ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Memories of Football

A Reverie

A football fan revisits football history and reminisces about changing allegiances, patron saints and football greats.

One fateful night in 2015, M N Buch, the “patron saint” of Bhopal, had passed away. He would have hated the epithet, I am sure, being aggressively anti-institutional. Writer, orator, administrator and one of our last polymaths, he was the man behind the preservation of Bhopal’s lake system and urban forestry. On that night I was in Naples, searching for a value-for-money restaurant, salivating at the prospect of a fish and squid and octopus dinner while the whole town was out on the streets to watch a football match—Italy’s Juventus was playing a star-studded Barcelona in the finals of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) championship in Berlin after four years. The restaurants extended outdoors with large screens on the streets and fans crowded all over town. I told my daughter not to cheer Barcelona’s first goal in the presence of so many Italian fans cheering Juventus. Or so I assumed.

Barcelona scored the first goal as expected in the fifth minute and for a while there was a lull in the streets. And then a large part of the crowd huddled together on our right, broke into a deafening cry of victory they could sense was coming so early in the game. They were evidently supporting Barcelona and I was able to decode the mystery only when I met our homestay owner the next morning. A Barcelona fan himself, he said that the support for Barcelona stemmed from the fact that Lionel Messi, the Barcelona forward, hails from the country of Diego Maradona. Maradona, who placed the Napoli football club on top of the Italian national league twice from constantly fighting relegation battles, was considered the patron saint of football of Naples, he went on to add. I was amazed to see Maradona depicted as Adam in Michelangelo’s Genesis in the “private altars” of most cafes in the city. The fact that football crosses limits of nationalities and political boundaries had never played out more clearly in front of my eyes than it did on that evening in Naples.

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Updated On : 4th Mar, 2023
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