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     Volume 4 Issue 15 | October 2, 2004 |

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Soured Soccer Afternoon

Imran H. Khan

Two things are possible in a soccer game: you either win…or you are not prepared enough to win. There is no such thing as a 'lucky win' in soccer. It's all hard work, dedication and teamwork. Keeping all this in mind, I entered the field behind my seasoned team mates, my heart going into overtime and the adrenalin and pressure of the match slowly but surely sinking into me.

On that auspicious day, I entered the field amidst shouts of more than two hundred fans. Such pressure will surely make anyone's feet wobble but not me. My concentration was more on my coughing that I had developed playing in the rain two days back. My coughing motion could not be described as anything other than the giration of a hip-hop street rapper, getting 'jiggy' with his favourite gig. I drew my breath in as it was an important day. It was not just any game, I was playing soccer representing my university... North South University.

A week had not passed in the Stamford Inter Private University Football Tournament 2004, organised by Auritro, but the football fever had already set in. The first game between North South University and Daffodil University had ended with a score of 5-0 in favour of NSU. Every win was a boost and with every boost, we were nearing our goal. Our goal was to win and since I have come back to where I had started, let me give a little prep-talk about our next match.

We had come across many teams; some organised and skillful while others who simply would not get their jerseys sweaty. But no other team had we faced so far had the moral advantage than that of our next challenger…a team that would surely put out boots to the test. We were about to face IBAIS University and their source of inspiration centred on their two forwards, or should I say their national forwards Milon, Captain to Shekh Russel Club and Rokib, Abahoni's Captain. This was surely going to be 80 minutes of hell but we had a score to settle, even if we had to beat it out of the 'devil'. Soon we were in the field amongst bursts of cheers but I had little time to hear anything as my eyes were glued to the IBAIS team. Not only were they tall and sturdy, they had a rather mean look on their face, almost as if they were going to chew on us and spit us out.

The whistle blew and the game was on.
One minute into the game: Possession did not seem to be a problem, for IBAIS University that is. They were playing to their star strikers who in turn, were passing the ball back, teasing and taunting us to attack. Being the centre-back, it was my job to keep my attention on Milon and Rokib as they posed the major threat. But I was becoming cross-eyed as both the players were constantly on the go, especially Milon who seemed to be trying to lose his shadow. IBAIS University was trying their best to take our players out of their zones in order to make a fast break. An early goal would surely put the other team at a disadvantage and dampen their spirit.

15 minutes: They were quick with their attacks and managed to break through our defense twice. Thanks mostly to Rokib and his passes to Milon, these national players skilfully dribbled and weaved past our defence line. Off-side trap applied and failed, Milon broke from the crowd and charged towards the goal, defender Farhan hot on his tracks. Rudro, NSU's keeper seemed to sense the blemish in the defence line and came forward to try and tackle Milon but he came one step too far. Milon saw the gap between Rudro and the bar-post and lobbed the ball over him. The ball moved, as if in slow motion, and … dipped towards the goal. All eyes were glued to it. I was the closest to it as I rushed to make a save but I, too, seemed to move in slow motion. My spirit whizzed past but my body was unresponsive, languid and leaden. Not a sound; dead air. The ball cut through the wind and then we all heard it: the disheartening smash as it landed on the net. Goal. 1-0 in favour of IBAIS.

38 minutes: There was a series of strikes and counter-strikes, all-resulting fruitlessly. Finally Kashef, NSU's star striker, got the ball in his favourite position and he started his dribbling. Swerving right he weaved past the first IBAIS defender and then another and then he took his shot. Again that cessation of noise. The whole field was quiet as fate took its toll. The goalie decided to dive but was not fast enough and watched desperately as the ball beat him. NSU had equalised the goal and the game was back on track. The crowds cheered and the ecstatic players huddled together to celebrate, all the aches and bruises forgotten. Within minutes, the referee blew the whistle and it was time for the half-time break.

My cough by now had turned chronic and my throat was a festival of fireworks. As we lay sprawled on the ground, we looked like scattered bodies on a battlefield, some being treated, ankles being sprayed and Band-Aids being passed with the casualness of gum. The "healers" here were Salahin our manager and Ashiq our assistant manager. By now I had surpassed the contortions of the hip-hop and was doing the "Jitterbug" except that my movements were not attracting others. In fact most, carefully, took a stance further away. Only the coach was brave enough to come close and offer advice on losing my dance steps. Our coach Shahid Uddin Ahmed Selim, one of the top officials to Brothers Union knew exactly what to do, and soon I was as good as new.

42 minutes: We started off strongly, now that we knew that this team posed no special threat other than the 'fear factor'. We were soon on the attack again but their goalie made a remarkable save. Unfortunately, his goal-kick was not too powerful and it ended up with Reefat, NSU's mid-fielder who managed to score a remarkable second for NSU. Within ten more minutes, Wazed scored a third goal for NSU.

With my cough interrupting my play, I thought it wise to be substituted. Soon the game was back in full swing. Suddenly IBAIS scored their second goal. Tears start to roll down my eyes as I realised this might not have happened if I was still on the field (cough and all).

83 minutes: Why was the referee not blowing the whistle? Extra time should have been up by then. As the suspense grew, so did our open mouths. In the dying minutes of the game, there was a huddle in NSU's penalty box for the last shot of the game. IBAIS took their best shot but Rudro was well up to the challenge. They took a second shot but Anup, Farhan and Shommu, the backbone of NSU's defense were all there, putting everything on the line…minds, heart and body. Ultimately it was the body that took the beating but in that panicked moment, tragedy struck and IBAIS University scored their third. But wait, the linesman had his flag up…it's an offside and the goal was no more. It was like waking up from a nightmare only…only…the referee was not looking at the offside call and was signaling for centre.

We were shouting in protest, pointing to the linesman but the linesman seemed to have changed his decision. He now had his hands down and was nodding his head in the 'no' gesture. Why did he act so 'biased', I wondered? His change of heart cost us the game as we ended up with a score of 3-3, seconds away from victory. I consoled myself with the fact that we had all given our 110% and after all it was all about playing the game. But something in my heart told me something foul had happened, something that I had never hoped to witness in local soccer...'politics' had entered into its realm.


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