EP 16 : LEFT FOOT OF THE PRODIGAL SON

In the life of most football fans who started following the game as kids, there comes this moment when a kid, almost the same age as you makes his debut for your favourite team, maybe score a couple and then the entire world starts talking about him. 

This is the first existential crisis in the life of a football fan( Unless your Arsenal, then its every January). You feel like someone out there has worked all their life to live your dream, to play on that pitch, with 50,000 people behind you screaming you to shoot. With your heroes playing next to you and with a chance to script history. To make your name immortal. While 99.999% of the population in that age group wanks off to bed, that person is living your dream.

For me that person was Adnan Januzaj. I was 16 and he was 18.

I look at him and like so many football fans, I saw my dream manifest itself in the form of a lanky Belgium winger who is strong on both feet and can make any defender sweat ( at least initially). I noticed him first in “ Football Manager”, he had this peculiarly oriental name. Then when he scored two against Sunderland, where we came from behind to win. I was like, this is the “second coming”, he is the answer to all our problems, this dreaded season had something to give us hope. And that was a naive 16 year old asking an 18 year old to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the worlds biggest club on his shoulders. Matter of fact, I had been saving up for 8 months to buy a Man United kit, it would be my very first original kit. I went all the way to Banglore, found the store and then I was in a dilemma. I can go for club legend Giggs, this would be his last season and he is our greatest player, period. With more appearances than anyone else. Or Wayne Rooney. Our second greatest player with the most amount of goals for the club. But a voice inside my head always says, don’t look back, always look forward. And I printed “ JANUZAJ” 44 on the back of that shirt.

I even made a chant for him 

“ He was born in Belgium ——————Januzaj

Tip-toed upto the top.       ——————Januzaj

Anderchelt taught him

ManU bought him 

He can play on either left or right 

Januzaaaj Januzaaaj 

Hes the next Cristiano 

Hes Adnan Januzaj 

Januzaaaj Januzaaaj 

Hes the next Ronaldo

Hes Adnan Januzaj “

( I made the same mistake that United did when they rewarded him with a blockbuster contract, we expected too much of a kid. )

2 seasons later and he is not even near the first team. 2 unsuccessful loan attempts later, he was gone. Out of united to Spain. 

I was also struggling during that period, and the first bouts with depression wasn’t made any easier with the way united were playing during that time. I was so emotionally invested that I ran away from home for a day when we lost to Everton. That was the worst loss of life. I lost my self respect that night. So Januzaj was the only thing positive about that season, only thing which made me still believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. And when things didn’t work out for him, around the same time I lost my way.

I felt betrayed, almost like I failed myself. Where that hope and potential didn’t come out to anything. But thats life isn’t it. Things don’t always work out the way its suppose to.

Continued…

3 English fans ( 2 English men and an Indian dude who sounds English when drunk). 10 Belgium fans. A host of Russians. 

All it needed was a spark. 

“ Its coming………………….

 

30 minutes later.

We walk out the bus and hug the Belgium mates. We had abused their entire county and their fan base and more over made sure that not 30 seconds went by without an England chant being sung, it was something else. But at the end of the day its all banter, its what gives life to football. We are brothers who are connected by this love for the game, which is a bond unlike any other. For a person who failed in French ( twice), my French was good enough to say – “ bon chance moi amie, avec le Englaes, but aime Fellani et Lukaku” .

That is the fun part, saying French, but when the guy replies in an accent which sounds like someone throwing up on Kerala porotta, you just shake your head and say – “ fuck yah”. 

 My mates from Kerala video called me and I made sure they were given the real match day experience. I even made both set of supporters chant – “ India , India. India” ( My most significant contribution to the country till date.”) 

I see the stadium. Arena Baltika. What makes this stadium special is that it is on an island and there is nothing but this stadium on the island. Its this grand structure which stands in all its glory not giving a fuck to anything else. It commands respect, and from the outside, it was getting intense. Every bus brings a group of fans screaming either in English, Dutch or French or German. ( Fuck, thats a lot of languages isn’t it.)  

It was a carnival out there. Small stages where bands were performing, Russian dressed up from traditional village girls to Ivan the terrible to fans just dancing along. Say what you may about the Brits, but they know how to get a party going. There was a band playing the 7 nation army. Sweeeeeeeeet.

Now me and the boys officially begin our debauchery. Remember that marble pyramid that the random Russian woman gifted us.  Yah, so we turned it into a lucky charm. Every person we meet, we ask them to rub it. Told it will bring good luck to the lads. We went around asking for a rub( I meant to do that :p) and we got a lot. We got our faces painted and made this Russian bird kiss the pyramid. Not the most hygienic thing to do, but we sure as well enjoyed it.

I met Pakistanis for the first time. Two mates, and they were chill as fuck, we shared a smoke and talked about football. And this wont be the first time with Pakistanis that I will share a conversation ( or a smoke).  

We stood in line  and started chanting, ( Fuck, I don’t think I have chanted this much in a football match before, or for anything.) Once in, it was time to part ways. Court and Tom were on a pavilion below me and we said our goodbyes as the chances of us meeting are very slim as they are on a coach back across the channel right after the game. 

I have to say, it has been an absolute privilege sharing the experiences of the day with the lads and I hope I will see you guys for the Euro. ( inshallah) 

Then as tradition dictates, one overpriced Bud later, I find my seat and I am slightly disappointed to find no England fan anywhere near by. Its zee Russians everywhere. Since I was wearing the England kit, they were asking me to sing the chants to them. ( Its not coming home if you sing it like that Sergei). Then the team lineups came out and my worst fears were realised. See, it was the last match day and both England and Belgium have qualified, both with 6 points. And the team who would finish first in the group will have a more difficult run in to the final than the team who is finishing second.  This creates a unique situation where both teams can afford to rest their best players and let the Chinna payyans ( fringe players) play. Which is exactly what happened. I payed money to watch this game ( half a months salary and I was left disappointed). So Lukaku, Hazard, KDB, Harry Kane and a host of other players who are on top of their powers were on the bench and in their place I had the honour of seeing Phil Jones, Fellani and Adnan Januzaj. ( If you are not a football fan, they were united players who’re kinda shit for united and somehow they made it to the national team.)

 

 

But Rashford was one of the two strikers partnering Vardy and that kid is going places, it was really an honour to see him play. 

The game started on a high with a Tielemans dipping shot being saved by Jordan Pickford. You could hear the British chants pick up steam as Dier and Delph try to consolidate control over midfield. But this Belgian generation is the best the country has ever seen and while still resting all their stars. That team looks like it can go all the way to the final, a France with less immigrants :p. 

And in the 51 st minute I saw the second best goal I have ever seen live. ( First being Sushant Mathews for KBFC against Chennaiyan).

 

He receives the ball on the left inside the box. Fakes a shot and rolls it into his left foot and unleashes a curler that sends Pickford into the air like a fox but it was too well placed for any goalkeeper to do much. Danny Rose is rooted to the spot not knowing what just happened.

I am in a dilemma. I support England and so I am sad, but the kid I hoped would take over the world just scored a wonder goal. 

I didn’t celebrate, but I smiled for him, cause he deserved it. Adnan Januzaj deserved it  Just that proud mom smile where everything just comes together.  

 

England were playing second fiddle to a superior midfield, but they did get a few chances. Rashford came one on one with the keeper and the memories of that goal against City in his debut season came. But he couldn’t quite pull this off as Courtios put just enough of his hands on the ball to divert it into a corner.

And as the game was reaching its conclusion, Januzaj walked off to the standing ovation in the 86th minute. This was the zenith of his career and he knew it. No extravagant jubilation, nothing out of the usual. He clapped his hands and walked away. He will remember that chilly night in Kaliningrad for the rest of his life. Full time and Belgium top the group with 9 points. 

I make my way down the stadium. And it was lit. The stadium lights up at night and it was blue and like Sankt Peterburg, this stadium also looked like spacecraft landed down here. I went out and called my Kochi mates and they said they will meet me out in the exit. So in Russia, when you have nothing to do. You smoke. ( That is why I am struggling with nicotine addiction now :p)

So while I was having the smoke, I meet a lot of Indians. The cape of a flag on my back makes it easy to  identify that I am loud and proud to be Indian( I like to identify myself as a supporter of team India more than any nationalistic pride.) Then while I was having the smoke an another mate is also smoking. So since I was bored I made conversation. ( This single action would have a butterfly effect which would change the way I see people for the rest of my life) 

( So always fucking say hi to as many people as you can.)

We talk football and I was surprised to learn that he played 3rd division football in St Petes. He flew down here to watch the game. And since my next destination was St Petes, I thought we could trade numbers. He ran outa smokes and I offer him mine( or was it the other way around?, I don’t remember). And we get on a bus and make our way to the railways station. I told my Kochi bois I will come to the hotel. And I am off with this really tall Russian dude I just met. We go to Macdonalds and have a McTasty and that things is the dope. After that we say good bye and go our separate ways. His name was Anton.

Back home, my mom says don’t walk the streets after 10. I have been raised to believe that all things sinister and dangerous happen at night ( statistically, thats true), so when I am out on the streets of a foreign city past 12, naturally I get these self conscious vibes that something bad about to happen. I lose my cool and I get on the first bus I see. I feel like I am being watched, that feeling where your conscious says fuck off asap. I listened to it. Flip side being, I am on the wrong bus. And I get out on a place further from the city in a more shady area.  Good going Yadu. 

But as I have been saying all this time, Russians are babes and one babe comes from the same bus and helps me out to get the bus. I love you Russia. I don’t know how many times I need to say this and the best parts are yet to come. So I am on my way back to the city centre and using my male privileges, I am riding solo on a bus outside Kaliningrad at 12 30 in the night. I reach the centre and it is paaaaarty time. This was the last game in Kaliningrad and everyone was out to make sure that it would be one they would remember for years to come. This time it wasn’t two armies preparing for battle. It was bloody D- Day. An amalgamation of both set of supporters plus everyone else were out on the streets dancing singing and just living life. This was life, but as I said before, that unease had taken over me and I wanted to get back to the hotel asap. So I was waiting at the bus stop google had told me about.  And right now, since it was match day, there were a lot of traffic regulations. I had no clue when my bus will come. 

Perfect opportunity to ask a stranger for directions. And that stranger was Yekaterina. You speak English?  Asked the brown guy with an England flag on his cheek and the India flag hanging on his back. She said – “ My….Anglais…bad” 

Good enough.

She was little bit on the shorter side and making conversation was little hard as my gaze discreetly glances at her cleavage and she catches me doing that and pulls her tank top up. 

( For what she lacks in height…… you get me right :p). But she was a sweet bird and took out her app which gave better directions and better on ground info about Russian cities. Russia has an alternative for all apps we use. Yandex for google, Yandex taxi for Uber and then this 2gis for google maps. And she said I can come with her on her bus and she would show me the way. 

I dont know where this night I going, but I like the direction its going in.

Now I am on the bus following this bird to find a seat to sit next to her. And she sits in a corner. ( mixed signals). And to further add to the cock- blocking procedure, some drunk Russian dudes start talking to me, good guys, wanted to know a lot about India. But why now Machans? 

So, the bus takes us closer and closer to the destination and a seat clears up on the seat next to her on the corner here. She takes out her phone, puts on translate and asks. Do you need help getting to your hotel? ( aka if she needs me to come with me to the hotel). 

Before we go any further, I am confident she is above the age of 18 as she studies psychology in the biggest Uni in St Petes and that she likes tequila over vodka and that she was in the stadium today working as a cashier in the Bud shop in the stadium. And she is also from Samara. This is all I know about her. 

I being the Pavam Kochi Karan that I am, said ( Spasiba Nyet) “No thank you”. I know where the hotel was and I can walk towards it. 30 seconds later, it hit me. 

You idiot, you should have taken that interaction forward and see where it went.  

She was cute, but she was not the only Yekaterina I will see in my 34 days in Russia. 

I get back to the room, have a few drinks with the guys and watch the highlights of the Japan game. Japan became the first team to qualify based on fair play points after Senegal got eliminated since they had the same amount of points but one extra yellow card. Savage.

The best day so far in Russia has reached its conclusion, ( could have been better :p)

EP 15 : ONE OF THE LADS

So let me introduce you to the Kochi bois. I was so glad to hear some Malayalam after like 2 weeks. The thirst for a syllable which no one else in the subcontinent can get their tongues around aka “ Pazham” is like a super- power down here, in  this small slice of land born out of a misguided  axe some hairy dude threw from the Himalayas. ( That’s the story of how our state got formed, better than the Baltics though). 

Kochi bois

 

So there was Bala. I knew him from the United fan circles in Kochi, Met him first in Chai Coffee and then in Kahawa ( Where we used to do our match screenings). CET’s finest. A lot of my CET ( Engineering college in Trivandrum)  friends know him cause he was really good at basketball it seems. A really nice guy and a big England fan. And always has a spare smoke on him. Right now working with Ernest and Young. 

Then there was Varun. Varun Desikan.  Tam at heart, but Kochikaran legit. He moved to Kochi the same time I moved to Chennai. A big Brazil fan and also a hardcore vegetarian.( Which makes life  difficult if you are travelling around Europe). He owns a business in Kochi and was one of the chosen ones who were fortunate enough to visit old Trafford the previous December. A great mate and the first person who got involved with the planning and ticketing process with me. 

Every firm needs a Major ( Green street Hooligans) , but our firm has a Mayor. Yes, thats what we call him.  I think his real name is Saddaquat. But he is the childish life of the bunch. He is married and has kids and is a proper family man. He is also a fan of England and was there to make sure the colours of MUSCK( Manchester United Supporters Club Kerala) was flying high. 

Then there were the two chartered accountants. JK and Arjun. These guys were slightly closer to my age, by slightly I mean like 24 years old. I had used JK’s winter coat when I went to Kasol and we both loved two things the most. MUFC and KBFC( Kerala Blasters Football Club). Arjun was the quite guy of the lot, but when he did open his mouth something funny always came out. They also worked at E&Y.

There was one more mate, Ashok. I had just met him there and he was a Chelsea twat but also a chill dude.

So it was match day. England vs Belgium. 

Bala had a spare England kit which he was kind enough to offer to me. Now I am full on geezer. 

Ok, so throughout this article, you might come across new terminologies which are a byproduct of the Lad culture which English society and more specifically English football have come to embrace. How did I come to embrace this?

The culprit is an English bird named Judith. She unsuspiciously put these psychological cues in my head where I get drawn into this fan culture where disparaging your opponent is the most fun thing after having a few pints with the lads. ( I Got played Juds, guess we are even  :p) 

So, she taught me a lot of phrases and chants which sort of makes me a geezer( self-attested). A geezer is someone who is English, drunk, working class, and always trying to create a scene. Also loves supporting the 3 lions :p. 


We are on the bus to the central square of the city. This is where things get exciting. It was like two armies setting up camp opposite to each other. Prepping their ranks for the big fight which was about to ensue. The English had laid claim to the marshes next to the Macdonalds. It was my first taste of travelling English fans. They are notorious for being a bit drunk and rowdy, but when your teams playing a world cup game, you have every right to be. Don’t you?

There were flags everywhere. From Crewe Alexandria to Everton to Nottingham. Every small club in England had their fans here with their club on the cross of St George. This was like they have invaded Kaliningrad. Mates had set up shop in an open air bar and were just enjoying the sun in the ground smoking a fag and drinking Russian beer with their shirts off.

 

 

 

 

If you cross the road and walk 50 meters West, you will see a burgeoning mass of red and black and yellow. The Belgians had taken over the central square, they were slightly more creative. They had dressed up as red devils and that Asterix dude from the comics. They even were dancing on the fountains. They had proper birds on their side unlike the English. I was revelling in this.

 

 

 

Two teams, two sets of fans and a hot day where you just feel like going around and talking to everyone and just get wasted. And that was the priority now. Get booze. 

Since the English had come, getting booze was a rather a challenging proposition. The line for the beer had grown very long. But the primary prerequisite to becoming a geezer is getting drunk and I was willing to sacrifice any amount of time for that. So on the line, the English were very happy that a dude from India had come all the way to Russia to support their team.  I even hugged a Man City fan( Something which under normal circumstances would be blasphemous,disgusting and unatural). They were kind of surprised I didn’t give a a fuck about cricket, being Indian. ( Proving one cultural stereotype wrong everyday since 97 :p). 

Two beers down and a couple of smokes latter I was buzzing and so were the English fans. So I went to the bar that they had held siege. They were on the table chanting. This is what I live for. Chanting with the lads, I joined in and thanks to Juds, I knew a few of the chants too. It was rabid. We were singing about a homo-erotic relationship with the coach of England ( Looking back to where we first met……)to how the RAF shot down German bombers( There were 9 German bombers in the air…). 

God save the queen. 

While I was chanting with the lads in the bar. I met two blokes, who, over the course of the day would help me experience the “ authentic geezer experience”. Meet Courtney and Tom. Both from Nottingham, but from the polar opposite sides of it in terms of football ideology. Tom’s  Nottingham Forrest and Court’s Notts county. But Court was wearing a Arsenal kit which, on a day like today was a bit of a bad omen :p.( They were kind enough to invite me to Nottingham to watch games there. Defo for the Euros lads, its time something came home)

 

 

  They were really good lads and again, the support from their colonial cousin  made them really interested. I showed them my stadium and my team (KBFC) and told them how football in India is moving in the right direction( maybe not at the required  pace, but still motion is motion). And the moment of validation from geezers that I qualify to be one, just made my day.

 

Now we make plans to get mental. We make our way around the place, joining in on any shenanigans we can find. A Russian media house interviewed me during this time. They asked me what I thought of Russia. I told them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That this was one of the most awesome countries on earth and that the people are pure babes and I absolutely love this place. He asked me if I was concerned about my safety before I came. To which my answer was a yes. The western media had made Russia look like it was Grand theft Auto played by a 11 year old coke-head who was racist and also had constipation every alternate day of the week. Which was further from the truth than anything else. The main culprits are BBC and the SUN and since I was drunk, I think I explicitly told that both of them wankers can go and suck themselves off. ( If someone finds that, please share it with me.)

 

 

Then came the birds, I don’t know if I have extensively wrote about birds in the blog yet. But birds here  ARE THE BEST IN THE WORLD.PERIOD. I know, this is my first visit abroad and all, but I don’t see how things can get any better from here. And these guys knew exactly what keys to turn with the birds. We were randomly approaching every fit bird we can find. It was so much fun, most of them didn’t speak English and most of them pointed at the ring on their fingers. It was so funny. We handed over the phone to a fit bird who was selling phone covers in the FIFA Merchandise store and wouldn’t take the phone back without her number. You should have seen her face become like a strawberry when she started blushing. It was insane. 

We met other English fans, but club rivalries were sending still prevalent. Court’s Arsenal kit made sure that every Spurs fan had a passive aggressive vibe every time we met them, these weren’t the run of the mill footie fans. These guys had tattoos of their legends on their back and looked exactly like the dude from Green Street Hooligans who kills Pete. Scary but also, respects. These are the people who grew up supporting their club with the kind of loyalty that can be compared to substance addiction or even worse -religion.  Then we found a crusader knight with a world cup trophy and we made sure we kissed it more than teenagers learning how to tongue. ( The trophy I mean) 

 

Now it was like 2 hours before the game and the lads were going mental. One mate jumped off the roof of the bar to a group of even more drunk geezers hoping to catch him, then the chants got more and more loud as people were slowly making their way to the stadium. A women randomly comes and gifts Court and me some gifts. Kaliningrad was or still is Europes largest producer of  Amber and the stuff is kinda expensive too. She gave me a flower sorta thing and gave Court a pyramid made of marble. Like I told ya, Russians were so happy we were here that they even gifted us stuff. I LOVE YOU RUSSIA. 

 

Then we made our way into the McD to grab something to eat. Then guess what,  all 3 of us are or were employees at some point of time at Mac. They were still working there and had their employee discount cards out. We made the cashiers so confused and it was so funny. I even read the name of the bird who was cashing – ALEXANDRA, it was written in Russian so brownie points for that. ( She gave a free catchup, what a babe (( In Europe, condiments are not free)) )

They said no discounts for McD employees outside Russia. Fuck.

So we had our food and was out of the joint on our way to shuttle buses which would take us to the game. We get into a bus chanting – “ Its coming home”. We were greeted( I’d say rather screamed back at ) by a rowdy group of Belgium fans like us. Now things get interesting. 

To be continued………