(Primary Writer: Rishi Agrawal + Collaborators: Raghav Jindhal, Dhaerya Chaudhri, Zain Mohammed Buhari)
A horde of boys run to the football pitch the minute the bell sounds, clenching their lunchboxes in one hand and football boots in the other; some take to wearing protection, such as shin guards and others pawn their safety for agility and go barefoot.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d diagnose these boys with mass hysteria, but what you’re witnessing is the daily ritual of Lunchtime Football.
Unlike regular sporting events, captaincy isn’t something to celebrate here, it is a burden. Sitting at home in the middle of the night, someone hands over the burden of captaincy. Your mantle now demands you to choose teams for the next week. Despite oodles of deadlines, you agree, reluctantly. Picking names one by one until the list of participants is exhausted.
Perhaps the late-night effort to choose teams fails. Maybe someone fell asleep? It’s time for plan B, forming The Line.
The Line is a tedious method devised for allocating players. The lunchtime crowd painfully draws itself out on to the cricket strip; everybody jumps “simultaneously”, picking either the left or the right side but the slight delay that ensures most follow the best players. The unequal distribution of talent must then be corrected by a ferocious debate between the two sides. This marks the beginning of the minimal group paradigm. Your begrudging family for the next week has been decided
After the customary argument, the game begins. In that moment, a player transcends himself: he merges into that organism called a team whose sole purpose is to bury a brightly-coloured polyhedron in the back of a net of hexagons. There exists a spectrum upon which all players fall, one end of the spectrum representing the hardcore defender and the other the blue-blooded attacker.
The two breeds of players are opposing sides of the same coin. Despite being a team effort, one will naturally find many one-on-one battles between members of opposing teams, the tension in the game heightening extraordinarily. The most common of these fights occur between ferocious attackers and undaunted defenders, as each run towards the other to determine who will come out on top. Their movements, their growls, and their determination can be compared to the gladiators of ancient Rome, who put everything on the line during their battles to the death in the Coliseum.
Indeed, football is a solo sport as much as it is a team sport.
Like all wars, these games of football are violent. Sacrifices must be made for victory, no matter the cost; from being viciously body slammed by ravaging defenders to being dazed and tripped by speed demons who cross the entire field in what can only be described as a blur. In the eyes of a footballer these are but a mere hurdle. Legs might get bruised, sprains might be stressed, and bones may be rattled, but these determined and resilient young men never fail to get back up even after being thrown into the ground.
Depending on the composition of the team, the strategies of each team will differ. Slightly tweaking their methods to victory from one game to the next. The exhaustiveness of the strategies used by the teams resemble elaborate Arts of War, each formation having a resolute purpose, each solider having an arch-nemesis, each pass having a predetermined destination. The game strategy evolves and morphs itself into its final form as lunchtime progresses. In the mere thirty odd minutes that we play, our mind and tactics get sharper as our bodies begin to give in to the demands of the game.
The rules we play by and the lines of the field are arbitrarily drawn. Borders that we all agree upon, exist only as fragments of our imagination. Once the ball crosses a predetermined, play stops. What now? The ball is whipped into the “box” if it is a corner and is booted deep into the field with little regard to accuracy, sometimes resulting in a ferocious counter attack as the team that just scored continues celebrating. Basking in the glory of the goals of yesteryear.
An ephemeral feeling of joy.
And thus, we play the game. Nobody knows its beginning, and nobody will know its end. For the game never dies; it’s simply paused till next time. It’s always the same game, just with different players: today’s foe is tomorrow’s friend, and today’s friend is tomorrow’s foe. It is a constant reminder of the transience of life; hard-won goals today are but distant memories tomorrow. With the fleeting memory of our victory, we return to class, dripping with sweat, mud on our shoes. We wait till the next day to repeat it all over again.
So why do we play? Why do we exert ourselves till our uniforms turn a different colour if the slate’s wiped clean at the end of each day?
We play because of the brotherhood of the ball, the camaraderie that is formed in the heat of the game. We play because of the support we give and receive. We play because of the unity: it doesn’t matter whether you’re long and tall, or short and rotund. As long as you have two feet and you know how to use them, you’re welcome to play.
Most important of all, we play because lunchtime football is a constant reminder of a fundamental truth: we might not have won today, and we might not win tomorrow. But someday, we surely will.
For more of Rishi, check out his personal blog!