The first time World Cup football was telecast live in India was in 1982. Colour television was still a few months away, but the telecast did something to Indian football besides introducing us to world-class performers. It showed how far behind the best we were.
It was a time when football league matches in Bengaluru, especially between the top teams like ITI and HAL, drew near full houses. I was a junior reporter then, having just entered the profession with the usual dream of changing the world (after a while I decided to leave it as it is). League matches were fun, with the press box (press table, actually) perched on the vertigo-inducing stadium.
At half-time (the prevailing cliche then was “lemon time”), a football association employee came around to take orders for tea. Some without milk, some without sugar, others with sugar and milk.
And he brought them all in the same pot and distributed them among the reporters. There might have been a profound philosophy underlying this, but I never discovered what it was. What I remember is the colour of the tea — brick red we called it, although it was sand brown.
Reality brought home
And then came the live telecast of the World Cup final. Watching Paolo Rossi and others in action led directly to a drop in attendance at league matches. For years, supporters with little access to world football had imagined that the matches played by HAL, CIL, Bangalore Blues and other teams were the pinnacle of the sport. Now they realised where the league stood in the pecking order. Perhaps embarrassed by their earlier full-throated approval of the competition, perhaps in the knowledge that the best football would be on TV, the fans kept away for a long time.
At the time of the Italy-West Germany final, I had been in the profession for just a few months. The reward for this was to be on the night shift and report on the final from television! Italy beat West Germany 3-1, and since I was young and fresh and had not yet jettisoned purple prose, the report off TV was in full colour even if the TV itself wasn’t.
My football education came courtesy Leo Dudley Pereira, a wonderful reporter and wit and one of the finest at his job. He took me under his wing at the newspaper, and soon I was off to Kolkata to report on the first Nehru Cup international tournament. Uruguay won that. In the team was a young, elegant Enzo Francescoli, later to play in two World Cups.
Till that tournament, I hadn’t reported any football — not the national, not even the local league. I started at the top and worked my way down!
But it was always assumed that I would be a cricket writer, and that’s what happened. Every four years, however, I think back to that 1982 final, the Nehru Cup and the many friends I made in the sport. Including a man named Pele.