Champions League ,Bloody Hell: Falling in love with the game once again

Champions League ,Bloody Hell: Falling in love with the game once again

The UEFA Champions League had one of its most memorable nights recently when Tottenham Hotspurs played Manchester City in the second leg of the quarter-finals in the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England. A titillating game of football ended with Spurs going through on away goals, but at the end of the day it was, as the cliche goes, the sport and indeed it’s fans who were the ultimate winners.

Man, for all his intents and purposes has been the ruler of this tiny piece of rock floating around the Sun for a minuscule period of the planet’s history. Sure, we’ve been to the moon, sure, we’ve now determined what the gravitational lensing of light makes a black hole look like, sure we have discovered the means where you can read this article as pixels and a translation of codes on an electronic device instead of something crude or rudimentary like writing on paper, which is, well, much more advanced than anything that any other species on the planet have come up with.

And yet, despite all the grand gratifications, the meretricious ornamentations, we, as a species have struggled for answers to the more important questions- why are we here, what is the meaning and purpose of life, how to find happiness and inner peace.

No, no, I am not the person with the answers to those questions. Other men, greater men have tried before me. Some have failed, some have succeeded. Comes down to whichever you think is more suitable and convenient for your own self. Because it all boils down to you. You’re allowed to choose your own answer, you’re allowed to choose your own purpose, you are allowed to your own ideology and opinion.

And in that regard, I think I’ve chosen mine a long, long time ago. And the night where Manchester City squared off against Tottenham Hotspur to play the most beautiful sport humans have come up with just confirmed my hunch.

Close but no sugar for Sterling. Image: Getty Images
Close but no sugar for Sterling. Image: Getty Images

I neither support Tottenham nor despise them. I do not support Manchester City, nor do I hate them. And yet, when everything was said and done, when the entire world saw what it saw but couldn’t believe their very eyes so they just stood in silence not knowing what to say, what to scream, what to cry, I had my hands on my head and my jaw dropped to the floor. ‘Football, Bloody Hell’, ran through my head but I was too numb to say it out even aloud because there was too much to absorb on the night.

How do you explain the most chaotic start to an event ever since the Nazi German Blitzkrieg in Poland, France, and the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Second World War? How do you justify defending from Ederson and Laporte as lapse and hapless as the one the city of Troy pulled off by thinking it was safe to let the giant and meaningless wooden horse enter through its gates?

The game was an enigma…

The first twenty minutes of Manchester City versus Tottenham Hotspurs at the Etihad on 18th April 2019 was as brutally coldblooded as a Charles Bukowski poem, as lethal as the edge of a Katana sword and as fast as Usain in Berlin in 2009. With all the emotions coming to the fore as one time after the other the nets at opposite ends bulged and goalkeepers fell to the ground like flies, with all the paranoia and sense of struggling to believe, you could easily have been mistaken had someone told you that you were watching the introduction to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and not a Champions League game of football.

Heung Ming Son was on fire in the first half. Image: Lukas Schulz
Heung Min Son was on fire in the first half. Image: Lukas Schulz

I mean, c’ mon, you had to admit that the particular fixture may just have chugged a few bottles of its principal sponsor’s beer, added a little gin tonic on the night and then appeared on to the field with the two sides and in front of our television sets.

Tactics, shape, discipline, conserving energy and everything that made sense to do didn’t matter. Or maybe the sides didn’t care. One thing mattered, the only thing that matters the most in the sport, the only thing that makes the most sense. Reaching the white boundary at the end of the pitch and rolling the ball in and boy, was that done in plenty and with certain pomp!

There was a sense of primal nature about it too, the kind of philosophy that led to the very origin of the sport and the birth of organized football, the kind of brutish primeval carnage that saw the game being banned by King Edward II in England in the 14th century. It’s the same kind of primal tendency and the will to survive that Christopher Nolan talks to his audience about through the characters played by Christian Bale and Matt Damon in The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar respectively, only this time it was Heung Min-Son and Raheem Sterling doing the preaching instead of the British and American method actors.

It was so wholesome and turbulent that you almost felt sorry for people who did not watch football and felt pity for the ones who chose to sleep or worse, do something else other than watching Manchester City and Tottenham give us the most exciting moment of the week. In the same week where Game of Thrones premiered in its epic final season after a year’s wait.

Ecstasy for Spurs, despair for Man City as Llorente bundled in the final goal.Image: AFP
Ecstasy for Spurs, despair for Man City as Llorente bundled in the final goal.Image: AFP

Champions League at its finest…

How crazy was Fernando Llorente’s heart beating after he thought he put Spurs back into the lead after Sergio Aguero had done the same only twelve minutes earlier? Was he praying to all the Gods hoping the referee only looked at the camera angles that helped his cause? Did he curse human technology when VAR was reviewing the goal and decided to call referee Cuneyt Cakir to the television to have a look himself? Did he breathe a sigh of relief and feel apologetic about cursing baselessly earlier amidst all his teammates hugging him and the mad joy?

And what was going through Raheem Sterling’s mind when he wheeled away to celebrate with his Mancunian family thinking he had conquered the world when he managed to put the ball beyond the line and City beyond the quarters only to see all his euphoria crumble to the ground like

Hopes and dreams of two particular cities were laid bare and were toyed and tested to its most dangerous consistently. I could imagine how thrilling and scary it must’ve felt being a Cityzen or a Spur. The game tested their nerves and their spirit of endurance to the very limit.

Mortals need intoxication like this every now and then…

To the neutral someone like me who absolutely adores watching 22 men kick round, white balls made of synthesized leather on swathes of green every weekend and often on Champions League mid-week nights and I’m sure million others, it meant the world, it meant falling in love with the game all over again.

The fact that most of life is repeating a constant pattern of drudgery, living the same circle of mundane over and over and over again, makes it all the more convincing and clear to me that there are innumerable on the planet that considers football as everything- an escape, a religion, a way of life.

Whether they are right or wrong in this assessment is not for me to decide. Or anyone else for that matter.

Because at the end of the night, the only thing that truly mattered was that the sport of football and the Champions League won, it succeeded in its mission yet again. It had brought excitement to dreary souls, immense pain to crazy dreamers; converted non-believers into fanatics.

It managed to bring smiles, tears, palpitations, frenzy, insanity, the ecstasy of a thousand dawns and the heartbreak of a million dusks on one fateful and eventful night. It brought back romanticism and unpredictability to the sport.

I’ll remember the 18th of April as the night where the Champions League stretched time crazier than any black hole, where seven minutes resembled seventy and ninety-five minutes weren’t enough, it just wasn’t enough, you almost wished the night and the game never ended. Because the only thing crazier than the game was the idea of it stretching endlessly into infinity. Not that anyone would complain if that actually happened.

I will remember the 18th of April as the night when the footballing Gods in heaven conspired to return the main course of belief-defying gourmet events after the purity, heritage, glory, and virginity of millennia of history and art was tampered with when the spire of the Notre Dame in Paris caught fire and the entire world cried tears in unison.

But most importantly, I will remember the 18th of April as the night when the Champions League was drunk and the whole wide world wanted to buy it another round.

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