now and won only
one. We defeated Yugoslavia in Eden in 1982. India has scored seventeen goals,
conceded sixty four. We have been playing so many internationals on home ground
before our own supporters for so many years. This itself should have served as
an extra inspiration to the players. Their only duty then becomes to protect
their country’s respect, to increase it, to even lay down their lives for it.’
stopped and looked at the three of them. Auntie and Mala had turned serious.
Kanu’s cycle tyres were being deflated.
India finishes last. Novacheck told me one day at the camp, “Sam, he doesn’t
call me Samiran, is football played in your country? What sort of football is
played? One can understand the lack of health, speed, stamina. But what about
the basic skills? They cannot receive passes, their shooting power is zero, and
they do not know when to release the ball. They are very poor in air; they have
no sense of positioning. There is no provision for learning at the school
level. Unlearned, unskilled players with poor health come to club football at
an advanced age. Even there, they get no opportunity for improvement. With this
poor health, they play continuously throughout the year so much so that they
remain tired and have no desire left to improve their skills. Then, when they
come to play at the international level, the quality of football that they play
is evident in the results.’
‘It shames me
when I listen to all these. Then I get angry,’ Samiran suddenly sat upright and
clenched his teeth, ‘I think of wiping out Kolkata football. They care for
nothing else except winning trophies and winning the league. The whole world is
moving forward; even our neighbours Bangladesh have left us behind and here we
are, parroting clichés like strategy and tactics. These two clubs are spending
lakhs in bringing players from outside the state. Can you imagine that Binu
John, Albukark, Carnyle have now become the yardstick of footballers? They are now the adored gods of the Maidan.
People are trying to bring them here to corner me.’