‘Keen contest on cards’

That the triumph of little-known Leicester City Football Club (LCFC) in the EPL (English Premier League) early this week was front-page news in most Indian dailies proves two important sporting facts: 1) The victory of underdog has a universal appeal. 2) More importantly, this year’s IPL has been a bore-fest.

I mean if the previous night’s IPL contest had been even remotely interesting Leicester’s remarkable achievement would have been pushed to a corner below the IPL news in the same front-page, thereby proving another fact: The usual Page-One political news are more insufferable than anything that this season’s IPL has seen. We in the industry are only too aware that between Vardi and Vaiko who is going to get us some possible readership.

Getting back to LCFC, it has had to overcome enormous odds, including the one that it has the most laughable nickname for a football club: Foxes. LCFC is called ‘Foxes’ for the blindingly obvious reason that every other better sounding animal name had already  been taken.

On a serious note, Leicester City FC is referred to as Foxes because the outline of  Leicester City’s map is said to resemble the head of a fox. Luckily, we in these parts don’t have such a practice. But if ever this map-based system of nicknames is replicated with Atletico de Kolkata, the choice of ‘Amoeba’ seems a shoo-in. (A match featuring Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC may beget the headline: ‘Keen contest on cards between Amoeba and Porcupines’).

Talking of nicknames, almost all English football clubs have one, and there is plenty of interesting history behind them. Blackburn Rovers is called – you have to give the gold medal for sheer inventiveness  –- Rovers. Arsenal is known as The Gunners probably because as a team, especially in their current form, they certainly cannot be called footballers.

Manchester United is referred to as Red Devils, which was the nickname of the nearby local rugby club Salford. The rugby team had got the nickname because the nearby local football club Manchester United was called the Red Devils. Liverpool is the ‘Reds’, based on its iconic red uniform. The Liverpool team turns out in grey colour kits also, but is still called Reds proving that these things are just a matter of pointless fancy but given a romantic mystique by hopeless fans and the even more hopeless media.

And while on the subject of hopeless fans, we have to talk of Indians and how the EPL has become a huge thing with them. Today, many sports-loving youths, especially in India’s bigger cities, can reel out the names of entire team squads in EPL, but would not know who is the current captain of the Indian football team. But they may not be alone in this. I mean the way the national football federation and the national selection committee function the incumbent captain of the Indian team himself may not be aware that he is the captain.

The reason for EPL’s rising popularity in India is that it offers plenty of excitement. Typically, the goalmouth action, oftentimes, is not only a fine exhibition of top-notch athletic prowess but also some high-class acting. To see a speedy forward go cartwheeling in excruciating flips in the face of violent tackle, as represented by the presence of an opposition defender five-feet away or even a sturdy blade of grass, is to see Robert De Niro put to shame. In a normal contest of 90 minutes, players suffer, going by the looks of it, life-threatening injuries at least five or six times. If the players don’t get the desired foul from the referee they also have the ability to recover miraculously from the near-fatal injury they suffered just seconds ago.  In contrast, the high point of ISL (Indian Super League) last year occurred after the tournament had actually ended (when Elano reportedly went after the FC Goa owner ahead of the prize distribution ceremony).

Anyway, EPL or no EPL, there can be no doubt football is the most popular sport in the world and it triggers emotions like no other. For instance, Honduras and El Salvador went to battle over the result of a World Cup encounter. This simple incident proved to the rest of the world the existence of the two nations that nobody knew about till then.

But I will not be surprised if the rest of the world already knew that the two nations’ football teams were nicknamed Los Catrachos and Los Cuscatelcos.