Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 43, Tuesday June 13, 2006


The World Cup: hostage to Superstition

"Curses cannot touch me because I wear my underwear inside out." Now before you start grossing out, yes, a football player did say that. And it was Adrian Mutu that is a name that must be even at least vaguely familiar to those of you reading this. You know Mutu, the Chelsea player, he of the 'coke' scandal?
Your memory fails you? Well no matter. What I wanted to state was the underlying theme of superstition that runs through every football player's veins. You aren't complete unless you are superstitious and let no one (I repeat no-one) tell you otherwise. Most football lovers are a superstitious bunch too and when the World Cup swings by and the nails on your hands decrease at the rate of knots, where else but superstition can you seek solace?
So maybe Adrian Mutu's comments can seem insane to you but hey they aren't in football. The beautiful game may have advanced massively, but its participants remain as rooted in superstition as ever and, whether it is ritual, religion, astrology or witchcraft to which fans, players and coaches turn, none of the 32 teams travelling to Germany will arrive without some kind of superstitious baggage.
But that would take far too long to get into. What we want to concentrate on is how those high and mighty fans (who grossed out at the start of the article!) act when the spotlights on them. When they have twenty friends watching and sneering at them as their team stutters towards a loss that was never meant to happen? Huh? Well maybe you don't do it but someone closely related to you certainly does.
I will relate certain examples (and laugh at them secretly) but most of the names given here have been under the banner of anonymity and I wouldn't want to ruin people' lives by breaking that you know. However be aware that if the names of the people who said such things were to leak out, there would be a lot of discomfort to deal with!!
Person A (under the obvious banner of anonymity) says, “Listening to the game in the bath usually does the trick. I have unique way of doing this. I turn up my TV, get into the washroom put the lid down and sit and concentrate with all my might. I don't watch, I only listen. I first noticed this when England beat Argentina in 2002 when I sat and winced as the Argentines attacked. We stuck it out and a new formula was born! Sadly I couldn't do that in the Brazil game last time and look what happened.”
Can you believe that? (Author rolls eyes in contempt!)
Zafar who has enough belief in his friends and family to shed the shield of anonymity says, “Whenever my team are losing by one goal, I always take off my watch and put it into my pocket. When they equalise I put it back on. I have done this in nearly every game for about 10 years and its worked better than most other things!”
Well Zafar kept doing that to good effect for a long time but alas he lost his watch to the perils of (not Penelope Pittstop) RayerBazar Chipar Goli where it was lost never to be found.
Well let's take a backseat from all those revelations now and try and gain an understanding of what superstition really means. Ask a psychologist, a sociologist or an anthropologist what makes us superstitious - why we queue in market towns for tarot readings, why we fill in our lottery tickets with the same lucky ballpoint every time, and risk back injury avoiding the cracks between paving stones - and they will tell you the same thing. When people feel that they have no control over events, they will suspend their belief in the rational and step into a world where the rules seem more flexible.
That's not a good thing when it comes to real life but when football is concerned and the World Cup specially, real life can take a back seat. After all you are pinning all up(down)surge in your emotions for the next month on something you have no control over. So superstition is a common rationale to fall back into. Would you not say?
Arham would. He has his own unique style of superstition. “I buy a pack of Spout right before the game and I make sure that I eat exactly half in the first half and the rest in the second half. Has worked for me.” No doubt Arham would have fresh breath after the game! Kudos to him for cleanliness if nothing else.
And now we move to Person B who confesses to, “…never going to the bathroom while the match is in progress, no matter how badly I need to go. All relieving comes during half time or after full time.” Curse the fact that there are no commercial breaks in football!
And another claims to have a similar practice of superstition. “ Someone always scores when I go to the loo! So if my team is a goal ahead I make sure I am sitting where I am. It could be us that gets another but I am not taking that chance!”
And now to the mother of all superstitions.
Ehsan has a confession to make. “Call me a looney but I have a last resort when things aren't going too well. Its called flipping channels. If I'm watching the game and Argentina or Man Utd are losing, I flip to Channel 27 on my TV. It sounds stupid, but the games have turned around so many times now that it's absolutely ridiculous.”
Clearly the man never follows the age-old adage of “Never let desperation make you gullible.”
But Ehsan is not alone. There are other hopelessly lost cases like Shayar who confesses to having a tug of war between watching the game or not. “We seem to win games more often if I don't watch them, so I have a dilemma - stay in bed and pray in my sleep or get up and watch us tumble gloriously from the tournament!”
And then there are the religious types like Sajed who says more than a little prayer or two for his team. Hopefully he will put in a little word there for the preceding two.
Football players and coaches aren't immune as well and one example is “Yellow Yellow Dirty Fellow,” whereby Spanish coach Luis Aargones forbid star Raul to wear yellow kits as it apparently disrupted harmony in the squad. And then there is French coach Raymond Domenech who never selects players under the star sign of Scorpio (exit Robert Pires) or too many Leo's because they are sure to “do something daft!”
As for myself, I know now whether to laugh at them, snicker at them or just plain roll my eyes in bemusement.
But before I choose either I'd have to put on my lucky shorts and hope my team comes out on top. Touchwood!

By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

all that glitters and is gold

An apology for my pun would be the very place to start this article, but I don't do apologies, and in some proud instances, I realise that I need not engage in such ego-starving activities after all. This being one of them, I will explain why. Brace yourselves! For that quadrennial attack of soccer fever is about to grip the earth. In this largest of all sporting events, larger by a distance than the Olympics and the Wimbledon combined, is where for thirty days, the teams of thirty-two nations will go head to head until only one is left raising aloft an 11 pound, 18 carat solid gold trophy. Ladies and gentlemen, no sports prize is more coveted.
Now before I fast lose my readers, more my own gender than the converse, it must be clarified that thousands of sports personnel the world over, working for every known type of media are already providing coverage on the world cup, the more zealous walking us down a memory lane that stretches 76 years, trumpeting its merits and over-emphasizing its significance.
I am not one of them. I will not bestow upon you knowledge of 'useful' statistics because quite simply, I know none worthy of distribution. Nor will the galaxy of stars to be elevated during the coming month leave lasting imprints on my memory so much for their skill and feats accomplished on the field as for a certain peculiar hairstyle, or a certain Michael Owen expression. If there are indeed millions of fans that watch not for the game, understand not the rules and are citizens of a nation that does not belong to the 'world' in the World Cup, and is not expected to either in the next couple of centuries, I am, without doubt, one of them.
I refuse to be left out though, left out from feeling the euphoria. I will not let my passport dictate my involvement in the Championship and I have successfully convinced myself that the kick is not in being a member of the elite 32, but in being one of the rest of the hundreds that can enjoy the kick while others aim it. If deriving pleasure is indeed the key mission, which it is, then we reign victorious. Who better than the Bangladeshis at being festive? Who better than the Bangladeshis at making merry given the slightest excuse for it?
Now my excitement may largely be inspired by the fact that I feel Brazil's yellow will compliment my skin tone but more than anything I will admit, it is the tingling anticipation of a month-long party.
I have inwardly debated what sort of a party this should be and the only one ingredient that I seem to be able to settle on is crowds. Large, obstreperous, rowdy crowds. To say the least, if watching a game alone is entertaining, it is only enthralling and everything more with a river of an audience. I don't suspect expanding guest lists will pose any difficulty because big and small, high and low, the world cup wave has engulfed every nook and corner of our city. Having discussed one of the invariables, it is time to move on to the more pressing of concerns. Type, category, classification of get-togethers. I have been witness to enough wishes that Bangladesh would somehow miraculously shift geographically to Europe for the month in question for the sake of watching the games at decent hours but on a more realistic level, I feel the way forward is to make the best of the situation at hand. And who's to complain? Any socialite will verify that as casual and relaxing as day parties may be, it is the ones that stretch into the early hours that have the added aura of mystique and excitement to them.
If time is indeed going to attempt to be a hurdle, we have little say in being directed or obligated rather by the invisible hands of fate towards what I personally feel is the more novel of parties. Sleep-overs, slumber parties, whatever one may refer to them as, staying awake through the night, nibbling on an endless supply of junk food and bickering continually over support is the best place to be with adequate and enjoyable company at one's disposal.
Another suggestion that has been brought to my attention and is apparently much preferred by my male compatriots, is the prospect of wide screen television. A number of options may be considered in this regard, the first of which would be, invited or not, camping up at a friend's place who dares harbour such facilities in the most dangerous of times! Should this fail to be feasible the other alternative left to be resorted to is renting out a projector and enjoying the benefits of seeing larger boots, larger stadiums, larger people and of course larger Raul eyes.
Unfortunately, projectors not being groceries it would be very ambitious to find them as readily available as any other commodity and the only way to make amends is to leave the burden of supply on local event management firms and organizers (and every third person is one or knows one I daresay). Rent would range from an estimated Tk. 3000-5000, a small price to pay for the services rendered and especially so when the cost is split up amongst a large group of people. This is an option apt for college or university students who seem to have no difficulty in obtaining permission to use one of the common rooms or the likes at their respective institutions.
I have noticed how the older generations seem to have an affinity towards one-dish parties and even though my personal taste caters for night-long hooliganism, I can understand how pot-luck dinners would be more fitting for a different group of people. The key is in the game, not in the food or the manner of presentation, and if that can be viewed with desirable friends and family, who am I to chastise a quieter, more civil set of spectators?
I leave you readers with the closing thought that these are mere suggestions. Watch the world cup how you can, where you can and whenever you can (during the three time slots of course). It is after all only one in forty-eight months that we are allowed such priviledges and even if our fellow country men will never lay hands on the shimmering trophy, there is no reason why we should not make the best of times and exploit its bliss from afar because I'm sure you will agree with me in that the world cup is what glitters and truly is gold.

By Subhi Shama Reehu



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