As you know, I am in the process of reading the educated, researched and serious book on football in India that is ‘Goalless’ (It is good, but does take time.. the next in the pipeline is ‘The Ball is Round’ by David Goldblatt, another tome… but hey, I like research stuff). But in the meantime, due to the holiday on Monday (Labor Day in the US, godbless), I could take time off from Goalless, and finish off ‘Salaam Stanley Matthews’ by Subrata Dasgupta. Now this is not really a sports/ football book as such, but is a memoir of Dasgupta’s when he was in England (Nottingham, and then Derby) between ages 5 to 13. It does focus a lot of attention to life in England as an Indian immigrant, and yes, football, and the crown prince of English football at that time, Stanley Matthews, does have a significant part to play in the book.
I liked the book. There is little pretense, and Dasgupta’s writing is direct and honest. He writes it as he sees it, and does not over-dramatize. The travails of the Indian upper-class boy from snooty high-end Kolkata post-independence in egalitarian England, the whole growing-up saga, is expressed is reasonable detail, and flows smoothly as a nice, consistent read. While I am not from snooty high-end upper-class stock, and I was never affected by the peculiar situation that Dasgupta describes as …
I was, instead, quite unwittingly, the kind of person Thomas Macaulay in the 19th century had talked of when he wrote of persons “Indian in blood or color but English in taste”
… I do relate to the Bengali up-bringing well enough for Dasgupta’s memoirs to be relevant and interesting. And anyway, sport followers are all knit from the same fabric. The normal ways of hero-worshipping the sporting star, following the local club, the very personal joy of the triumph of the favorite club and the despair at a loss, they all ring true. There have been similar personal experiences as well.
And I would like you to savor a specific part of the book which in my opinion expresses the feeling of a ‘non-local’ fan better than most non-fan literature I have read. Dasgupta stays in Derby, and thus is, ‘by location of origin’, a Derby fan. But he is a worshipper of Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortenson and the flair game of Blackpool as well. And this quandary is discussed in the following way.
.. I certainly came to a kind of rationalization along the following lines. Derby County was the town’s local team. It was like family- one is bound to it by blood ties. Whereas the ‘other team’, whichever it was, was like a best friend. There was no problem in loving a relative and a friend; they were two different kinds of love. As for a third team – like Graham’s Aberdeen – well, that is more a kind of fascination than love or passion, the fascination one has with a distant place or relative across the seas.
I agree. My blood ties are with Mohun Bagan, the only team that I have no choice but to support. I was born a Mohun Bagan supporter, for reasons locational and national. I cannot support any other Indian team, least of all East Bengal. I have been following Arsenal for far too long for it to be considered anything other than a best friend. I know all the ins and outs of the club, and am fascinated by all aspects of it. And Barcelona is the club I am fascinated by… again, for more reasons than one. Ditto Napoli, but that’s for only one reason. Diego.
And indeed, this book gives me something to think of. Maybe the book I will write someday will be of the boy in some grey, dusty corner of Bengal in India, the proverbial sporting backwaters , playing sport with passion and fervor, and becoming a convert to the exquisite, gorgeous sporting skills and personal tribulations of Diego Maradona, of Boris Becker and of Mohammed Azharuddin. And becoming a convert to sport.