I vividly recall Diego Maradona running towards the crowd to celebrate before the ball had crossed the goal-line. He was so sure of what was going to happen and we will always cherish having witnessed that momentous happening in person,” Chaitali Chatterjee says remembering the unforgettable goal in the 1986 FIFA World Cup where the Argentine footballer worked his magic to score the second goal in the quarterfinal against England.
Ms. Chaitali is the pillar of support for her octogenarian husband Pannalal Chatterjee, whose insatiable desire to be a part of the “greatest show on earth” has fuelled repeated journeys across the world over the last 32 years.
“We were initiated into it by a family friend, who stays in London. During one of our visits to him in 1982 he volunteered to take us to the World Cup in Spain. Though it was a one-match affair, we got addicted to the splendour and magnificence of the event and decided to repeat it in a bigger way in the next edition,” says Mr. Chatterjee before leaving for his ninth successive World Cup journey, this time to Brazil.
“Before our world Cup ventures we went across the country to see the Santosh Trophy for 23 successive years since 1970,” says the former Calcutta Port Trust employee to impress upon his intense association with the sport. “I had been a member of the governing body of the Indian Football Association for 11 years between 1970 and 1983 and am still associated in an administrative capacity with Sikkim Gold Cup,” Mr. Chatterjee adds.
The Chatterjees, who live in a one-room apartment in Kidderpore in south-west Kolkata, decided to shun the comforts of life and painstakingly save for four years to realise the dream.
Their next trip to Mexico in 1986 made them a part of one of the most talked-about football World Cups. “It was like a dream come true when we witnessed one of the best goals ever in the history of football,” says Mr. Chatterjee. “More so, we had the company of two legendary Indian footballers – Chuni Goswami and Sailen Manna – who made the moment event more memorable,” he added.
While having witnessed Maradona’s transformation to a God of football with Argentina’s triumph in the final against Germany, the Mexican sojourn also remains memorable to the Chatterjee couple for their ‘banditos’ experience. “We, including Chuni da and Sailen da, were robbed at gun point by a group of Mexican men on our way to Mexico City. ,” remembers Mrs. Chatterjee.
“We kept visiting all the World Cups after that and saw the tournament at various stages according to our ability.
We were fortunate to see another historic final, the one in 1998 where Zinedine Zidane got France its first World Cup and joined the greats of world football,” says Mr. Chatterejee hoping to see something more memorable this time.
“Brazil is considered the Mecca of world football and we hope to see something special,” he says. The couple will be watching four round-of-16 matches.
They have also been promised two VIP tickets of a quarterfinal match from the Indian broadcaster Sony Television, as an acknowledgement of their passion for the sport. “If we manage to save enough money, we will also try to watch the semi-finals and even the final,” Mr. Chatterjee says looking at his wife, who nods assuredly.
by AMITABHA DAS SHARMA