“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them that it is much more serious than that.”
Honestly, doesn’t this Bill Shankly quote sound a bit too stretched to you? It sure did to me when I was introduced to it and the fanaticism of ‘The Beautiful Game’ in 2017. Until then, football used to be nothing more than 22 people chasing a goal across the field for 90 minutes. It was only another sport.
And then I met Tathagata.
Anyone who has spent time with a true football fan has heard the phrases, “We won!”, “We lost the match” and specifically in my case, “Robert Pires was a part of our ‘Invincibles’ team. He signed a scarf for me!” I wondered – why does he say “we”, “our”, “us” when he is a Gooner and not a Gunner? It made little sense to me then.
It took me some time to realize that he identifies himself with his team. And this makes him an invincible part of his team’s journey. Slowly, the fanatics of football started to make more sense to me. That’s when the true meaning of Football began to unravel.
I have seen Tathagata cheer at the top of his lungs, pray, chant, punch walls, curse, bawl his eyes out, jeer, fret and practice his superstitions in full force before, during and after every football match, at every football news and every indication even remotely related to football.
I quickly realized that the ‘The Beautiful Game’ has the power to make you weak in the knees, pull your pulse rate up to surprising heights, cure you of fever (believe it or not, it happened for me!), give you unbridled joy, make a grown man weep, forge friendships and create fierce rivalries. It has the power to exhilarate and enrage. Sure football is ‘22 people chasing a goal across the field for 90 minutes’, but at the same time, it is exponentially more than that.
“I can take pride in the fact that people go home having felt that for 90 minutes today, life is beautiful – and that’s it basically. That’s why professional football exists.”
My induction into football fanaticism began in 2017. I have journeyed from a Gooner admirer to a Gooner wife and was then promoted to a self-proclaimed Gooner in 2 years. But I still have a long way to go.
Tathagata introduced me to the Gooner community in Pune and in Kolkata. I have attended two Arsenal match screenings and I have watched in awe the raw emotion of the supporters. How an entire café can erupt in joy as a goal is scored and then deflate instantly as a goal is missed.
Fans identify other fans as one of their own. It’s like a fraternity. There’s a deep respect among the supporters, for each other, for the team and for the game. The best part about the screenings is that they forge strong bonds between complete strangers that can last a lifetime.
In the days before and after our marriage, I have witnessed how deeply Arsenal are intertwined with Tathagata’s life and the way he leads it. Arsenal have impacted his life for the better. They have poured purpose and meaning into his life.
His eyes light up when he speaks, very passionately, of the rich history of the club. He pays the deepest respect to the fabulous Frenchman who brought revolutionary football philosophies to the club and to English football. I have seen his hopes rise as the Gunners set foot on the field, fret when easy passes are missed, get extremely agitated when a goal from the opponent couldn’t be saved, sigh when we lose a match but return the next day with guns blazing, cheering the Gunners along no matter the outcome.
He tells me, “You should always stand by your team. You don’t abandon them. They are playing for the crest on their shirt – the crest that you believe in. So you cheer them along even when they are losing.” And he would chant his heart out for the Gunners even if he is the last man standing.
He embraces the passion and the pain that comes with it – the club that taught him loyalty.
Arsenal are an extension of Tathagata’s life, with parallels running flawlessly between the two. He leans on the club’s principles to tackle a difficult situation, to discipline his mind, to learn from his mistakes, to revere at his wins, to draw the will to fight and to stand up for what he believes in. Arsenal have taught him discipline, leadership, optimism and commitment. Even in the days that don’t go so well for the club, Tathagata never fails for a second to back and defend them. He draws motivation, strength and hope from Arsenal and his favourite manager, Arsene Wenger. They have been with him in his darkest days and have dug him out from his deepest lows.
“If you do not believe you can do it, then you have no chance at all.”
If there is any religion that Tathagata follows, it’s Arsenal. His faith in his team is unwavering. He wears it like a badge of honour even when the sun doesn’t shine on the club. This is what true commitment looks like – one of the reasons that drew me to him.
“You are responsible for the motivation of all the people around you.”
No doubt, the Arsenal play beautiful football. They bring discipline, theatrics, sophistication, miracle and most importantly, heart to ‘The Beautiful Game’. From Bergkamp’s pirouette to the wizardry of Ozil’s touch, the friendship goals that Auba-Laca give us and the massive impact of ‘Le Professeur’ on the players’ and supporters’ lives, the Arsenal romance will continue to prosper in our hearts till the end of time.
Even though the team is going through a rough patch now, there’s one thing that I know for sure – there may be flaws in the club’s practices but their fans are certainly not one of them. We’ve been hurt before and we’ll take it all again, head-on and in a heartbeat.
“1-0 to the Arsenal!”