A football fan painting the flag of Brazil on a corrugated iron sheet fence at the capital's Ahmedbagh in Sabujbagh as the nation prepares for the World Cup. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq
As the greatest sporting spectacle of the world, the FIFA World Cup 2014, draws nearer the excitement among the country's football supporters and the demand for merchandise -- be it flags, jerseys, wristbands, posters, key-rings, bandanas or car stickers of favourite teams -- have now reached a fever pitch, especially in the capital.
Although Bangladesh are light years away from qualification for the showpiece event the way supporters celebrate and argue with rival supporters, it seems that it is Bangladesh playing in the World Cup. For a long time and through many editions, Bangladesh's football maniacs have infused the quadrennial global event with a unique, Bangladeshi flavour.
Branding rooftops with the banners of different countries come World Cup time has virtually turned into a part of Bangladeshi culture -- a phenomenon probably not seen anywhere else in the world.
From brick fields to corporate houses, rooftops to treetops, rickshaws to private vehicles flags of countries like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, etc. colour the cityscape. However, the capital's Aminbazar, situated on the Dhaka-Aricha Highway, draws special attention due to the quantity of flags they raise during every World Cup. It has sometimes been seen that as many as 15 to 20 flags of either Argentina or Brazil decorate a single rooftop.
“Hoisting flag in this area started during the 1982 World Cup and reached its climax before the 1990 World Cup because Toyota used the picture of Maradona on their vehicles after the 1986 World Cup. That encouraged the people of this area, most of who were involved in the motor sector,” said 65-year-old Hazi Mohmmad Amzad Hossain.
“Hoisting flags on rooftops has now turned into a competition among the young generation. One of my grandsons, who is studying in class III, forcefully took Tk 300 from me and hoisted a Brazil flag,” said 74-year-old Ahsanullah.
Amzad Hossain and Ahsanullah may not stay up nights due to their advanced years but members of the young generation like salesman Abu Naimur Raju, car driver Rubel Mia and businessman Mohammad Ripon are eagerly anticipating night time vigils for their favourite Argentina and Brazil, even at the risk of compromising their jobs.
“I will drive my car half-day during the World Cup,” said Rubel.
“Each World Cup comes once in four years, so I can sacrifice a few days to watch my favourite Argentina,” said electronics businessman Ripon while Raju and his friends plan to get their hands on a projector to watch the matches on a giant screen.
World Cup merchandise is big business now and businessmen ranging from street hawkers to posh retailers are cashing in on the fervour, especially after the underwhelming response to the ICC World Twenty20 at home. Items range in price from flags at Tk 10 to replica Brazuca balls available at Tk 2,200.
“We have already sold approximately 5,000 jerseys priced between Tk 600 and Tk 1200 and we have achieved 70 per cent of our sales target,” said Inter Sports' account officer Abu Sayeed Riad, adding that sales of local replicas of the Brazuca ball has also been good.
“Initially we did not import a lot of jerseys in fear of low sales like during the ICC T20 World Cup but this time, we have had to meet demand by bringing in goods from other shops,” said Nazimuddin, a shareholders of Sports Pavilion at Elephant Road.
Echoing Nazimuddin's sentiment, Omar Chisty Sunny, owner of Sports Centre at Twin Tower in Gulistan, said, “We are not prepared for such responses from fans because we feared a repeat of the fans' disinterest like during the ICC World Twenty20. The reality is that the demand is ten times higher than our calculations.”
Sunny said that approximately three crore local and imported jerseys from three wholesale markets -- Twin Tower, City Plaza and Gulistan Shopping Complex -- are expected to be sold.
Street hawkers like Mainuddin, Yeasin and Malek at Gulistan are doing brisk business, pocketing Tk 50 to Tk 80 from each jersey while flag vendor Abdul Kudddus is hoping to make Tk 25,000 profit from his stock of 1100 flags.
Such lucrative prospects have even made many reconsider their profession or line of goods. Fish vendor Nurul Islam of Rayerbazar and erstwhile CNG driver Shah Alam have both temporarily abandoned their regular vocations and joined the thousands of merchandise vendors, because the city just cannot get enough of Brazil 2014.