photograph from google

photograph from google

F O O T B A L L …

I remember those brutal summer days as though they were yesterday,

of bare feet kicking an old patched football around,

learning to dribble, to chip and try to dance just as the greats’ swerving sway.

Then came some tattered sports shoes,

hardly sports shoes at all, yet worn proudly as we reenacted the battles of the World Cup,

as we nursed our aching ankles,

our excruciating painful shins,

willfully ignoring our mothers’ calls for us to get back home or else we would be in deep trouble,

shunning our homework for reading snippets in the newspapers of the exploits of the players all living the greatest show on earth.

we trudged on, proudly showing off the bruises, the scraped knees and the sweat soaked t-shirts,

returning home, always ready with a million and one excuses.

And then, in what seemed like an instant, we were treated to the thrill of every game beamed live on our tiny black and white televisions …

The memories will never fade,

… Paolo Rossi scoring three goals, and breaking my 10 year old heart as Italy sent Brazil home in Espana 1982 …

… Diego Armando Maradona slicing through England after his “hand of God” insanity, to score his second goal of the match, the most exquisite goal in history in Mexico 1986 …

… Roger Milla taking Cameroon and Africa and all of us into the heavens in Italia 1990, the old man a “super-sub” …

… Roberto Baggio missing a penalty for Italy in the final at USA 1994, collapsing on his knees as Brazil took the trophy home …

… Zinedine Zidane heading two goals to lift all of France in 1998, to the echoing chorus of “zizou-zizou” …

… Ghana so heartbreakingly close in 2010 South Africa …

… Andres Iniesta scoring in the Final of 2010 for Spain against the Netherlands in my own Johannesburg’s Soccer City, lifting the World Cup high in our African night …

… Johan Cruyff dazzling us all … Siphiwe Tshabalala sending all of South Africa into the stratosphere with the World Cup 2010‘s first goal against Mexico …

… Zinedine Zidane walking past the World Cup after head-butting the Italian Marco Materazzi and receiving a red card …

… the titans of football Brazil being thrashed 7 – 1 by an unstoppable Germany on home soil in 2014 …

… and today Iceland stunned Argentina to 1 – 1 draw in a World Cup shocker …

… and on and on I may go.

Today, much older we are as decades have past, our ankles and our shins no longer in danger of being scythed down on the field of play,

all thanks to encroaching age,

and still the memories flood back,

through all the intervening years,

the ache of having shed our fair share of tears.

Yes, it will always be our beautiful game,

the peoples game,

in the African sunshine,

under the South American skies,

beyond all borders, in icy winter sleet,

in the pouring buckets of rain.

It is the beautiful game,

and may it always,

and forever so remain …

photographs from google

photograph from google

the football of nostalgic youth …

I remember those days of scraped knees,

those days of howling for penalties.

I remember those prized ancient shoes,

the delight of goals scored and wins won, the harsher lessons of being gracious when you lose.

I remember those sprained ankles, those bruises proudly worn as scars of battle,

the clearing away of the manure, on our small pitch that we shared with Delhi’s cows and cattle.

How can I ever forget those tattered old footballs, stitched together with painstaking love,

how can I ever forget the 40° Delhi heat, the sweat pouring off me, as the summer sun blazed above.

How can I ever forget the newspaper clippings of football news from around the world, every word imbibed over again,

the sliding tackles, the splashing water as we trudged on through the puddles of monsoon rain.

How can I ever forget those girls who came to watch us at times, my curses tempered for those few minutes of proud dribbling, of free-kicks taken with much extravagant pride,

how can I ever forget the scuffed chances and my wayward passes, each embarrassing moment when I found myself with no place to hide.

My reminiscences, my nostalgia burnished by the passing years, now untainted memories often unfurled,

as that team of my friends lie scattered all across this world.

My memories may be foggy, my mind swirling with pure thoughts of those olden days,

as the clock of approaching age gnaws, and bays.

Our WhatsApp groups, BBM messages, our Skype talks and our emails today, all holding onto those threads of youthful bliss, together spent,

as we ache to hold onto slivers of irrepressible joy, not knowing where the intervening years hurriedly went.

Today I think back to that younger me,

when the future was a blank slate I could not see,

that younger me, resting under the shade of our generous majestic tree,

those days when I was unshackled, without the knots that today imprison me,

I know that selective amnesia seduces me, shrouding my memories in an armoured shield,

ah! but what would I not give,

what would I not do,

for just a few moments,

to be back,

on our sun-baked football field …

photographs from google