The excitement of watching live sport

Udai  is  a natural sports fan and always  loves to give us company to watch sport on TV – often my mother for cricket, me for  tennis, Olympic sports and even the Tour de France and this year the Kabbadi matches. But more and more he is becoming a football fan, a sport I did not follow much of before – it helps that his father is also a football follower. This summer vacation, he was traveling in Europe with the family during the World Cup  and visiting football loving family in Netherlans. So, he became a Oraanje supporter (like all the rest of us) and could see many of the matches at the better suited timings there (the Cup being played in Brazil). Although the timings were really off in India,  we did stay up late  to see many a match . He has been pouring over the sports page of the newspaper for some time now – and his information bank on teams, logos, players, managers etc… was impressive.

So, it was a natural follow up that he was enthusiastic to  join  football coaching offered by PSG of Paris. And on Saturday  evening Udai and I made it to JLN Stadium to see the Delhi-Chennai match of the ISL, thanks to PSG. We had been promised tickets for a Goa match (a friend is working with one of their sponsors), but when PSG offered  tickets to kids training with them, we took up the offer. And so it came about that Udai and I made our  way to the  stadium by the Metro from Gurgaon to INA and then a 3-wheeler to the Stadium. While the lights of the Stadium are visible from far, as you get there, there is no signage and one had to struggle to reach Gate 10.

This was not Udai’s first live sport outing, we had made it to the India-Pakistan hockey match during the World Hockey Cup and to a couple of events during the Commonwealth Games. He was much younger then and knew little of the sport we were watching – be it hockey or squash. But with football this time it was different.

The outing reminded me of my early exposure to sport – in the pre-TV days of the late 1950’s, the most ‘live’ we got was the  commentary  heard on the radio, since it was also pre-transistor days. Even back then it was cricket which had us hooked – other sports  like tennis, hockey, football all had national tournaments, but no international tours like cricket. Cricket was played only in winter months, unlike now, and we used to dash back from school, to turn on the radio –  with my mother shouting at us to wash and change out of our uniform, eat lunch etc…. Commentators like Devraj Puri, Vizzi et al. brougt the match alive for an audience who had mostly never seen a stadium. In the winter of 58-59  W Indies (with the formidable 3Ws)  was touring India and there was talk of going to see the match at Feroze Shah Kotla Grounds. Sons of some neighbors were planning to get tickets for the stands and asked my brother Gopal, then only 8 years old to go along. My parents were not willing as they felt he was too young, and my request was flatly turned down – a girl cannot go to the stands! My attempts at tantrums did not work.

My other love was tennis, because my father used to play it and talk about it and India at that time had a world ranked player from Madras-  Ramanathan Krishnan.  Later in 1959, I had my first exposure to live sport –  my father took me to see the professional tennis tour at the Gymkhana courts. At that time, payment for  sports persons was considered vulgar – they were expected to play for the glory of the game!! All tournaments and Games were for only amateurs and and in tennis Jack Kramer was highly criticized because he induced some  really top players towards the end of their playing days (or when they felt they needed some money) to turn pro and tour the world playing essentially what was exhibition matches. Of the players at that event, I only remember Lew Hoad, Tony Trabert – both were Wimbledon Singles Champions!!

My father then used his various contacts to get us some passes for Delhi match of the 59-60 Australia tour of India – led by Ritchie Benaud. I can still remember the excitement, sitting in the pavilion actually seeing how it all looked – and craning my neck to see Nari Contractor and Faroq Engineer who were the heart throbs of the time.  The match itself was terrible since India lost by an innings – I think we saw the disastrous day of Indian batting. In the years after that I managed to see a number of the Test matches played in Delhi and some of the tennis matches including a Davis Cup event.

But then, the rest of life took over – studies, marriage, work etc. and sport was no where on the agenda. And although TV arrived with live coverage from around the world providing better than ring side seats for events in the 70s, and even turned color in 1982, we did not have a set at home till 1988. While in Mumbai, there was this ritual of spending the evening of the Wimbledon Final at my Mama’s place, for the community watching.  We probably were also there for other such events – cricket World Cup etc.

After we got our TV, Subhash seldom missed he cricket events where India played, even getting up at unearthly hours to watch matches played in Australia and New Zealand. I continued to watch the occasional cricket and lots of tennis. Lucknow in those days did not host many sporting events. Besides, with time we grew (and I mean all of our ilk)  more fastidious about our surroundings and did not feel that sporting centers provided acceptable amenities.  In spite of Subhash’s efforts,  Mukta did not really take to watching sports on TV. Going to watch live sport was not the done thing at that time – I don’t think that she ever went to a live sports event as a child.

Well, over the last few years infrastructure seems to have improved, the new cricket stadiums certainly look very smart on TV! Post – IPL success, India is finally waking up to the possibilities of non-cricket games, albeit as commercial opportunities. We now have leagues for kabbadi, hockey, badminton and now football. The hype, the right TV timing and cricketers and Bollywood stars fas promoters  should pull in the crowds which in turn will improve the money players will make and make more people take to playing the sport. And in due course, some of the money will further improve the infra-structure!! It should reach a stage when going to see the local game is as attractive option to spend the evening as going to the multiplex to see a movie.

Of course, we are still a long way from that – but it was fun to watch a game with Udai.  JLN is a multi-purpose facility which seats 70 thousand, and the crowd was less than a quarter of that. Almost all the support was for the home team, which was as to be expected – and also as expected, the biggest cheer went up when Parineeti Chopra came on the field. The seating was OK, but the seats were dirty – the food availability was poor. The public address system was ineffective – just some observations through my critical eye – none of this mattered to Udai. He had his football playing friends for company, kept up a running commentary on the players and moves to educate an ill informed me and thoroughly enjoyed watching his team demolish the opposition (4-1) by a good margin. And I enjoyed watching him having such a great time.

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