Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Beautiful Game

In spite of my obvious obsession with cricket, I watched the 2010 Football World Cup enthralled. I do not understand the intricacies of football as well as I do of cricket, cannot fathom the ebbs and flows going on in the field. For instance, I though the Argentina-Germany quarter-final was a great match, till I read the reviews next day that it never touched the highs expected from such a titanic clash.

The reason I started following football is of because of one man displayed next. I was too young to stay awake and understand his greatness in the 1986 World Cup at Mexico, but whatever little I caught of him at 1990 and then 1994 before his banishment, was enough for me to convert to the gala event held every four years. I still root for Argentina (the above-mentioned match broke my heart, especially as they can be now considered the perrenial under-achievers like Spain, Portugal and Holland), and will follow the 2014 World Cup mainly for Messi. But for all his flaws and genius, it is difficult to take Maradona out of my system. In fact, in some corner of the heart, I was happy that France lost, at least it allowed Zidane to only equal Maradona, not surpass him (one World Cup victory, one runners-up).

To figure out why football has such a huge following, I leave you with the excerpts from Harsha Bhogale below, trust this man to articulate what I want to say:

The World Cup has been a beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating, cathartic experience, as much for those on the field as for others like us, watching from a distance. For a month we were captive, we became consumers, we became subjects of study; the money spent on football and footballers was aimed at capturing us.

And so, while we learnt a great deal about Zidane and Cannavaro, about Brazil and England, we learnt a bit about ourselves and to me, nothing captured it more than a seemingly stray remark by a friend, now a senior corporate head. "I think this World Cup has been a tipping point," he said. "By the time the football world cup of 2010 and the cricket world cup of 2011 come around, I don't think there will be a huge difference in advertising rates charged by television companies."

People who spend know the value of the product they buy. And corporate India spends fairly wisely. My friend knew what he was talking about since he has to take decisions on spending the money that his products earn. What does it mean for cricket then? Are we seeing, if only once in four years, some much needed competition for cricket?

If I was running Indian cricket today, I would study the implications of the phenomenal following of this World Cup. The first thing it shows up is that a huge part of our television audience is now more globally aligned than ever before. Young men and women today are going to become, if they aren't already, citizens of the world, their preferences will be more global. And there is no more global game than football.

Part of the attraction of football, apart from the tactical battles fought, is its brevity and the ability to be easily understood. You may not know what foul earns a red card, what earns a yellow and why some are not worth anything at all; you may not know when players are off-side and when they are not; but you can follow the drift of the game and after ninety minutes you know who has won and who hasn't. Football is perfect for those who seek a 2-3 hour entertainment package, especially one that has no artificial effects and poor scripts.

It is imperative today, not tomorrow, that cricket pays heed to this; recognises this changing face of India, respects it and launches the product that is tailor-made for it. It is no longer a question of whether or not India plays 20-20 cricket, it is a question of when, of how quickly.


satya said...

As much as Harsha Bhogle talks sense and in this particular piece talks corporate sense, I strongly disagree with this thesis he throws out here.

So Indians or atleast a section of the Indians are becoming globally conscious, so what does that have to do with popularity of football.

Bhogle obviously doesnt know that there are enough games in India that coporations can put their money in, domestic league, football, hockey, kabbadi.

This whole Fifa Cup was very obviously a bigger media circus than about football. It was an event no doubt but it was an event made larger by the amount of money that went into it rather than precisly due to the game.

Bhogle should also discuss what happened at that fateful world cup when Brazil lost to France 3-0 in the final and who was responsible for it.

I am not arguing against coporate funding, I am arguing against over kill, which is exactly what has happened to football world wide and cricket in India.
Like in India we dont play football and dont know it exists. He behaves like he is talking about baseball of rugby.

As for the proposition that cricket be short and reduced, well thats a lot of things to account for and hardly the answer.

You can have your short games (while the one dayers and test matches continue) why merely 20-20, have 5-5, 10-10 as short as you wish it to be. Make it mroe interesting, let a bowling machine bowl to the batsman at high speed, gets exciting! Introduce water cricket, make the bat thinner and the ball smaller or bigger, use one stump and not three.

svety said...

Aha, this seems to an extremely JNU sort of overkill...

if u look around, most of the lives that we lead today has been impacted by this "global consciosness" you so considerately qualify, as being relevant, possibly, for only a section of Indians (needless to say this is nostalgia for me, when we sat in the LSR Cafe the discussion would always feature Gunnar's angst).

Media circus?? Money overkill?? Why is blogging on everyone's mindscape today ? Not because people have started blogging today but because theres money to be made by the blogger and more so by the advertiser.

I'm not a sports watcher but i know what this media circus gave me. I sat up to watch matches because i loved the drama of the game, of the next day's discussion in office, of being part of a new community of people who paid no heed to the politcs of nations...the media made heroes everyday and we reveled.

For a person who wrote the textured samsara review and cohorted with hanif's dreamy associations, sacrificing cut and dried arguments for the more humane sub text should not be such a quantum leap of faith...

Abhigyan said...

Haha, Satya at his anti-establishment best! I can understand your pain at good things in life not being backed (though how is domestic league football better than the World Cup version is difficult to fathom). But its a reality of life - Pepsi sells more than shikanji, Outlook than academic journals, Gadar was a bigger hit than Lagaan and Dil Chahata Hai put together, and so on. More importantly, when PHL has been launched in the last two seasons, I didn't see your heart bleeding for the Sunderban Tigers, or maybe I missed something. PHL tried to make a circus out of a relatively non-descript game, maybe you still preferred the National Championship for the same.
The Football World Cup is egalitarian, because the dominant teams have been third-world powers too - Brazil, Argentina, a racially-mixed France, a match-fixing beleaguered Italy. As the Economist put it one of its isssues, it is difficult to manufacture success at the World Cup. East Germany and now China gained a lot of respectability by winning medals by the hordes at Olympic games, but no dictator, no marketing machine, has managed to produce a Football World Cup winning team. I think the only exception to the rule was Italy's success in the 1930s, when Mussolini was taking a very active interest in football, and was possibly twisiting rules for the same.
The primary reason for the huge success of Football worldwide has been its relative simplicity - just put a ball in the opponent's net (Harsha touches upon this facet). The marketing machine, as you call it, has just ensured that more viewers have been attracted to this relative simplicity. And like most things Indian, maybe this movement also will start from the upper echleons of society, the globalised middle-class as we call it. It is we who took up TGIF, All American Diner's, American film-makers and authors, multiplexes, maybe not American football and baseball, but now, instead plain football.
Till then, Hail Maradona, and looking forward to Messi!
As for competition to cricket, do you seriously believe a pre-industrial game, whose real version is played over five days with a tea-break everyday and the possibility of ending in a draw after the entire show, can actually last in today's jet-age. I sincerely hope it does, otherwise what will I blog about when I have nothing to write.

satya said...


Well my being in JNU doesnt say anything. And if we do talk of "JNU" over kill as you say, where would you place me right, left. It is quiet easy to categorise me JNU types, but hell what is the JNU type? The rabid left winger seeking revolution, does my comment sound anything like it. I talk of a corporate over kill that is quiet different from state funding, you get the drift, there is a giant progression from your rabid left winger to complaining about the overkill in Germany.

I take the global consciousness argument no doubt.It does exist. But my point was simple, that Bhogle thinks people watched football due to global influences and that 'football is getting popular' due to the FIFA cup. I say it is bull shit. It was a media circus and its over.

Football to remind you is played in this country, this FIFA world cup will not make football popular in this country despite this global consciousness.
Indian football will remain in the same shape and condition. So whats the logical conclusion, that it was just a media circus, the game just happened to be a tool, it could have been the olympics or Formula One.

Now I repeat if he was talking of Rugby or Baseball, he had a point but he was not. No doubt football is a great game if it was so much the 'charm' of the game and not the media circus, why doesnt our discerning public watch football matches in Ambedkar Stadium, the tickets are cheap easily available.

Watching a super talented group of individuals swamped by media frenzy and corporate funding is not about football, it is about MONEY.

I didnt know people got into blogging for money, I thought they got into blogging to write, to be heard. I doubt most motivations have to do with money. I think it is the need to write, to say what you really want to say and not have a platform to say it.

Money is incidental in that. I have no qualms about making money or money by itself. But to be ignorant of the fact that FIFA was a media circus more and less about football is well a quantum effort at being incredulous.

satya said...


Well, I was not making any overt statements, I was merely reacting to the piece by Bhogle.

Anti-establishment or not. The simple point remains that while state funding is not an answer, corporate messing around with games to this level is definately not the way to go.

The west is paradise, materially speaking, but everything about that material paradise in material terms is not worth emulating and imitating. Its like economics, the welfare state another western development got lovingly lost in this rush to liberalisation, and no one gives a damn. It is seen as either Nehurvian socialism or free market and there is no intervening locations within these two points. That is/was the tenor of media commentary for a long time. How the market works in the west is never an issue, let the economy loose and everything will be 'as it was meant to be'!

Sorry for getting lost there. I am not seeking to suggest that domestic league football is better than the world cup version. All I am suggesting is that this Bhogle crap about football and global consciousness is well just crap. One of the important reasons we watched the world cup was the millions of dollars (its the money which makes stars beyond the skill of course) that went into it. If it was merely about football and the charm of the game as he nicely describes, we would stop by parks and watch neighbourhood football matches and in a similar manner domestic league too. But we dont, do we?

My heart didnt bleed in this world cup either. It doesnt bleed in the cricket world cup also.

My point remains simple. The world cup frenzy we saw was not so much about Football.

I like the third world powers and that bit in football, no doubt. I doubt a lot of people in this country would ever know or care of countries at the edge of the world like Brazil or Argentina had it not been for football.

The economist should be told that you cannot manufacture success in any sports. On the flip side, he should be reminded about the success of the ex communist countries in a lot of olympic sports from Russia to present day China. They obviously did something right. And it also suggests that success in sports is not so determined by economy.

The upper echelons of the society will not be able to do shit to football and its status in this country. They are good for playing golf and tennis.They will forever stick to individual sports, team sports, thats a different matter altogether, not the 'playing field' of the upper echelons. In the mad rush that our urban centers are with no free space and the professional rush to IIT/AIIMS?IIM's you think they will hunt a park down and play football. No, they will go to rich clubs and swim, play squash, tennis,golf. It is easy to co-relate, ecnomic liberalisation policy in India with our incresing success in these elite games. Not being very accurate or scientific here, just suggesting what I have casually observed.

And thats brings me to the point which I think was missed. Football is already played here and no one gives a shit. This was not really the first football world cup. I have watched the 1990 world cup even closer than this and even then it was beamed live by DoorDarshan. There have been world cups in 1994 and 1998 and we had satellite television in India, why didnt it do something to our football. hello, Harsha Bhogle, do you have an answer?

I dont blame him, he was 'commenting' for a whole month on football and post-world cup there is always that trap to draw lessons for the country, remember, despite us forgetting politics of nations, every discourse on the globalised level gets us back to India and how's and why's and when's. So considering that commenting is a difficult buisness and Bhogle appears to give that enlightened commentator drawing from society and economy, he made that comment which I took an exception too. Not really worth picking brains over but definately load of shit from the IIM alumni.

As for test cricket? Honestly, I have run out of energy with all the bile I used up in replying to you guys.

But if hindi movies can last in this age, I dont see why test cricket will not. But then who knows.

Abhigyan said...

This is the vintage offline Satya I know, can't figure out what point exactly are you making. Media circus is a problem, OR Harsha Bhogle's IIM background is, OR our lack of support for existing things is.
You ratify ur own anti-argument against the media circus bit. You followed the 1990 World Cup in spite of it being on DD, this thanks to marketing and ESPN-Star, more people watched it, and hence avdertising support went up. It does not mean the then winners West Germany were inferior to Italy this time round, just that thanks to the marketing efforts, more advertisers came on-board, which will possibly help attract more viewers for the next game, increasing the base for football in India further. It is a similar thing like Manoj Bajpai being around for almost a decade, before Ramu gave him the marketing platform on Satya. If it was a Himanshu Tugalia directing it (remember Haasil, flop but brilliant), the story for Bajpai might have been different.
I don't know whether marketing works, or overkills. But am fundamentally sure that it gives a better chance for things to work. Multiplexes are horrbily over-priced, but if they have allowed Karan Johar to become a rage, they have also allowed us to watch Sudhir Mishra and Pan Nalin in the theatres, something which was never possible then.I can watch Ambedkar stadium football matches, but noone has told me yet their is brilliant football there, something for which I need to take out time and make the effort to watch. You need a marketing effort there, which is exactly what Zee Sports is trying. Might or might not work, but when things have not happened for so many years, what is the harm in trying. On the other hand, I was ready to see Omkara, thanks to some reasonable surety of the product. How did that happen - the 'media' and my peers were gaga over Maqbool, so I had to catch it. I'll wait for some positive recommendations for Ambedkar stadium football there.
The point which Economist made was abt manufacturing success at Olympics - in the 1930s Italy did so at football, and Germany in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. However, subsequently, while USSR, East Germany and now China have married perceived superpower status with medals, there has been no such correlation with football. Italy have won their next two titles when their domestic games have been in shambles, no science/strategy has managed to stop the talents of Pele, Maradona and Zidane from shining, and the form-book has been thrown out of the window. Proof: the world no.2 team Czech Republic dropped out from the World Cup after a great start.
India needs a dash of private corporate sponsorship money for things to perk up. Chankaya is a great theatre in spite of being NDMC-owner, otherwise the crowds are flocking to privately-owned PVRs and Waves. Just the day SAI gives way to a corporate funded national games, we will not need to manufacture success.