The game can drive you to tears, or make you dance with joy
When I was first asked to write on the World Cup for the Dhaka Tribune, I was wary.
At the time, I did not know why I had felt that way. As I slowly tried to decide on which aspect of the World Cup I should focus on, the reasons behind my wariness began to unravel.
I was wary because I was about to write on a topic that I was fiercely passionate about -- a game that drives me to tears, that makes me scream out in frustration and dance with joy.
Putting it on paper meant exposing those extreme emotions to the world. Thus far in my life, only those who know me closely have experienced these wild behaviours. In front of them, I am not embarrassed to show this side of me.
But I was not sure about others. Particularly because when I encounter the vast majority of people in Toronto, even those who love their baseball and basketball with a similar passion, or those who have emigrated from countries that participate in the FIFA World Cup, they ask me -- why do you love football so much?
I struggle to explain it to them every time, and eventually go with: “You won’t understand.”
The truth is, I don’t understand it myself. I am a seasonal football watcher; I follow league games every year and wait for the World Cup with bated breath. I get into heated debates about my teams and am cruelly happy when other teams lose to them.
I was extremely irritated with the sudden uprising of fangirls who started to support my team Spain in 2010 because the players were cute.
I scowled so hard that my friends actually had to tell me to relax and celebrate the fact that more people were watching football.
I listened, secretly rolling my eyes, as if football needed any more exposure. It is already the most loved sport in the world.
The most loved sport in the world.
So I guess I am not alone in my fanaticism, which means exposing this side of me might resonate with the emotions of many around the world. So, I put my wariness aside and dove into a slightly modified question: Why do we love football so much?
The common theory is that it is an easy sport to follow. There’s a ball, two nets, eleven players for each side, and everyone is trying to get a goal.
Thus, people get into it. But what about the screaming fans, the team songs, the colours we wear with pride, the yellow cards we get angry about, the fouls we discuss at length?
Why does a country like Bangladesh, which has never qualified for the Cup, divide into Brazil and Argentina fans every four years and wave their flags in the air?
The best answer I came up with was that football, in particular the World Cup, makes us feel alive. When we sit and watch our teams play, our hearts thump loudly. Our emotions are at the surface, ready to be unleashed if a goal is scored.
Even near-misses make us express ourselves loudly. We dislike opponent teams with a passion, yet cannot help but admire their star players.
We marvel at their skills and boo them at the same time. We cheer for underdogs who make the favourites work hard at their win, because we know that in the real world, the historically advantaged countries dominate.
But in football, the little ones, the largely forgotten ones, can emerge and make everyone take notice. We fight, we get angry at displays of bad sportsmanship, yet we later rejoice when those players have redeemed themselves.
I might not be wrong in surmising that football fans all over the world behave in a similar manner. Our lives are dictated by this Cup for the one month that it is on, and we do not make any pretences about it.
My aunt was happy to entertain people on Eid day, but requested that they leave before the Spain and Portugal game, because she was unable to pay attention to anyone else during that time.
My friend sought out a Liverpool bar in Toronto, to watch Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final with fellow supporters.
Liverpool lost, but in the sea of red jerseys, he felt a kinship with strangers. In 2010, when Brazil lost to the Netherlands, Brazilian fans furiously got behind Spain in hopes of revenge.
Spain succeeded, and as Iniesta scored the all important World Cup final goal, I vowed to not cry.
But then I saw my favourite Iker Casillas, a grown man, bawling on television. I burst out in tears.
Football fans go through all these emotions, and we are insanely happy during those moments.
We love the game unapologetically and unabashedly. Even when we support opposing teams and get into heated arguments, deep down we hold solidarity.
We know why so and so are this upset about that particular foul. We understand.
So why do we love football so much? We just do. And we make no excuses for it.
Purna Hassan is a registered practical nurse. She writes from Toronto.