The atmosphere here is almost as if a festival is on. Far away from Russia, Kolkata is gripped in FIFA World Cup fever, with enthusiastic and energetic fans, both young and old, cheering for their favourite teams.
Kolkata, often known as the football hub of India, is decorated with flags, banners, festoons, flexes, wall paintings and somewhere even pandals to celebrate and cheer for their teams. The biggest divide which is often witnessed among football fans in Kolkata is between supporters of Brazil and Argentina.
Scenes of skirmish are often a common sight during football matches when fans sit at a community gathering in their paras (colonies) watching either of their teams playing.
Debobrata Dasgupta, a young fan who supports the Brazilian team, has made it a point to never miss a single match, be it of FIFA or otherwise. He said that he is confident that Brazil would once again lift the World Cup this time. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Debobrata said, “Football is inherent in all Bengalis; we have been playing football since our childhood and World Cups have always been like a festive season in Bengal. Every day, all the football fans of our para (colony) sit together and watch every match. During the matches, the environment completely changes with enthusiasm, energy and some arguments; it is a completely different scene here.”
While driving down some areas in South Kolkata and Central Kolkata, the enthusiasm among Bengalis over the football World Cup could be gauged through the elaborate arrangements of tents at every club for the community viewing of football matches, flags and posters of Argentina and Brazilian players strung on the colony streets and from the large cut-outs of Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, Maradona and other players. Wall paintings of the World Cup, famous football players and each other’s favourite countries are also visible in these areas, along with discussions of last night’s football match at every tea stall.
A stop by at a breakfast stall near Phoolbagan in Central Kolkata gives one a sense of how Bengalis are immersed in the World Cup. Over hearing a conversation between a middle aged man and a young office goer, who was busy discussing the previous night’s match over their cup of tea, it was clear how passionate every Bengali is about football.
Rabindra Pally Yuvak Sangha Club in Jadavpur, South Kolkata, is one of the largest fan clubs of Argentina in Kolkata. They have done massive arrangements for this year’s World Cup, putting up a large screen on their club premises, organising small football matches during the day for young football lovers, and several educative classes on football for school-going children in the locality.
Members of the club also have made plans to celebrate the birthday of Argentina’s captain Lionel Messi on 24 June with a cake-cutting ceremony and a community dinner for all their members and locals. According to Uttam Saha, secretary of the club, the club had also celebrated when former Argentina captain Maradona had visited Kolkata, by cutting a 5.5 feet cake, based on the height of the former Argentina captain.
Saha, 50, told The Sunday Guardian, “We are football lovers and Argentina is like our own country. Despite the fact that we are thousands of miles away from Argentina, we feel a special connect with that country when it comes to football. Messi and Maradona have been like gods in football. Bengalis have football in their blood.”
“One important thing one will notice here in Kolkata is the stark divide between the Brazilian and Argentinian fans. When an argument breaks out, both the parties feel so strongly for their respective countries that at times they forget that the person they are arguing with is their neighbour and neither of them has anything to do with either Brazil or Argentina. The excitement among the young generation is also equally visible and I am happy that the football frenzy in Kolkata has not died down,” Saha added.
Argentinian fans have not lost hope even after their “team” lost to Croatia 0-3. A fan, Ashutosh Sarkar said, “This is the last World Cup for Messi and as a Messi fan and fan of Argentina something like this will not deter us from supporting them. We will support Argentina now and forever. We are confident that the team will stage a massive comeback.”