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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A spiritual experience?

King's Cross station came and went. I was shocked and confused: how would I get to the stadium now?! Apparently it was over-crowded so the train wouldn't be stopping there! There was barely an hour left till kick-off! How would I get there in time now? I asked advice from fellow tube compartment passengers as to which was the quickest way to get to the Finsbury Park tube station. Some said the bus, some said to stay on the tube and change at the next stop and take a spectacular dog's leg and some said to get off at the next station and walk to another tube station. In the end, I chose to do the latter. I scurried through twilight lit (twilit?) central London on foot, from Farringdon tube station to Holburn, kind, savvy Londoners giving me directions every few hundred yards.

I finally got onto the tube heading northbound, squashed into a carriage with many more football fans, some Brazilian, some Italian, some (like me), just there to experience the spectacle. I heard flowing, easy going Portuguese and fast, harsh Italian being spoken and I saw as many blue scarves, as I did yellow ones. We got off at Finsbury Park station and sprinted to the stadium. Behind and in front of me, both sides of supporters were already singing songs dedicated to their national teams. I smiled as I ran, covered in a few layers of clothes and my trusted white scarf. It's quite a walk (or run, in this case) from the tube station to the magnificent Emirates Stadium so when we arrived at it's exterior, we were all out of breath and had trouble navigating through the crowd in search of our particular turnstiles. Still, the sight of this glowing masterpiece of architecture, almost pulsating with noise, was not lost on me, as I took a few seconds to stand and admire its beauty. I felt the same way when I looked at Kanjimjanga (or K2, the world's second tallest peak) back in 9th grade. It wasn't as good as the Taj Mahal, but then, few things are. Maybe Sashimi. 

I climbed the stairs to my seat in the upper tier, two at a time. I still hadn't emerged into the middle of the ground, I was still inside the stands, surrounded by ugly concrete. But then I walked through the narrow tunnel towards my block and emerged into heaven. The interior Emirates stadium is sight to behold during the day, but at night, under floodlights it really takes your breath away. My senses were overloaded. I asked the steward to direct me towards my seat and after jostling past people who were already there, I finally sat down. After spending the best part of an hour, zipping around Central London on foot or standing up in a train, I sat down. It was bliss. I had a chance to take in the aura of the place.

There were colours everywhere; I had never seen the stadium (albeit, after going for only 3 matches) like this before. There were the blue shirts of the Italian fans and the vibrant yellows and greens of the Brazilians, interspersed with the blacks coats of neutrals like me and the red and white of the decor of the stands. Camera flashes sparkled every few seconds. The pitch was the kind of green carpet any footballer dreams about. Not a divot in sight. The floodlights made the white lines and electronic advertising boards jump out, like glitter on a piece of paper. Oh and the sound. The Italian fans were pumping out battle-cries of "I-ta-lia, I-ta-lia" in a deafening chorus only to be matched but the various songs sent forth by the legions of Brazil fans. It was like a tennis match of song. It cold night air whipped past my now almost hairless head (I really should have taken my wooly hat after my haircut!) but I was too excited and happy to care. Someone started a Mexican wave that coursed around the stadium just as goosebumps coursed over my skin when Brazil scored. I felt a sense of joy and happiness, not because they had scored, but because I could experience this, this sensation. It was just like I'd imagined it, yet still surreal. Was this state of euphoria what they call a spiritual experience? Where you feel connected to an occasion or place or a point in time that is like nothing you've ever felt before and struggle to describe with words? To me, it may well have been.

The Brazil fans jumped to their feet and fist-pumped the air! A pretty Brazilian girl in front of me began doing some variation of the Samba - a tad distracting for a teenage guy, but hey, can't complain! Flags and banners were waved with new enthusiasm and the same songs that were sung before, had a whole new energy about them. Below me, the Brazilian players on the pitch came together in the far corner to celebrate while the Italians walked back to the halfway line, heads hung in disappointment. It was a goal of beauty, from a footballing purists stand point. One touch passing was capped off by a clinical finish. I was so taken up by the brilliance of the occasion, that I'd forgotten that the world's best player were meters away from me, playing the sport they and I love.

The Brazilians were magicians - Ronaldinho and Robinho in particular. They were here to please the crowd as much as they were here to win a football match. They were showmen. I remember Robinho tricking a pair of Italian defenders with some hyptonising step-overs, before threading a simple ball between the two of them! The crowd went wild and he acknowledged. Ronaldinho was at it all night long. He was doing clever flicks and picking out passes that I could barely pull off in my back garden, let alone in front of 60,000 people! He was out there to have fun - and the crowd were loving it. Brazil were running a clinic. Italy had no answer. Their star players, De Rossi and Pirlo both had off-nights and their famously water-tight defence, seemed no match for Brazil's cheeky attack. It was only a matter of time before the second goal came. It was if Robinho had planned 2 steps ahead of everyone else and was already thinking about beating the second defender before he'd embarrassed the first. He nicked the ball of a rather lazy Andrea Pirlo, dribbled around him, put in a couple of (now trademark) step-overs to flummox the second defender and fired a low shot into the far corner that had the world's best keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, beaten. 

The crowd exploded again. Italian fans behind me put their heads in their hands and acknowledged that they had seen a piece of magic. I bet that musicians feel this way when they go to see their favourite bands/musicians play live and witness talent that is infinitely greater than theirs, not with jealousy, but with sheer, dumb admiration. Robinho had been playing cheer-warranting back-heels and no-look flicks all game long, but this goal was on a different level. I can imagine him doing this to defenders at a school level, and still feeling the same joy now. How good were these guys? It humbles you to see the sheer mighty presence of Adriano, winning headers up front - he was built like a bull. The blistering pace of Marcello and Alexander Pato left me, traditionally the slowest player on the team, in shock. The passing of Italy's Andrea Pirlo even made me angry. How can someone look so indifferent when pinging a 60 yard ball to the feet of a team-mate? He did it at ease - it was like watching someone play him on the video game! You know how you always think, when watching matches on TV, "that looks easy, I could play for XYZ club!"? Well I no longer think that! Each player on show was a master at his trade - well, apart from Dossena (Liverpool fans will know what I'm talking about!)

I'd been to a few live Arsenal matches before this and they were great because I'm a huge Arsenal fan but this seemed like a different experience. This was the 5-time world cup winners, Brazil, going up against the 4-time, and current, world champions, Italy. Football is one of the things I live for - food, writing and family being the others. Was this as good as it gets? For me, yes.  This was one of the best things I have ever done. This was an unforgettable night and one that will provide me with happy dreams and memories, for years to come.


Vijay Bhat said...

Fabulous writing ... felt like I was there with you! Nice also to read about your haircut (!), pretty Brazilian babes (!!) and that family is one of your favourite things in life (!!!). Love, Dad.

Vijay said...

Wow Shrav! I was with you in that stadium and lived every moment of your made it really come alive. And that's because whenever we really LIVE what we wish to write, it comes out best.

The fact that you felt your interconnectedness with all things in that moment and were AWARE of it and yourself from a place of a deeper joy and appreciation and gratitude, does make it sound like a pure, mystical experience of the heart rather than a partisan, adrenalised state that can often be mistaken for the same.

Glad you say 'family' as one of the most imp things for you (albeit the last of 4 ;-)

Love you and so happy for you!


PS: K2 is called Godwin Austin and is not the same as Kanchenjunga if I remember my Geography..

Princess Stefania said...

A well turned out piece. Your posts always feel... alive, somehow.
And I really envy you. :P Glad you're blogging again.