Football and the great escape
The restart of football was, for many, a glimmer of hope. A hope that will be paramount to surviving this ongoing battle against the coronavirus. A belief that normalcy will return, delayed perhaps, but eventually.
I was perhaps too young to understand the advertisement when I first saw it on TV many moons ago. It had appeared during a Test cricket match, that I remember.
A man, wearing a safety helmet to give the impression of an engineer, applies a sticker-like thing on top of a glass filled with water and inverts it. There is no leak.
He had seemed very proud of his product, a waterproofing substance, but I couldn’t understand why it was a big deal.
My elder brother, however, was stunned. He called it “magic”. An impossible thing to do.
I remember being very disturbed by his response.
Not that I didn’t understand him explaining the properties of water – a liquid – and how it had a mass just like other things which would mean the adhesive paper would not be able to withstand the pressure. I was just stuck on “magic”. It felt like something beyond science that my brother understood but I couldn’t. Something I would learn with the passage of time.
Battling the floods
It isn’t a stretch to say that the past few months have been a period of insight for humankind. We were suddenly spending a lot of time with ourselves, often introspecting, dissecting past incidents as the road to the future remained foggy. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed us inside our homes, scared us like never before, left many of us jobless and there’s a deluge of thoughts forming in our heads.
What now? When will this end? Will life be the same again?
Not wanting to be submerged in these questions, we’ve searched for solace in even the tiniest of deeds. Weekly outing to get groceries, the 30 second interaction with the man who delivers drinking water cans... anything to distract our buzzing minds.
Football, ever since it became active again in June, has been that distraction. The adhesive tape from my memory magically holding back this shape-shifting, untamable, ocean of thoughts in the head.
I remember tweeting when the Bundesliga had just begun. I had claimed that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy football with all that was going on in the world.
Those familiar with the world of magical fantasy fiction would know what an Obscurus is - an unstable dark force that breaks out and attacks, and then vanishes. They are formed when a wizard or witch is forced to suppress their magic through psychological or physical abuse.
Sitting alone in a house in Chennai, I had wondered if the pandemic would turn us all into these Obscurials. Forced into our homes, unable to do most things we were destined for.
Yet on Sunday, as the leagues wrapped up, and fans celebrated the successes – from Leeds United’s and Liverpool’s title wins to Manchester United’s unbeaten run and Aston Villa’s top division survival – I felt like football had gone on to achieve that one thing I thought was impossible.
To help me forget the realities of our times.
I remembered my brother’s face from all those years ago. It felt like “magic”.
The spell to forget
There was a moment while I was interviewing Amjesh, an Arsenal fan, for a Kalpanthu video when he said, “I can’t pinpoint exactly why I love the club. But it has been like that and it will continue to be that way.”
Fans maketh football!— kalpanthu (@KalPanthu) May 1, 2020
On #LabourDay2020, here is the teaser to our next #MadAboutFootball episode featuring Amjesh -- a die-hard @Arsenal fan who named his kids after the club and @aaronramsey. @AFTVMedia @ArsenalKerala
SUBSCRIBE: https://t.co/eUC9EWRzpP pic.twitter.com/wFo5Tr9TAt
I don’t support Arsenal but I remember breaking into a smile behind the camera when I heard that. “Aren’t we all the same,” I had thought.
What makes football the beautiful game – apart from the exhilarating competition between 22 top athletes -- is how much the game helps us forget the realities. I suppose that is true for most team sports, but football with its global participation stands out.
The Netflix documentary series Sunderland Till I Die showed how much the people of a working-class North Eastern city in England relied on the football club for the limited cheers in their lives. From the rich to the poor, from the East to the West, football has been a medicine for a long time. The magic potion.
Football always has been the big escape from reality – where you could take up the identity of a fan and become part of a group supporting a team. In those 90 minutes, or something pre and post-match parties/discussions, you are a fan. That’s the identity that matters the most.
As a friend in England, who recently recovered from a really bad attack of coronavirus said to me in May, “There is something wrong about the world without football”. As a season ticket holder of his local football club, he made it a part of his weekend activities to visit the football matches and support them. “It was one thing you always looked forward to. The light at the end of the tunnel and suddenly it felt like the light had gone away.”
The restart of football was, for many, that glimmer of hope. A hope that will be paramount to surviving this ongoing battle against the coronavirus. A belief that normalcy will return, delayed perhaps, but eventually.
Many of you asked to hear from Peter so here he is. pic.twitter.com/h5YWVhVKMv— Jim Beglin (@jimbeglin) April 17, 2020
When Peter Drury, the beloved commentator of our times, said - “Football, to me, doesn’t feel very important at the moment. I feel immense sorrow and pain on behalf of millions of people around the world for whom this time is simply horrendous” – there was a sense of helplessness that clouded us.
On Sunday when Drury wrapped up his commentary duties for the 19-20 Premier League season, 352 days after it began, there was a sense of relief. Not that everything was perfect. Empty stadiums and forced audience noises were stark reminders to what the people’s sport was still terribly missing – people.
But football is back, and with it an illusion that everything will become normal. It suddenly feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel again.