What Shahidul and his friends of Sonartori Football club did, epitomises the hype created over the World Cup football in Bangladesh. This tiny football club from a distant village of Bangladesh's Faridpur district has prepared a 1500 feet long flag of Brazil and organized a rally with their massive cloth offering. Another crazed fan of the Argentina football team has painted his entire eight-storied building in light blue and white stripes; this is how he is showing his devotion for his team, Argentina.
But what is the story behind this fanatical support for countries which have almost no connection with Bangladesh except during the time of this quadrennial extravaganza. Ataul Karim a young man from Dhupkhola says, “I have seen my father and uncles support Argentina. Perhaps that's the reason behind my support but the fact is I am a fan of Argentina, that's all what matters to me.” Shumon Rahman a student of Stamford University has shaved his entire head and tattooed the Brazilian flag on it. He says, “If Brazil wins the World Cup, I will continue this haircut and tattoo for my whole life.”
Probably the new generations of Bangladeshis have inherited the unwavering loyalty for Brazil and Argentina from their parents whose enthusiasm for these countries started with Pele and Diego Maradona, two icons of World Cup football in the 70s and 80s. Touhidul Haque, a secretary to the Bangladesh government says, “In our university we had a look alike of Maradona among us. In 1986 when that curly haired magician made that famous “hand of the god goal” we dressed our look-alike friend in an Argentina jersey, put him on our shoulders and had a rally celebrating Argentina's victory. It fell as if we had Maradona right with us.” This no doubt explains how we have inherited our frenzied support for football playing countries like Argentina and Brazil, countries that are half a world away from ours.
Football fever has reached crazier levels at the Dhaka University (DU)campus. Students of all the residential halls have been divided into two groups: supporters of Brazil and supporters of Argentina. Dormitory buildings have been wrapped with gigantic flags of these football playing countries. Rakib Hasan, a residential student of Zohurul Huq Hall says, “Several giant screens and projectors have been installed in the DU campus. During the whole summer vacation, we shall pass every night before these screens; enjoying the sport with fried Muri and chanachur.”
All the hangout places of DU like TSC, Hakim Chattar, Madhu's Canteen etc have been taken over by the football aficionados. Young men and women wearing jerseys of their favourite teams are seen all the time arguing over their team's chance of glory. Umme Ayman Kashmi a student of the Department of English, DU sporting a Germany jersey says, “As a supporter of Germany sometimes I feel a bit lonely among the mass of Brazil and Argentina fans. But I really like German players such as Mesut Ozil.” Rahul Sen and Umma Sumayia Barsha, students of the Marketing department of DU both claim that they have been supporters of Brazil all their lives. “We want to see Brazil as the champion of the tournament at any cost. Our hearts will be broken if Brazil can't take the World Cup,” says Barsha.
Israt Akter Jhuma a friend of Rahul and Barsha has a different story. She was a fan of the Spanish football team but after Spain's disastrous defeat against Netherlands she has decided to switch her support to Argentina.
Like Dhaka, youths of Chittagong have turned the city into a place of celebration. Committees have been formed with names like “Argentina Supporters' Committee”, “Brazil Supporters' Committee” etc. Moinul Islam Khan is the President of Argentina Supporters' Committee and he says, “Like every other year we will install a giant screen at Cheragi Pahar to enjoy the matches of our team Argentina.” When asked what they had done when Argentina lost the game last year Khan replies, “It was a sad day. We had to flee from the spot leaving our projectors and screen behind to avoid being beaten up by the angry mob of Argentina supporters. We had formed a procession challenging that very match between Argentina and Germany. But this year we hope that Argentina will be the champion.”
But for some this season of football brings good fortune. Seasonal business men like Abul Hosen and Md Khokon Mia have been earning a lot by selling flags of football playing countries and jerseys of famous players. Md Khokon Mia has been using his rickshaw van for carrying and selling jerseys. He says, “Actually I used to pull this van for my livelihood. But this world cup has given me the chance to earn good cash by doing less work. I have bought these jerseys from Bangabazar and now they are selling like hot cakes.”
Abul Hosen a seasonal flag seller makes a valid argument. He says, “Yes I am happy with this business of selling flags. But when I sell a Brazilian flag, I advise the buyer to buy a Bangladeshi flag of a same size with it. It makes me feel sorry to see such big foreign flags dominating tiny flags of our own country. I wish I could give them Bangladeshi flags free of cost.”
Every four years the football fever engulfs Bangladesh. From toddlers to grannies, everybody enjoys the game with equal enthusiasm. Seeing this unbridled interest, can't we hope that one day Bangladesh will also be a part of this tournament not just as a simple audience but as a significant competitor?
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