My Amazing Football Coach

A personal anecdote today, okay? A bit of a teary-eyed personal anecdote. Don’t you love those? Read on.

Debabrata Ghosh was the Arts & Crafts teacher at St. Vincent’s. He also used to stay at our neighborhood in Apcargarden, Asansol. As in most small towns (or as it was in those days), neighborhoods are communities, so my parents knew him well. He was a big, gruff, heavyset man with a bit of a temper. I was terrified of him in the lower classes in school (not least because I had no skill whatsoever at art and crafts). I also hardly played sports those days. I was a docile kid.

One day, my mom came back from office, and asked me, “Why don’t you play football?”

“Uh, football? I cannot run. I am slow, no?” What I did not say was that the fitter, slimmer kids would invariably be better players. Then, the one skill I had, that of merging seamlessly into the background, will be broken. This was the reason I was hardly ever bullied at school.

“Oh that is rubbish”, Ma said. “Listen, Debu Ghosh is running a football coaching class in the neighborhood park. Go and join. I saw him while coming back from office, and he told me that if he, at 100kgs of weight, can play and teach football, surely you can as well. I have enrolled you.”

Oh God! I was terrified. All will be lost now.

And truth to be said, all was lost. Debabrata Ghosh was an impossibly hard taskmaster. He made us run and run, and shoot and shoot, and trap and trap, and receive and receive, and tackle, and head, and shoulder-charge, and overlap and cross and take free-kicks and do push-ups and sit-ups and do a hundred drills. Endlessly. The other boys were all better than me at football. It was horrible. Horrible.

Then one day, it was not that horrible anymore. I did not become fast overnight (that would come later), but I developed the art of the tackle. I figured out the nuances of trapping and receiving. I developed a reasonably decent shot, I could shoot equally well with both feet, and I could even do it on the run.

Suddenly, one day, I was not the plump boy who was to be picked last anymore. Suddenly, one day, I could give a passable impression of a footballer. Suddenly, one day, I was part of the pack. Suddenly, one day, I had a nickname – I was Chima, named after the fearsome Chima Okorie of East Bengal Club. Suddenly, one day, I was playing for the neighborhood team, for the school team.

Suddenly, one day, I belonged.

In later years, Ghosh Sir from school would become Babu-da of the neighborhood. He was still large, still gruff, he still had a temper. He was also the person who helped make me fall in love with the sport. A few days before I would leave my Asansol for good, I went by to his house and touched his feet.

*

We are old Asansole-ites. We are old Vincentians, Me, then my cousin, and then the other cousin. The middle cousin, Prith Bakshi, sent me a PM today morning. “Bro, check out my recent fb update. On one of the SVS legends”.

I saw the video that is attached to this post. And choked up a little.

Debabrata Ghosh, our Babu-da, is still changing lives. Like he changed mine, a quarter-of-a-century ago.

 

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Me on The Guardian: About Premier League Fans from India

i made this comment about Indian Premier League Fans – and how you can tell from when they are following football by the team they support. It was published on the Guardian’s Matchday MBM – for the North London Derby [WHICH ARSENAL WON! AWESOME!]

Check 5:01 PM BST – Click Here.

Shom Biswas offers this explanation: “You can understand when the Indian person started watching football, from which club he follows. The cable channels started showing the Premier League in the late 90’s – Arsenal and Man United were the big dogs then. So an Arsenal fan is one who got into Premier League Football in the late 90s. A Chelsea fan is one who started during the early Abramovich days, a Liverpool fan either the old fogey who used to read about the exploits of the Dalglish/Rush days in the newspapers, or the ones who have ‘that night in Istanbul’ as their first football experience, and a Man City fan … well…

 

“Anyone can be a Man United fan, they have been top dogs for long.”

Blossom 3/12 Leaving Bangalore

What better way to bid adieu to Bangalore than through a sudden, rushed book trip to Blossom?

And how better to do it than buying the ones you want for free?

Being multi-bookshelved has its disadvantages; multiple friends, acquaintances, roommates and even an ex-girlfriend had deigned my house a dumping ground for books they cannot carry with them to every new city and new country they relocate to….. What if I cannot carry them along with me to the new city I am relocating to? I am sure they would not need the books anymore- not now, after between three to seven years; not now that their need for those book have surely finished; and especially that I have never had need for those books in any way.

So off went books on Digital Signal Processing; on Graphic Designing and on Java; off went Freud, and Jung, and Foucault; Off went Martin Cruz Smith and Erich Segal; and Kafka and Kahlil Gibran and Eco and Barnes (let them go, rather a good philistine that a poor highbrow) …… and those glossy books on photography and movie-making and creative writing and fitness and even learning Spanish (that’s one I could have kept, but I really do have my own).

These were the carcasses of the whims and fancies of the early-to-mid-twenties of a lot of people who inhabited my life during my own whimsical and fanciful early-to-mid twenties.
They have moved on with their lives. And so indeed have I.

Blossom book stores, Church Street, Bangalore. I sold most, the others, which they refused to buy, were given off to be disposed.

And the following were bought, in order.

My Spin on Cricket – Richie Benaud
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis – Tony Hawks
(I did buy it at last, Suhas)
Open – Andre Agassi
What I love about Cricket – Sandy Balfour
Chinaman: The legend of Pradeep Mathew – Shehan Karunatilaka

and I still had a few hundred rupees left in gift vouchers, which were dutifully gifted to the wife.

Bangalore will not be missed so much as re-visited often. It IS my city, my home. Each book was signed ‘Blossom 3/12/11 Leaving Bangalore’. It didn’t break my heart writing it. It really didn’t.

I am a plastic fan. This is my defense. Our defense.

I am what you call a plastic fan. Of Arsenal. And Barcelona. I am from Bangalore, India, and here’s my defense. And that of the millions that you ridicule every day.
I love the game. Having been initiated into football via the magical skills of Diego Madarona in ’86, I cannot think of life without the game. I have played the game at a reasonable level, and still try to manage a game every weekend. Not very different from you, am I?
I have an Indian club I love, Mohun Bagan AC. I don’t stay in my city of origin, Kolkata (Mohun Bagan is from that city), anymore, so I don’t get to go to the stadium too many times anymore (Bangalore to Kolkata is 2000 miles, yes, that was 2000 miles), I used to be a regular. I wept after a defeat, especially to our eternal rivals, East Bengal FC. I was jubilant after wins. I still am, watching the matches on TV. I am what you call a normal football fan, I love my club.
Just like you love Huddersfield. Just like you love Bradford, just like you love Derby.
But I also love the game itself. And I am honest enough to accept that Mohun Bagan, or East Bengal, or Dempo, or Mahindra Utd. , don’t really provide that kind of football. That does not make me love my club any less, that just makes me want to get a chance to watch and enjoy better football too.
And therefore came the Premiership. And therefore came the Primera Liga. I love how well they play the game I love in your country. And in Spain. There is the television, and I don’t miss a match.
I am watching the league from 1998 (that is about the time when the Premier League started being aired regularly in Indian TV, thank you Star Sports / ESPN), I was 18 then. Tony Adams is my hero, and Dennis Bergkamp is only second to Diego Maradona in the God-stakes, in my book. I HATE Luis Figo, he’s the real Judas. I am jubilant when Arsenal wins, I am dejected when Arsenal loses. I follow every match, I follow the post-season, and just like you, I wanted us to have a holding midfielder too. And no, I didn’t want Alonso, I wanted Toulalan. Ah, wishes… I am a fan.
And yes, I have been to your stadia (not to the Emirates or Highbury, sadly. Never stayed in England long enough to manage that yet), and I know that the tears that you cry when your club loses will never be the same as my sadness at an Arsenal defeat. But I know the tears, I have cried them after a Bagan loss.
But does it mean that our sadness at an Arsenal defeat counts for nothing? We came to the premiership looking for great football, we found a club we would like to follow, and we followed the club. And devoted we have been, for the last ten years. And yes we don’t have perspective; they started showing the Premier League on TV only ten years ago. I thought we did the best we could as fans. Where did we go wrong?
I thought it was the universal game.
– Godof86 (don’t ever say ‘third world’ again without knowing what the word originates from), Arsenal, Barcelona and Mohun Bagan.

On being an Indian fan of Arsenal and Barcelona….

I am a fan of Arsenal. And I am a fan of Barcelona. and having been initiated into football via the magical skills of Diego Madarona in ’86 (weren’t you asking who/what is the godof86?)… I share the Eduardo Galleano – certified love for Joga Bonito. Having played the game at some level, I understand and appreciate a great defensive performance by say, Alessandro Nesta, and that is beautiful football for me too…. I love expressive, free-flowing football, and during the time I started watching the European game in all seriousness, the most beautiful, attacking and free-flowing football, in my opinion was played by Arsenal and Barcelona.

So I was, and remain a fan of Arsenal. And a fan of Barcelona.

And I have been in London for about a day in total, mostly in transit. And I have never been to Barcelona, though I would love to be in both of the places. Camp Nou would be fabulous, I know. And so would be the Emirates. I will like to visit the shopping mall which is in place instead of Highbury, and feel sad for I could never have been there to the stadium.

And then someone at Football365 screams abuse at fans like us, from distant India and Singapore and Hong Kong, for showering our support to clubs with whom we do not share locational or cultural synergies. And they call our ilk fair-weather fans and glory-hunters.

My real team will always be Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, in West Bengal, India. And yes, if you ask me, I go to the stadium to watch Mohun Bagan whenever I can, whenever the travails of holding down a job allows me to. A victory in the Indian National Football League can gladden the heart like nothing else. Like all other Mohun Bagan fans, the pain of defeat, especially to those bangladeshi refugees of East Bengal Sporting Club, can be at times just way too hard to bear. 

Yet, do understand that the football I get to see, supporting Mohun Bagan, is not really top drawer. But I really like the game! And European football is available on TV all the time (not the Championship, though)… so I naturally watch all the games I can, and due my preference for skillful, free-flowing football, I support Arsenal and Barcelona. And thus I have been supporting both the clubs for the last ten or so years.

And yes, if you ask me, a loss to Spurs (thankfully, that’s extremely rare) does not affect me so much that I feel for a while that this life is not worth living. Neither a loss to Real. They do affect me to quite an extent though. I do feel gutted after a defeat…. but yes, the pain you, North London / Catalunya dweller are dealing with might be more than that I face. And do realise, I know the feeling. I feel the same when Mohun Bagan loses to East Bengal. Or even to Mohammedan Sporting, rare as it might be though. Is that reason enough to spew venom at us? Really, when we started supporting Arsenal / Barca, we had no clue that we have to justify our support some day.

Look, I would love for Mohun Bagan to play football of such a level that there are fans of us in the farthest reaches of the world, but that is not to be. And you, dear north London / Catalunya dweller, would feel the same have you been in my position. And more fans would mean more money, and more money would mean better players in our team, and thereby more trophies. wouldn’t you like your team to win? As of now, as a Mohun Bagan man, I have to live with the limited glory of coming in the top 4 of the Indian National League after long last, and as a Gooner / Cule, I would like them to win the Premiership / La Liga, and meet in the finals of the Champion’s League. Well it’s happened once, and not too long ago…. I watched the match with friends, and I wore a Barca kit in the first half, and an Arsenal kit in the second.

The comeback…

This is a post I will write out of memory, this was a very long while back…. Mid-80’s, in the ’87-’88 range if my memory serves me right. There might be a few factual inaccuracies … I was a tiny-tot then, and just getting initiated into sports, though Boris Becker had already won Wimbledon and gatecrashed into the conscience, and Diego Maradona even more so by winning the ’86 World Cup almost single-handedly… I had just started following cricket, though Azhar’s three hundreds on debut had made him an instant favourite (rather, Baba’s favourite, and therefore mine) even before that …. but I haven’t had an Indian team play a great match yet.. I was way too small during the ’83 world cup. I needed a match…

And then that match happened…

Indian hockey was at the stage that West Indian cricket was in the early ’90’s, slowly but inevitably moving into a stage of helpless irrelevance. But there were still a few players who could really play… Zafar Iqbal, MP Somayya, Joaquim Carvalho, Mohinder Pal Singh, Pargat Singh, Thoiba Singh … and Shahid. Mohammed Shahid of the silken dribbling and immaculate skills, my favourite Indian player in those days, all sports included….

And this match was against West Germany (the Berlin wall was still intact), who were, I think, the reigning world champions those days. west Germany had their own talisman in the big, tough Karsten Fischer… Fischer was one of the first penalty-corner taking superstars of hockey. A few years hence, he shaved off his hair, the tonsured look enhancing his toughness and making him the ultimate baddie in sport for me….

I remember, in the first half, Germany dominated, and pummelled goals into our net. We scored one back, but they had built a sizable lead…

it was much of the same in the second half. Fischer scored a few… and with ten minutes or so remaining in the clock, we were trailing 5-1.

What followed was in my opinion the greatest fightback in Indian sports history, equalled (but not emulated) only by the Laxman-Dravid orchestrated heroics at the Eden Gardens…

We got one back through MP Singh who was our penalty corner specialist…. but well, neither Baba (who was watching the game with me) nor I celebrated much… this was surely a chase too far….

And then Shahid did what only Shahid could. He dribbled through the defence and scored a peach of a goal….. now most of you who were too young to see Shahid in action might not be able to appreciate what he was capable of… Assume Dhanraj Pillay at his best, and increase that by 20%. That was Shahid.

and that goal rejuvenated the team completely… you could literally see the team believe that there is a chance now….

Pargat scored the fourth off a rasping hit.

…. and there were only about three minutes remaining…..

But there was time for a last attack….. Can they? Can they?

And yes, they could. There was a fifth goal… and if I remember correct, it was MP Somayya off a Zafar Iqbal pass (well, it might have been the vice versa)… and we were off our seats, Baba and myself….

West Germany (5) – India (5) !!!

If there ever was a draw which felt better than a victory, this was it….