E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I met my friend, the Old Football Freak (OFF)–cum-Congress spokesman at the lawns of the club before the start of Holland-Italy kick off in Euro 2008.
As a referee, OFF had once received a flattened nose as a gift while trying to bring peace between two marauding teams, gradually drifted into the muddy tracks of politics, and become one of the spokespersons of the Congress. His love for football was as much as Vijay Mallya‘s love for good times.
As we started our drinks, I asked him why the Congress had lost so badly in Karnataka when it should have been an easy walk in the park.
“We had a good team, but everybody played for himself and never gelled as a team.”
“What do you mean?”
“Yes. That’s what it is. We had three of our best forwards: Dharam Singh, Siddaramaiah and Mallikarjuna Kharge. If they had combined well we could have scored many goals, I mean we could have easily won. The forwards never passed the ball around. More often, they were thinking who would be the ‘Most Valuable Player’ or who would get the ‘Golden Boot’ award at the end. That is the reason why we were booted out. We had one more problem. Although Siddaramaiah wore Congress colours, most of the others went deliberately colourblind and ignored him completely!”
“But you had S.M. Krishna with you?”
“He played centre-half but didn’t move with the forwards nor stayed back with the defence. He was still thinking and running as if he was in Bombay’s Cooperage grounds. Mentally he was just not there. He was no more the khara bath-kesari bath Krishna we all knew. He had become Shrikhand-Misal Krishna.”
“What about stalwarts like Ambarish and M.P. Prakash?”
“The actor-MP wasn’t sure whether he was the forward-looking Mandya’s Gandugali, or the stout-hearted defender aspiring to be an MLA. By the time he sorted this out the game was over. As for Prakash, he didn’t know which team he was playing for. Even during the match he kept asking the referee which side he belonged to. He moved all over the field without touching the ball even once.”
” But didn’t the heavyweights like Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi come down to help you out?”
“Yes, they did, but they just remained heavy weights. They were more like visiting coaches from AC Milan and Inter Milan. The Italian coaches are good only in theory. That’s our experience here.”
“Didn’t the wide experience of C.K. Jaffer Sharief and H. Vishwanath come in hand?”
“They were just static fullbacks, all busy settling old scores. Some of them were even trying to score self goals so that we could lose and have a coalition government. Deliberately passes were messed up in the middle. There was no mid-field strategy because of poor equations with centre-half.”
“Even JDS with purely local leaders seemed to have done better than you?”
“That’s true. Forget the main opponent BJP on the field. We were even distracted by the antics of a family causing disturbance in the stands. Unfortunately, even the referee and linesmen were very severe on us for simplest of fouls and infringements.”
“I don’t know. Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami and his colleagues as well as district officials like P. Manivannan were so ruthless on the field, they didn’t allow us to carry drinks, and other essential things on to the field, so necessary to win such crucial ties.”
“Unless we trade-off few of our players and get some fresh legs and get some good coaches too, definitely not Italian type, we don’t have much hope.”