Football at the Fiddler’s Elbow

I have never written about football, except maybe a line in passing about waking up at dawn while at school to watch a bit of the Copa America. This post is about the experience of watching football but will not contain any highly technical language, the only rule I know of being the offside one. I now wish I had read the thin little volume on football that was given to me for full attendance (or something equally irrelevant) at school twenty years ago; but then, it is never too late to learn.

I am not in love with football- and this is something I don’t understand, because everytime I watch a match, I am reminded what a beautiful game it is. Maybe it is the overwhelming number of leagues, transfers and games that bewilders me, compounded by the fact that few players seem to play in the leagues of their home countries. I’ve left it to time and exciting matches to do the trick, but sometimes I despair of ever knowing this exciting sport well enough to talk intelligently about it.

That said, football unobtrusively made its way onto my to-watch list once I arrived in England. I still dream of watching a football match at a stadium some day, listening to the passionate songs of the spectators, taking sides with the underdogs perhaps, or a team that I shall manage to develop some sort of loyalty towards. So, when I was invited to watch Ireland play Spain in the Euro championship, I tagged along: watching football at a pub is about as much action I can get at the moment, and it helped matters that we were going to a cosy little Irish pub that I really like. The shamrock engraving, the Kilkenny and Irish Independent posters, and the panelled interior of The Fiddler’s Elbow exude old-world charm; if this is all I can get of Ireland, so be it, but I have a feeling that if I ever have a chance to visit that lovely, magical island, I’m going to fall tremendously in love with it.

Three of the six people at our table were Irish, as were most of the people at the pub; who would want to risk being a pariah in fiery red-and-yellow jerseys against the placid emerald of the Irish? Also, why would you want to side with one of the best teams in the world as they prepared to pound the underdogs? The mood in the pub seemed one of cheerful resignation- everybody seemed to be there with a clear premonition of the turn things would take. Of course, it was best to make the most of it and enjoy an evening with friends, rather than shed a bucket of tears over what was foreordained. If only we had as much sense in India: it might have prevented our bile when we were whitewashed in England, for we knew deep down that it was going to happen. No one takes it with as much dignity as the Irish. Instead of football, we talked of Ireland beating Pakistan and England at cricket.

In the space of four minutes after the match began, Fernando Torres had struck; three more goals effectively put paid to Ireland’s chances of progressing in the tournament. At 3-0, a few people left the pub, and I won’t blame them. It was heartbreaking to see Ireland finish goalless. However, they didn’t kept the ball with themselves long enough to give themselves many chances. I was surprised not to see any ball possession statistics, but I am quite sure the figures wouldn’t have flattered the Irish. But I revelled in the game- I don’t know if it was the finest specimen of football, but even with an unpromising one-sided score of 4-0, it was quite engrossing.

I don’t think I’ve watched an entire game of football since the World Cup two years ago, and I’m delighted I decided to go and watch one today. This is a terrific year for sports and I’m in England. I couldn’t think of a better combination of circumstances if I tried all night. I might also have stirred that dormant football-admiring corner of my brain, but I won’t push it too hard for fear it’ll crack. However, I definitely have plenty of sympathy to expend on underdogs, and I have a new team’s cause to champion. There is something about Ireland so reminiscent of India that I find myself gravitating towards them involuntarily. Quite a productive evening, this!

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