Football as a religion transcends nations, economic boundaries and personal differences. India, a cricket crazy nation, often comes across as a country of billions of people worshipping Sachin Tendulkar, who burst crackers with a vengeance whenever India wins a cricket match. But behind this mask of cricket fanaticism, there exists another band of football rebels for whom no weekend night is ever complete without the English Premier League and no day is ever complete without a friendly sledging related to match days on social networking forums.
I would like to draw your attention to Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. The sprawling city is home to a motley group of people who trace their roots back to different parts of the country. Amongst all the Indian states, three are regarded highly for producing football fanatics and players of the highest quality. First comes East Bengal, the home of Indian football, a state where the walls of buildings are still adorned with murals of Pele, Ronaldo and Zidane. Next in line is the South-Indian state of rice eaters, Tamil Nadu, the state producing footballers with great tenacity and physical endurance. Last but not the least comes Goa, the Indian holiday capital, the land of many beaches…credited with producing the flair players, the ones who produce step-overs without accidently burying their boots into the turf and comically falling over.
I am luckily associated with a group of individuals who come from the states mentioned above. For them Mumbai is a melting pot, an amalgamation of their football passions. Since the founders of this football group are Malyalis who originate from Tamil Nadu, our Sunday League has forever been branded The Mallu Premier League (abbreviated as MPL) (P.S : Mallu is short for Malyalis).
The Mallu Premier League attracts the best talent (or so we think naively) from across Mumbai every Sunday. Every member passionately supports a Premier League Club and tries to emulate his favourite player on the pitch often resulting in hilarious situations.
A typical MPL Sunday starts at 4:30 PM, with two ardent, die-hard and obsessed Manchester United fans in me and my good friend Arun Basker inspecting the pitch (a ground belonging to a local school that is open to the public on weekends) and shooing away any kids that might be playing cricket there with great gusto. The process usually involves us demolishing their stumps by aiming free kicks at them. After pulling the goal posts into position, we wait for the other members to grace us with their presence.
Next to arrive is Humayun (aka the Indian Lennon, aka the horse). Bearing searing pace, a mean right foot and an inexplicable habit of kicking the ball hundreds of miles into the air while attempting a pass, he proceeds to warm up by zipping around the ground like a horse whose tail is on fire. He is followed by a Chelsea fanatic Mayur, clad in the blue jersey, bearing a scowl on his face not unlike the one that Carlo Ancelotti possesses. Arun and Mayur are always involved in a battle wherein Mayur alleges that Manchester United influences the referees and linesmen and Arun suggests Mayur’s “intellectual footballing capacity” resembles a two year old crying for a lollipop.