7/17/2018 11:49:24 PM
|written By : Suresh Nair|
Just think. If the full force of our passion could be gamed into brilliance on the field, Singapore would be playing in the World Cup! As would every other nation on earth from India to Kenya. Kids and grown-ups alike kick ball the world over except apparently on the Marshall islands – one little republic in the Pacific unaccountably missing from the Fifa website, which includes even the Vatican. Yes, even the Vatican has a football team. Such inclusiveness, of course, goes against the grain of the World Cup, which has to be exclusive, beyond the reach of all but the very best. So in June every four years 32 nations play in the World Cup after getting through the qualifiers. And the whole world catches fever.
The long-distance love affair with what Pele once hailed as the “beautiful game” was on in full swing in Singapore as this magazine went to press. June 14 to July 15 – the 31 days of World Cup – had kakis nattering about the action and whooping it up on match nights in lively camaraderie that soccer invariably uncorks.
“The football fever was at a real high for one month,” says Yazeen Buhari, the acting general secretary of Football Association of Singapore (FAS). “The timing, too, was just nice as it coincided with the mid-year school holidays and from students to the senior citizens, Singaporeans just went into a football frenzy.”
Huge screens were put up even in the Singapore heartlands with 55 community centres showing the matches for free with hundreds of fans staying up as late as 4 am to catch the action in Russia. Even the world’s best airport at Changi didn’t disappoint those catching round-the-clock flights with matches shown in the public area of Terminal 3 (Departure Hall North) with event games and quizzes for added fun,
Wherever you walked, you encountered fans in jerseys of iconic players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi while the flags of their favorite teams such as Brazil, Germany and France fluttered proudly in their homes, in streets, schools and even on cars and buses.
Yes, the craze sometimes borders on the bizarre. Take the case of the Indian farmer Amjad Roosloo from Bihar. He sold a portion of his land and borrowed some money to make – hold your breath – a 5.5-km-long German flag!
MOSHI MOSHI BOLLYWOOD
Even Singapore’s most popular Indian belly-dancing joint, Moshi Moshi Bollywood at Cuppage Plaza, joined in the merry-making with a formal World Cup launch on June 7. They hosted a sterling class of former football heroes, from the “Kallang Roar” era of the mid-1970s, including Malaysia’s legendary former skipper Santokh Singh, who flew in from Kuala Lumpur.
“We wanted to celebrate the 2018 World Cup with the heroes of the ‘Kallang Roar’, whose ‘blood, sweat and tears’ at the height of the Malaysia Cup fever drew 60,000 fans to the National Stadium. It’s the perfect way to pay tribute to the good ol’ football legends and to let them know that we appreciate their sporting services,”
says Sapuran Singh, popularly known as ‘Ricky’, who recently made his Bollywood acting debut in the Hindi romantic thriller, Pareshaan Parinda, as a Mafia don with outdoor scenes shot in Sydney.
In the happening little club, at the basement of Cuppage Plaza, welcoming the Russia 2018 World Cup were Singapore football icons Quah Kim Song, Seak Poh Leong, M Kumar, Roy Krishnan, Lim Teng Sai, Robert Sim, Terrence Gomes and the1981 Singapore National Olympic Council Coach of the Year Jita Singh, the youngest coach at 31 years to win the Malaysia Cup in 1980.
WORLD CUP MANIA
Jita Singh, the first Sikh footballer to play for Singapore in 1972, says: “World Cup mania is simply infectious. Sometimes you wonder why we are so loyal to this event rather than our national and club football teams. Whatever the results, we tend to support the World Cup, through thick and thin.”
For the record, Singapore has churned out iconic Indian football heroes like V Sundramoorthy (former national coach who played professional football in Switzerland and Malaysia), Vaithilingam ‘Vincent’ Subramaniam (former national coach and S-League Coach of the Year 1996 and1997), Roy Krishnan (ranked one of Asia’s fastest strikers in the mid-1970s), 1970s banana-kick corner specialist Sockalingam Rajagopal, Shunmugham Subramani (S-League Footballer of the Year 1998 who was inducted into the elite FIFA Century Club in 2007) and PN Sivaji (former national coach 1992-93 and FIFA coaching instructor).
Sivaji, now coach-mentor of Myanmar professional club Hantharwady United, moans about the lack of Indians and even Chinese (who form 75 per cent of the population) playing football the past two decades in a national sport dominated by the Malays.
“It could be the meritocratic chase to find a more fruitful career after school or university which discourages the Indians and Chinese from playing high-end football or being professional footballers in the S-League,” he says. “But there are many talented young Indians who can make the cut to be top-rated footballers.”
Personally, I know the past four weeks for the football-fanatic Ramasamys, Ahmads, Ah Kows or Singhs have been filled with anger, anguish, joy, and triumph, their feelings incomprehensible to those who ‘don’t get it’.
Don’t you sometimes wonder why fans paint their faces, dye their hair or engage in bizarre Thaipusam or Holi-like rituals for good luck? Why they still cheer for faraway teams?
I know Edward Hirt, a psychology professor at Indiana University in the US, researched sports psychology, and he says: “As human beings, we have this desire to feel a sense of belonging or a sense of social connectedness with others, and being a part of different groups (gives) us identities.”
Yes, scientists have also shown that fans who feel personally invested in a team or who attend games and cheer with their fellow fans reap mental health benefits that come from feeling social and connected.
Just before the 2018 World Cup, I did some research into football fanaticism and whether football fanatics could be considered “addicted” to following their team. This is easier said than done as it all depends on how addiction is defined, and if football fan addiction exists, what are people actually addicted to?
DEDICATION OR ADDICTION?
It’s becoming quite commonplace to ask whether slavish dedication is akin to an addiction, and as I’ve argued before, it depends on how you define addiction. I see it as any behaviour that features six core components of addiction: salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict and relapse. Any behaviour that fulfils all of these criteria should be considered a genuine addiction.
The most passionate fans, whether they attend games at Jalan Besar Stadium or watch on television from HDB flats in Bedok or Bukit Barok or terraced homes in Bukit Timah, escape their daily lives as well as their inhibitions during matches, as they cheer wildly. These fans, in my opinion, display what is known as disinhibition.
Yes, it’s a global mania, as they shout, blow vuvuzelas, and make friends with the strangers around them. Even those who are ordinarily shy may forget their reservations about decorum when placed in an environment where people are demonstrating uncontrolled enthusiasm.
The past four weeks saw soccer mania at fever pitch and I am glad that the World Cup made history by being held for the first time in Eastern Europe.
Geographically speaking, Russia is the biggest host country to host the World Cup. I gasped when I read that the distance between the eastern-most host city Ekaterinburg and the western-most host city Kaliningrad is over 2,415 km. For the sake of comparison, that’s about the same distance as Moscow to London.
Make no bones about it: Singaporean and Indian sports fans have to labour under the burden that their respective countries have never made it to the World Cup finals. But that has not dissuaded them from watching and holding on to hope!
I can’t wait for the 2022 World Cup when the action will switch to Qatar. There was controversy when Fifa appointed Qatar as the 2022 World Cup in December 2010. Questions were raised, among other things, about how the Gulf emirate with its desert climate could host international football in its hot, humid summer season when temperatures can get close to 50 degrees Celsius. But cash-rich Qatar with its oil and natural gas revenue is leaving no stone unturned to be football-friendly with advanced air-conditioning technology that may well cool stadiums, training pitches and fan zones to a bearable 23 degrees Celsius.
As the first country in the Arab world to host the World Cup, Qatar is sure to try its very best to put on a great show. So, here’s to 2022! Not that any soccer fan wants to fast-forward to the next World Cup when there’s so much to look forward to in the next three years – the annual Champions League, the UEFA European Championship in 2020, other regional tournaments, and, of course, the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the whole shebang. Thank goodness, there’s always football. But the greatest show on earth comes only once every four years: the World Cup. Had a good one? Here’s to the next!
Suresh Nair is an award-winning Singapore-based sports journalist with four decades’ experience covering global football. He’s also an Asian Football Confederation (AFC)-ranked coach and referee instructor.