Not football - it is something else!

NIRMAL SHEKAR

IT was a moment like nothing else one has experienced in long years of watching and writing about sport. A sublime moment loaded with emotion and meaning that breached all sporting boundaries.

There I was, standing a few metres away from the centre of action in a basement bar in Piccadilly Circus, West London, on that Sunday afternoon, watching tens of dozens of young men and women dance to the Samba beat cascading from loudspeakers, with incessant chants of "Braaaziiil, Braaaziiil."

On a huge screen in front of us, the Brazilian football players were scattered on the Yokohama turf in small groups, some wrapping themselves in flags, others kneeling for a silent prayer together, yet others jumping on top of each other.

Then suddenly, in the London pub, the music stopped; and so did the chanting. As a huge picture of the world's most popular sportsperson, a gap toothed icon with a closely cropped triangle of hair above his forehead, appeared on the screen, the mood dramatically swung from one extreme to the other.

As the television cameras trained on Ronaldo wiping away tears, in the pub, merriment was replaced by collective sobbing. Every man, woman and child - yes, as a special occasion even children were allowed into the bar on that Sunday - let out a huge collective sigh and many actually had tears in their eyes.

It was an extraordinary moment, and even a hardened pro such as this writer, could not help getting carried away by the massive emotional charge provided by the final stanza of sport's greatest Redemption Song being enacted at Yokohama and witnessed in a million places across the world, not the least in this pub in the heart of London, a hefty Oliver Kahn clearance away from the Trafalgar Square.

Then, the chanting picked up again. "Ronaaaldo, Ronaaaldo." Arms raised in a sort of holy communion. Vocal chords threatened. Drinks forgotten. Many peoples - Brazilian, English, Indian, South African, Spanish, Italian, Mexican, even Tibetan - but one cause for celebration. One name to chant!

If there is anything at all quite like the phenomenon that is touched off by a popular Brazilian victory in a World Cup, then it cannot be anything of this earth. It must be happening in some other galaxy unknown to us.

Standing in a long, serpentine queue to make my way into that bar shortly before noon (the kick off was at noon, British summer time) on that Sunday, what struck me as extraordinary was the passion shown by men, women and teenagers who may have never set foot on Brazil in their lives.

Behind me, there was a group of South Africans of Indian origin, visiting London, and a pair of teenagers among them were sporting Ronaldo and Rivaldo jerseys. Ahead of me was a Tibetan student studying in London. He had a Roberto Carlos shirt on him.

This was a microcosm of the sporting world and once inside the bar you realised that only a few dozens of the 200-odd people inside were Brazilian. And in the end, among the ones that joined the huge party celebrating Brazil's fifth World Cup triumph were a German couple on holiday in London!

Can anything at all bring sports fans from different cultures, vastly different backgrounds, together quite like this?

But why? Why would even Germans - whose over-achieving teams was soundly beaten in the final - and Englishmen, whose dreams were dashed by the Brazilians in the quarterfinals, want to join the Carnival?

Beauty, dear reader, beauty. As Keats said, a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Brazilian football, for the most part, is nothing if not a thing of beauty.

And it is not even football that the Brazilians play! If you admit that every other nation affiliated to FIFA plays football, then you have to admit, too, that the Brazilians don't play football. They play something else.

"We play tennis, he plays something else. They must send him to the moon," remarked the tennis champion Ilie Nastase famously, in the late 1970s, after losing once to Bjorn Borg. He was, of course, referring to Borg's invincibility.

The Brazilians too play something else, not because they are invincible, but because they are very, very vincible, fallible and human. Yet their football is more an art form than a sport.

Take away their familiar national colours, take away the faces, perhaps even the upper part of the players' bodies, waist up, just focus the cameras on their feet and on the ball, and half asleep I can tell a Brazilian team from the rest.

The feeling of elation that flows and bonds everyone when Ronaldinho leaves three of four defenders for dead as he dashes up and taps the ball across to Rivaldo or Ronaldo, the spine tingling sensation that you experience when Rivaldo - as he did in the final - sells a dummy and lets Ronaldo zero in on the ball to strike... is there anything at all in the world of sport that can match these feelings?

"You know, I must tell you this. He is a great player. But in this tournament, all he did was score. Nothing else," said an English friend of mine at dinner, a few hours after Brazil's victory in the final. He was, of course, talking about Ronaldo.

Laughing to myself, I told him: Well, you see, all that Mozart did was compose music. He did nothing else!

Inevitably now, comparisons will be made. Is this team managed brilliantly by Luiz Felipe Scolari - who looks like the Hollywood actor Gene Hackman's identical twin - as good as the ones that won in the past for Brazil?

It is difficult to go back all those years to 1958 and 1962 and then 1970, when there was still no television in India. And no side without Pele - even with Ronaldo and Rivaldo and Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos and Cafu - would compare favourably with any other that had the greatest of them all.

Any cricket team without Don Bradman cannot be compared to the ones featuring him. Same with Michael Jordan in basketball.

In the event, to say that Scolari's side is inferior to the men who won in Mexico in 1970 is to belittle what these men - who barely managed to qualify in the first place - have accomplished in one of the most memorable World Cup finals.

With their ability to play wonderfully well as a team, with the improvement they showed match after match after match, and not the least, with their magnificent adventurism as well as attacking and defending skills, this side has proved that it is a worthy winner.

What is more, this bunch of Brazilians have won playing the brand of soccer that is so close to the hearts of Brazilian fans everywhere in the world, whether they happened to watch the matches in a basement pub in London or on black and white television in a tin shed in a slum in Rio de Janerio.

It is a brand of soccer that is called Jugo Bonito - the Beautiful Game. And, believe me, it has nothing to do with soccer. It is something else. After all, a sport, mere sport, can hardly make for such universal bonding.