LNTUP

My football generation: The 90’s

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“Messi is the best””No,Ronaldo is the best”- and so it goes on and on nowadays with social media and round the clock football. You see fights, memes, trolls, abuse, insults and what not amongst the football fans in India these days. I sometimes reminisce about my childhood days when football coverage on our television meant scrambling the pages of newspapers trying to find telecast times for the World Cup or Euros or Copa America.

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In club football only Serie A was rarely shown on television. Today football seems like it has reached the palm of our hand and we can offer opinions on everyone and everything in football. We can abuse Wenger,Mourinho,Guardiola or heap blind praise on them without batting an eyelid. A player can be deemed world class or rubbish in seconds. So I look back on my generation which grew up in the 90’s watching football like it was some magical fairytale.

I grew up in a town called Durgapur in West Bengal and as we entered the 90’s football was beamed to us on the dinosaur channel, Doordarshan. Since we grew up in an environment where cricket was the in demand sport, so we were mostly starved of football coverage. Every once in a while we would keep a keen eye out for the major international tournaments. Euro 88 and Italia 90 captured my heart and I and a few football crazy friends would then hear of Serie A which contained the likes of Van Baasten, Rijkaard, Gullit, Maradona, Klinsmann, Schillaci and other stars. These days we can latch on to the internet and download photos of even Raheem Sterling.

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Back then we would scour the face of the town looking for posters of our stars. So then came the life saver called Big Fun chewing gum and it’s football card collection. We would pester our parents to buy truckloads of gum so that we could develop our unique collection of football stars. So we could buy Nery Pumpido- Argentina’s keeper(remember him) and we even developed our own game of card passing where we would rank each card on the basis of it’s star value- we had no idea of how much money they were worth so we would just place random positions and like a game of cards we would pit one against the other, the guy whose ranking was the highest got the other card and so on. The players in those cards seemed like gods to us, peering at us from their own magical world and putting us in a trance.

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The national channel then started showing Serie A matches occasionally and we got hooked. Nowadays you see preview shows, half time analysis, discussions, post match verdicts and every single detail of the game. Back then the games did not even contain proper commentary except a dubbed voiceover and there was none of the dazzle that you see today. So the match would start, after halftime for a brief period some ads would air and then the game would go on and eventually wind to a finish. So all we would see was just football. The players appeared like mysterious enigmas, always mesmerizing us and leaving us gasping for more.

The footballer those days was like a magician, an out of this world character who we knew nothing about since there were no gossip columns or off the field coverage unlike today when you can see what toothbrush Ronaldo uses. So we would be in awe of Diego Maradona, to us a god who would win games singlehandedly, Marco Van Baasten- a predator, Lothar Matheus- the general and so on.

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Today a 10 year old can watch Messi on Youtube or the sports channels and critique him instantly. But Maradona back then had this intimidating persona that propelled him to a god like status among the fans. Maybe if he was playing in today’s era, he would seem like a mortal, just a footballer who could be analyzed and dissected by anyone with a keyboard. Because we saw little of him we would starve for more and so appreciate him even greater.

Buying club jerseys was an even greater challenge. We would go on to a sports goods shop where we would ask the shopkeeper” Uncle, do you have an Inter Milan jersey” to which he would quizzically reply” Interrr what?, No but I have Germany,Brazil,Argentina” and we would be disappointed. So we would pull out a small newspaper cutting containing Klinsmann wearing an Inter jersey to which he would say “No, it is not available”. As time passed on, the mid 90’s saw Gheorge Hagi, Carlos Valderrama, Gabriel Batistuta, Christian Vieri, Hristo Stoichkov would come into our world and the magical ride would continue. When cable television broke through we slowly warmed up to the Primera Liga, the Premier League and this glamorous entity called the UEFA Champions League.

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Club football had now become the new football park for us as we saw Raul, Zamorano,Laudrup,Suker at Real Madrid, Ronaldo,Figo for Barcelona and Beckham and co. playing for Manchester United. It seemed as if football was becoming this new monster that would slowly occupy our minds and as the 90’s ended football being discussed amongst school or college kids was becoming the new fad. Fast forward to today, and you can footballer’s hairstyles and cars being flashed before us.

Today’s footballers are toned athletes who are running machines whereas the 90’s had it’s share of portly rogues like a Ariel Ortega who would pretend to be our new Maradona. It seems today football has become an overexposed product that is screaming at us for constant attention. The charm, the mystique, the appeal that it once had is now lost today where footballers and fans alike are at each other’s throats for hogging the spotlight. The days of watching and admiring football have long gone. Today you have to type, troll, argue and take sides in order to be a football fan. I miss the allure of the 90’s and I wonder where do we go next.