World Cup passion: When football is in DNA

Maswood Alam Khan | Published: July 14, 2018 21:18:48 | Updated: July 14, 2018 21:21:32

Football is wired into our DNA

A great many rumours are in circulation that a reputed event management company is trying to arrange an international football tournament in Bangladesh where Brazil and Argentina may be invited to participate in. Bangladesh football has no mentionable place in international arena. Even if FIFA or at least a South American club ever agrees (the possibility is almost zero) to hold such an event in Bangladesh, that would be to inspire football in a developing country and, more importantly, to quench the thirst of the craziest football fans across the world. Can one imagine the scenario if such an event were a reality in Bangladesh?

Bangladeshi people in general are not wealthy. Every now and then, life throws them into the deep end. Most find themselves in overwhelming situations that they don't know how to deal with. Despite hardship and multifarious problems in their personal and social life, a huge majority of our people are crazy about the World Cup (WC) event and they are divided mainly between two camps: Argentina supporters and Brazil supporters.

There are German fans too in Bangladesh. And they are no less than their Brazilian and Argentine counterparts in displaying team loyalty in unique, at times bizarre, fashions.

At midnight on June 27, when reigning champions Germany was knocked out in the WC 2018 by South Korea, before even the round of 16 in a heart-breaking 2-0 defeat, the football world was stunned. At that time, one man who appeared in my mental screen was one Mr. Amzad from Magura, a district town in south-western Bangladesh, about 176 kilometres off Dhaka. A passionate German fan, Mr. Amzad, during the last WC in 2014, sold a chunk of his own cultivable land to bear the cost of making a 3km-long flag of Germany and found his team lifting the trophy that year. This time, he had to spend his own and some borrowed money to make a 5.5km-long German flag. He is planning to make a humungous 22km-long German flag for the WC 2022.

A blind football fan gets obsessed with his favourite team to extreme degrees. First thing, he does in the morning is knowing about what is happening with his favourite team. Second thing, he talks about WC for hours in days and nights at homes or in restaurants without getting bored. Third thing, but not the last, even when he should take some rest, he browses the internet reading and learning the latest development about his team players. The time spent not talking or thinking about his team, he thinks, is time wasted. He loses his sense of sanity, propriety and proportion. His passion turns into obsession.

Why? There, I surmise, are two reasons: psychological and historical.

Eustress (euphoria plus stress) is a term trainers often use to motivate sportspersons. The term was coined by Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye. It is the positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfilment or other positive feelings.

On the day after Brazil or Argentina win, fans of the winning team in our country feel much better about themselves and their self-esteem rises and those of the losing team feel down and their self-esteem falls. Which means the winners' and losers' 'testosterone' level increases and decreases with wins and defeats respectively.

Testosterone is a hormone that plays important roles in human body. In men, it's thought to regulate sex drive (libido), bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength, and the production of red blood cells and sperm. A 1998 study by Paul Bernhardt, currently teaching at Frostburg State University, found that testosterone levels increased about 20 per cent in fans of winning teams and decreased about 20 per cent in fans of losing teams.

But eustress may be 'dangerously addictive' for a fan if he or she is otherwise weak or under any kind of mental depression as a consequence of extreme passion.

Football, in fact, is in our genes. Football is wired into our DNA for the last 200 years.

When we were young, our football dreams were associated with Mohammedan, Dhaka Wanderers, Victoria, Wari, Gymkhana, and Railway in the 1960s. Football League in Dhaka took a dramatic turn when Abahani Krira Chakra and Mohammedan Sporting Club became the two most popular rivals after the Liberation in 1971.

When our parents were juvenile in undivided India, they had their golden days with Mohammedan, Mohan Bagan and East Bengal in Calcutta.

A football fan, who is now an octogenarian, should remember the day in 1936 when Mohammedan Sporting Club of Calcutta won the IFA shield. During the British colonial era, Mohammedan Club was a symbol of nationalistic and sectarian pride. Mohammedan is hailed in Indian football history as the first civilian club to win the then famous Durand Cup and deservingly so, when they beat the Royal Warwickshire Regiment by 2-1 in 1940. Durand Cup was first held in 1888. In those days, all the matches were free-of-cost for spectators.

It's a tragedy that football, which was twined with our culture, has sunk into oblivion. Cricket has knocked out football. Football was our traditional game that inspired kids in villages to play the game with a green grapefruit as a substitute for a football. Now the kids in village play cricket to grow like Shakib Al Hasan, the outstanding Bangladeshi international cricketer.

Perhaps cricket is also tied to our DNA since the day kids on our soil used to play a rural game called "Dang-Guti". The game is played with two sticks: a large one is called "Dang", which is used to hit a smaller one called "Guti". Dang-Guti, very much like cricket in style, was first played on this India-Bangladesh subcontinent about 2,500 years ago.

No matter which team, France or Croatia, you and I are rooting for, every single WC match is a rollercoaster ride of feelings. Before your team even start warming up, you are excited to go. On the game day of your team, you usually suffer through at least a couple of hours of your work or study before the match even starts. You must wait and be patient. Anticipation kills you. What will happen? Does their self-assured hubris burn the French players? Are the Croatia players too tired and too burdened by the world's expectations on them? Can their captain Luka Modri? lead his team in the final in the similar fashion they showed against England? Our joys, fears, rages, pains and blisses are the emotions that are fired by our adrenaline and regulated by the levels of our testosterone.

Our passion for football is perhaps rooted in primitive times when we lived in small tribes and warriors fought with rivals to protect our own tribe. Those warriors were our true genetic representatives who have wired their images with our DNA.

Some fans (jilted in love or frustrated in business) find a sense of belonging and acceptance in football that they haven't been able to find in their life. So many faiths, traditions, beliefs, religions and social institutions are beginning to break down creating a stifling vacuum. Something must take the place of that emptiness. Football fills that void.

We simply love engaging most with whatever touches us on a deeply emotional or personal level. FIFA don't sell the game; they sell our unique and emotional passions for football.

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