The excitement was building in every Goan’s heart. The Goa Football U21 team had made it to the finals and every football fan wanted to be there to cheer the team on to victory. After all Goa is India’s Football Capital. Goan boys (and some girls) grew up playing/ kicking a ball on the playground, on the school ground, on the beach, indoors, in the garden and with those kind of memories there was no doubt people compulsively wanted to be present at the finals.
With the last minute rule of needing passes to enter, there was an insane scurry for passes. Shockingly, no one had a clue about where to go for or who had passes. My husband and I raced against time, running from pillar to post, making insane amount of calls to arrange 6 passes so that we could have a nice time with our friends. As luck (and having contacts where it mattered) had it, we managed to get our hands on eight passes. Adrenaline pumping through our systems, that heady feeling returned, yes! we were going to go to Fatorda with our friends for the football finals!
I was informed that people with passes would be given first preference and there were only two gates for people who wanted to watch the match but didn’t have passes. We were soon on the way. We reached at 6:45 p.m., the evening looked promising. I could feel my heartbeat racing. It had been a long time since I watched a live football match and it would be the first time my husband and I get to watch a live match together. I had never passed by Fatorda Stadium, leave alone enter it and I was thrilled to get that chance. So there we were in high spirits, clutching on to our passes as though we had just won Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket, making our way towards Gate no. 5. Little did we know we were in for a shock.
There were throngs of people waving their passes and that’s when it hit us. We were not the only ones with the “hard-to-get” passes. There were scores of others. Looking at the crowd waiting to get in, my heart sank down to my boots (yes I was wearing my mock army boots to keep my feet safe from clumsy feet trampling over them), my heartbeat slowed down and that’s when it hit me. Our chances of getting in seemed bleak, if at all there were any. Pushing all negative thoughts out of my head, ignoring the hungry roars of my stomach that persistently reminded me I had skipped lunch quite unintentionally, seemed louder than the cheering crowd, I tried to rekindle the optimism by feeding it happy thoughts of sitting in comfort, binging on a nice large tub of popcorn and watching the match along with our friends.
The ladies had a separate queue and there were hardly any ladies, so it was easy for me and my friend to stroll in with no hassles. We walked in, got frisked by a lady cop and we stood close to the gates waiting for the men to join us. I glanced at the time on my mobile. It was 7:09. The vociferation that escaped the walls of the colossal stadium sounded like a battalion of foot soldiers sounding their battle cry. Oh how I wanted to be a part of that! I turned anxiously towards the gate to see if there was any sign of the lads joining us. I glanced at the time again. It was 7.30. The match had begun and here we were waiting for our friends and my husband. I inhaled a truckload of dust (that couldn’t be helped there were clouds of dust around us) and sighed silently.
One of our friends made it through the crowd and entered. The minute he was in the gates were closed. The cheers from the stadium was drowned by angry, frustrated exclamations from the crowd behind the gate. I panicked. My husband and friends were just behind the gate. I looked around frantically for someone I might know. Damn this should have been Panjim! When I saw the crowd pushing at the gate my heart stopped. My husband was there!!! I came to watch the match not to carry him home in a body bag. The fear must have been splashed all over my face like shocking headlines on a newspaper or better still like Pollock’s paints on canvas, because my friends told me to relax. I could feel my heart getting heavy, I could feel tears threatening to reveal themselves. NO! I do not cry in public! I blinked hard to suppress them and turned to look at the gate while I frantically punched in my husband’s cell number with a trembling hand. I cursed beneath my breath when he didn’t answer. I tried again. Still no answer.
“Don’t worry he’ll be fine,” our friend reassured me. “They’re together.” He turned to talk to one of the volunteers and asked if he could get the others in. Just four of them left outside while three of us were in. The police came towards us. We asked them politely if the other four could enter and he said a firm NO and that there was hardly any place in the stadium.
Goddamn! Is he okay? Just then my cell rang, I quickly glanced at the CLIP and a small wave of relief ran through me. “Are you okay? Are you safe?” I asked him, trying my best to keep my voice steady. “Don’t worry! I am safe. We moved out of the crowd and we’re standing a few meters away,” he reassured me. I knew I wasn’t convinced and maybe he knew too. “Don’t worry! I promise I am safe. Please stay with the others. Stay safe!” he said and cut the call.
My friends decided to go in. I decided to wait for the others. I didn’t want to enter without my husband. It seemed unfair to go in without him especially since I was looking forward to watching the match with him and our friends. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it anyway knowing they were out there.
The sound of sirens filled the air giving rise to new waves of panic. Once again I dialed his number, while I watched cops gripping their lathis tight. What now? I dialed my husband’s number again whilst I battled against my growing anger and frustration. Why can’t anything ever be done right in this place? I asked him if he was okay. He told me to find a safe place and wait til the mob dispersed or the anger died down.
Without no choice I had to wait. Seconds felt like minutes, minutes felt like hours, hours felt like days and soon it was half time. I went up to the cops and in an exaggeratedly polite voice I asked him if I could go out. So he looked at me and smiled and said “whoever is out stays out and whoever is in stays in til the end of the game.” Hotel California played in my head. “You can check out anytime you want but you can never leave.” I looked the cop in the eye and I said “Sir, my husband is out there and I’m in here. There’s four of them and one of me. Don’t you think it would be easier for me to slip out than to let four of them in? I know you won’t let anyone in now.” He stared at me for a few seconds, scratched his chin like he was analyzing what I had just said and nods very slowly. “Madam,” he began, as if he was ruminating on his thoughts. “You have a valid point. GET IDEA!” He waved his phone in my face. I raised my eyebrows. “Get idea? I have Idea. My idea is you let me out so I can go to my husband! By the way here’s my mobile. I have AirTel. Now you please get idea and figure out how I can get out before the match ends.” The cop smiled. “You can’t go out til after the match.” I sighed. “See now that would not be a very good idea. It would be better if I could just sneak out quickly. I’m just one person and it shouldn’t be a problem.” He looked around, scanning the area and dropped the tone of his voice by a few decibels. “Okay Madam, you wait near the gate. As soon as I open it you run out quickly.” Now he makes me feel like we were planning a heist. I pictured him saying “Look, grab the goods, run out of the gate, the getaway car will be waiting for you. Don’t look back. Just drive as fast as possible.” He pointed to the gate I had to stand by. I nodded at him and showed gave him a thumbs up. I stood by the gate biding my time. Fortunately I did not have to wait long, a cop entered the gate and I rushed out.
All thoughts of hunger and thirst vanished when I saw my husband and my friends were safe. We made our way back to the car exchanging our experiences. I pointed out that I heard a siren. They told me there was a stampede at Gate 6. Cops were swinging their lathis like as though they were lightsabers. Perhaps there were grievous injuries but we were not interested in finding out. We assumed there were some injuries since the ambulance was called. The crowd had thinned out considerably. A few taverns in the vicinity were full of people drowning their sorrows. Our only thoughts were to get out of there before the match ended. We were soon on our way home, cursing the pathetically organized Football Finals where so many football fans were deprived of watching. So much for football being the main sport of Goa. We headed to a little restaurant slightly off the highway and got the final ten minutes of the match. At least we won! We did end up seeing the match but not how we had planned initially.
I told my husband that I pictured people walking in through the gates in an orderly manner, everything was systematic, people were civilized and most importantly there was no jostling. My husband turned to me with a look quite similiar to “whacha talkin’ about Willis?” and said “You do know this is not Anfield right? This is Indiaaaaaaaaaah!” Now what can you say to that? I asked him why they didn’t make it in. He told me that when the people at the back saw the gate was open they ran to the front and started pushing their way in. One of our friends managed to slip in but the gate got closed in their faces. The crowd went crazy, they moved out just before the police tried to control the angry men. So many of them and no crowd control. This was wilder than Iron Maiden’s maiden gig in India in March 2007 where there was roughly around 50,000 people. Most of them going to see Maiden for the first time and there was no calamity but here? Now? We had to miss the game. What was sadder is that we missed watching one of our friends play. We missed cheering him from the stands. We missed the game!!!
As soon as the match ended we headed home. The highlight of the evening was a lip smacking roadside meal of omelet drowning in a mildly spicy gravy with local bread on the side. Five unhappy people having a happy meal and the Liverpool victory!
Lusofailure Games 2014 definitely needed better management and organizing. I learnt that we definitely have a system… “A system of a clown”! It was really disappointing that Goans in Goa were not able to watch the game live. To think the entry was free and there were passes (yes that didn’t make any sense to me either). A lot of people with passes could not enter and a lot of people without passes managed to get through. I sincerely hope that they learn from their mistakes and make sure the next time they have International level matches, they have international level planning.