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    Volume 9 Issue 28| July9, 2010|

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Watching the Beautiful Game in a Beautiful place

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Bangladesh is experiencing a fever unparalleled in her history. Fortunately this fever does not afflict the body like other fevers, but rather has gifted this country with an ambience akin to a carnival or a festival. That's right, it is football fever I am talking about. Whether it is a shanty neighbourhood in Dhaka, a provincial town in Noahakhali or a remote village in Lalmonirhat, football fever is everywhere. Considering Bangladesh's ranking in football is a very sorry 157, the enthusiasm surrounding football is astounding, quite unparallel to any sporting event, including the World Cup Cricket tournament where Bangladesh actually gets to participate. Even in the international media which, by and large remembers Bangladesh only during more turbulent periods of natural and man- made disasters, the euphoria surrounding ' the Beautiful Game' has received widespread coverage.

For the more affluent populace, there are the fashionable food joints to enjoy the World Cup on mega-size screens. The most famous of such places is The Bench, Bangladesh's first sports café. Even during European League matches, The Bench's luxurious lounges are packed with passionate sports fans, who enjoy the lavishness of this sports café, and can fulfill their whims more enthusiastically by ordering drinks from the trendy juice bar or snacks from the kitchen, with professional and well mannered attendants making sure that their customers are able to enjoy the games to the fullest. Previously, Bangladeshis could only dream about such a place where people can gather together to watch live matches along with friends and enjoy some quality time, complete with snacks and drinks. Now they do not have to look any further.

“Previous World Cups were fun, but the craze surrounding this World Cup is extraordinary. Before, we would get together, hire projectors and watch the games in our homes. The atmosphere in The Bench is more vibrant than other food joints, obviously because it has been designed as a sports café,” commented Anik, a student from IUB a frequent visitor to this place.

Inside The Bench, Bangladesh's first sports café. Photo: zahedul i khan

On July 2 and July 3, The Bench had a difficult time accommodating the enthusiastic crowds who had rushed long before 8 o' clock, to enjoy the games of their favourite teams playing in the Quarterfinals. After Argentina was thrashed by Germany, a young boy was running with an egg in his hand in the road in front of the café. “I am only looking for my elder brother,” he explained. "Yesterday after Brazil lost, he threw an egg at my face. I was just waiting for the final moments of to-day's match for the Argentine defeat. I ran out to get the egg from the store, but it looks like my brother already suspected I would do this and fled. I guess he won't even be returning home today.”

Although the sole sports café in town, Bench is not the only food place where sports fans can enjoy the games. Floor 6, a popular food joint located in Banani Road no. 11 also boasts a mega-size screen and some delicious food to go with it. During world cup games, the place is packed, but on July 2 and July 3, the management had a real challenge accommodating the hordes of spectators who had come to witness the games of their favourite (or their least favourite) team. Another place that football fans like to frequent during this World Cup is the X Lounge, located opposite Banani Super Market that also has a mega-screen at its premises.

As Brazil went out of the World Cup, and their heart broken fans tried to come to terms with reality, Argentine fans cheered wildly in the cafés and outside in the streets overlooking the restaurants, as they did all over Bangladesh. “It is too early to wait for 24 more hours,” advised an elderly man, undoubtedly an Argentine fan as wealthy teens and street urchins danced together hand in hand in the road waving the Blue and White flag. The youngsters would have done well to heed the advice of the wise old man. The next day, as the German Blitzkrieg broke through the Argentine lines, the Brazilian fans had their revenge. At The Bench and all the other places, every time the images of a heart broken Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi filled the big screens, German supporters, the majority of them originally behind Brazil jeered and taunted the Argentines. By then, as we all know Bangladesh's most popular team was well out of the World Cup, and the fans gradually and silently left the arena. But even their silent exit did not go unnoticed, fans from opposing sides shouting, “Hey why are you leaving, the match is not over,” or “Don't you want Messi to score, he was supposed to win the golden boot,” adding insults to the injuries of the heartbroken Argentine fans.

Open-air World Cup broadcast at The Bench. Photo: zahedul i khan

In spite of such incidents, or more likely because of these incidents, football fans like to visit these places and watch football with the 'crowd' on big screen TVs. “At my home, everybody supports Argentina just like I do. So there is no war of words, which adds to the excitement of football. Here there is much opposition, and I enjoy this competition between rival supporters,” said Russel, a student of North South University as he relaxed in the comfortable sofas of Floor 6. Even when Argentina is losing, I asked him. “Take my word, we are going to win, we are just one goal behind. I have a bet with my friend- if Argentina loses I am going to run publicly with my clothes off,” he asserted confidently. One wonders what eventually happened to this unfortunate young man on that fateful night.

A spectator at Bench also gave away the reason why he likes to frequent this place instead of watching the game from home. “I like the noise and the celebration, especially when Argentina is losing,” said Neeleem a law student who just got back from London.

A dejected Argentine fan at X Lounge. Photo: zahedul i khan

Whatever the reasons for enjoying the games in front of the mega size screens in The Bench, X Lounge, Floor 6 or any other trendy food places, it is likely that with the exit of the two Latino giants, the football fever in Bangladesh just might get a bit milder. At The Bench a frustrated looking young man lights up a cigarette. “Are you an Argentine supporter?” enquired another young man standing besides him. “Yes, how do you know?” said the young man who had just unmindfully lit his cigarette. “You have lit your cigarette backwards,” he replied with a grin.

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