a Passion, a Culture
Another electrifying season of European football is over, with a classic Champions League final between two European giants Barcelona and Manchester United. Though our domestic football league is not gaining much popularity, the adrenaline rush of the matches and the events surrounding the European football has reached, touched and thrilled the hearts of the football fans of Bangladesh.
Barcelona, probably the best performing team in the last season,
winning the La liga and the Champions League. Photo: AFP
Many cafes and restaurants are arranging live telecast of the important matches.
Photo: Zahedul I Khan
It was more than an hour past midnight on May 29. It's a time for most of us to sleep after a rough day, for some of the young hearts to chat over the phone or an online messenger with their significant ones, for the night owls, it's the most soothing time of the day to watch their favourite movie or television series. But on the midnight of May 29, a groups of football afficionados in Bangladesh were glued to the television screen, some at their residence, some at the common room of the students' hall, some at a posh restaurant, savouring every moment of the EUFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona. Every pass was diligently followed, as any could be the making of a spectacular goal; every dribbling and tackling had to be scrutinised to appreciate the mesmerising skill of the footballer. Classes in the next morning or urgent meeting at the office didn't matter to these football enthusiasts. With the ever increasing strenuous lifestyle, with the decreasing number of open fields, watching football matches has become almost the sole way of keeping in touch with the game for its passionate followers.
The fans in discussion here are not those who excite themselves with the drama of the football World Cup for two months in every four years and then bid goodbye to the game for the next four. These fans watch or keep themselves updated with all the important football events throughout the year. “Due to time constraint I cannot watch all the matches. But I religiously check the football websites to learn about the standings and the important events every day,” says Haseeb, an engineer at a telecom vendor company. Despite the busy schedule of life, keeping in good touch with the world of this game is really important for these 'real' fans; “I am passionate about this game; not just because I love watching it but because I have played this game and I know how it feels like,” explains Haseeb. For Auyon, a consultant at the World Bank, his childhood attachment with this game is also something that makes him a football enthusiast; “I used to live in Manchester when I was young. I used to watch Manchester United play. I loved the energy, the team spirit, the crowd, the skill of the footballers. Though I am a Manchester United fan, I appreciate football more than I appreciate my favourite club. I love the sport,” he says.
Though these football fans are always up-to-date with the international football, especially with the European one, they are barely interested in the Bangladeshi league football. Prosenjit, a student at the Sir Salimullah Medical College, used to follow Bangladeshi club football when he was young but “the Bangladeshi footballers I used to like do not play now. And there was a time when the local clubs started hiring a lot of unfamiliar footballers from foreign countries, especially from Africa. As I didn't know those players, I lost interest in the local leagues and stopped watching,” he mentions. He says that the poor quality of the football ground hampers the pace of local football. He hopes foreign coaches can at least teach us the tactics and strategies to play better football. But he admits that the fitness and the skill of the footballers of Bangladesh are very difficult issues to improve. Still, he tries to keep himself informed of the results and standings of the local league matches via newspapers.
But Evan, a university student, doesn't have the slightest interest in Bangladeshi leagues. “A Real Madrid versus Barcelona match is termed El Classico and we call a Mohammedan versus Abahani match- Hell Classico!” he taunts. According to him, the way Bangladeshi cricket has improved, Bangladeshi football hasn't; the quality of the football ground and the quality of the game have dropped. He states that nowadays footballers are not recruited on the basis of skill but are recruited regarding how much money they can pay. “Due to the lack of money, absence of good coaches and mismanagement, Bangladeshi football is losing popularity. We can see competitions like 'Pacer Hunt' here but there's no such thing for football,” adds Evan.
For a football enthusiast like Auyon, who has grown up watching the English Premier League (EPL), Bangladeshi league football is way too below- standard. “I don't find it appealing or attractive or glamorous. None of my friends watch it, neither do I. If I have to watch anything on TV, I rather watch something with better quality,” says Auyon. According to Haseeb, the engineer cum footfall fan, besides the quality of the local football another major problem is the broadcast issue; “there's no definite schedule of the matches; none of the important matches are advertised beforehand for the fans to follow. The local channels barely broadcast live matches. Only the Bangladesh Television (BTV) broadcasts the important matches but who watch BTV these days?” complains Haseeb.
The younger generations of football fans in this country were born to an age of ESPN-Star, Ten Sports and Ten Action; to an age of goal.com or football365.com. With the kind of access they have to the European football, it is only natural for them to become European football followers. To a slightly older generation, the story is different. Many of our football fans watched their debut match in a World Cup. With minimal access to the satellite channels, they were only exposed to Bangladeshi football throughout the year. But with the advent of satellite channels and internet, people started leaning towards international football, especially towards European football. And it's not just the access that created this huge fan club of European football in Bangladesh. “When I watch a national team play, I get to see the best players of a single nation. But when I watch club matches, I get to see all the best players of all footballing nations. This makes club football very interesting. And all the best players of the world are currently playing for different European clubs,” says Evan to explain his reasons for following European football. For fans like Haseeb or Auyon, the reason is more about sentiments. Haseeb watched his first Champions League final in 2003 when AC Milan won; since then he has been a huge AC Milan fan and hence the Italian league- Serie A- is his most favourite European domestic league. For Auyon, it's the EPL.
With four El Classicos, with some stunning goals, with some out-of-the-world performances and with some cliffhanging matches, the last footballing season was a treat for the fans. The extraordinary football from Messi, Ronaldo's astonishing 10 goals in the last four matches in La Liga, Manchester United's journey in the EPL from a slow start to the championship, the Rooney saga about leaving Manchester United, Abidal's epic comeback after recovering from cancer, Pique's romance with the pop queen Shakira, Jose Murinho's entrance as Real Madrid's coach, the Guardiola-Murinho controversy were some of the memorable events from the last season. But who has the time to ponder over the past? This is the beauty of football. With every new season, it comes with the promise of newer and better events, incidences, controversies and of course- football- the majestic game itself.