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Night of the living dead

  • Published at 12:51 am July 2nd, 2018
There’s always a future for Argentina, but Abahani-Mohammedan is gone REUTERS

There’s always a future for Argentina, but Abahani-Mohammedan is gone

A grim desolation hung over the city; people on the streets walked about with shell-shocked expressions, at tea stalls, some sat with empty looks, a few tried to analyze the events of the evening, others just decided to accept fate and carry on.

A group of ten-year-olds was hanging by their senior brothers or uncles, desperately looking for some reassuring words: “OK, don’t worry, next time.”

Some elders tried their best to cheer up the young ones, while others were taking some time to regain composure. All over town, it was the night of the living dead: Argentina is out of the World Cup.

When World Cup comes, the night of the zombies becomes inevitable.  In fact, I have been observing this trend for over two decades now.

Not an Argentina fan, but surely, when you see those crestfallen faces, one cannot but feel sympathy.

On Saturday night, Dhaka was silent. One major excitement of the World Cup has had an early demise.

The Argentina-Brazil rivalry is our lost passions revived

World Cup in Bangladesh means the revival of the now lost and forgotten Abahani-Mohammedan intense rivalry that dominated the country in the 70s and 80s. Today, flags of World Cup playing nations are sold on the streets every four years, but once, the flags of two Dhaka-based top flight football clubs were sold every year during the start of the local football league.

The other day, local media reported a new video song about Argentina’s Messi. But go to YouTube and you will find a film song “Joy Abahani, Joy Mohammedan” from an 80s Bangla film, where the late Zafar Iqbal and actress Suchorita spiritedly enthuse for opposing sides, almost getting into a fight.

Back then, with Bangladesh football showing great potential with wins against Southeast Asian outfits and local club teams beating the best of Asia in the club cups, there was a collective hope that, one day, we just might make it.

And the passion was ten times more than what we now see for Brazil and Argentina. People in areas formed Abahani or Mohammedan support groups, hoisted abnormally large flags, arranged special milad mehfils (prayer session with the moulana from the local mosque), and during the Dhaka derby, went to the stadium to see their team play in a cavalcade of hired trucks.

Abahani-Mohammedan matches meant the country came to a standstill. People left office early, newspapers published special supplements, all around town a buzz was felt with the streets becoming deserted at the time of the match.

One year, the most sought after special report was on the diet of the players before the high voltage match. Aslam, aka “the king of strikers,” also known as Jamai, said he preferred light chicken soup with a toast on match day afternoon. Obviously, that combination became a staple for players of all divisions.

At the end of a league, the supporters of champion teams brought out victory processions, followed by open feasts.

The Dhakaiyas from old town were mainly Mohammedan. The old part of the city was deemed the bastion of the club and when the team won, the usual line that reverberated across the lanes of Chankharpool and Kazir Deuri: “Oi bees goru hala” (slaughter 20 cows and throw a feast).

Once, I was in a bar after a match and found that a Mohammedan supporter was treating everyone to free lager. “Abey, Mohammedan jitse taakar maire baaap ... khiate thak” (Mohammedan has won, who cares about money, keep on drinking).

In 2018, that frenzied feel of football is frayed; no one even knows when the local giants of club football are playing.

But the passion survives and comes out in our rabid support for Argentina and Brazil.

During the World Cup, we see the fervent support along with the agony of loss plus the euphoria of victory.

What we fail to see is that this craze is actually the expression of the profound sadness we all carry over the demise of our own football romance.

Dead men walking, fighting in Anandabazar

Late Saturday night, the tea spot around DMCH first gate, near the Shaheed Minar saw hundreds of fans in Argentina colours. In quiet contemplation, they sipped tea or simply decided to allow the defeat to sink in.

At one point, news came of Argentina-Brazil fans clashing in Anandabazar. Taunts from one side triggered rage, which led to fisticuffs. Maybe more.

Again, a reminiscent of the intense Abahani-Mohammedan feelings. In the 80s, fans often entered stadiums with large machetes, sticks, and other home-made weapons. Post-match fights with police lobbying tear gas shells to disperse the mob were common.

At one point, the fear of fights reached such heights that, in 1984,  after the stipulated 90 minutes of play ended without any goals, the captains of both teams decided to jointly become champions instead of going for penalty shots.

The city experienced united celebration -- no violence was reported and the police plus the administration were relieved to see such peace.

Well, late Saturday night, when people began going back home, the mood lightened, everyone agreed that France deserved to win.

But there’s always a next time, some decided to forget and hope once more. Yes, there’s always a future for Argentina, the sad reality is: There’s isn’t a next time for our own Abahani and Mohammedan!

Towheed Feroze is a News Editor for Bangla Tribune and an ardent Abahani supporter (till death).