The Indian football fan is in a curious quandary when international tournaments — be it the World Cup or the ongoing European Championships — come around. To which team does one pledge loyalty and support? Italian or English or French football fans face no such dilemma. However ragged their national teams, however low their expectations, however bitter they may be about the manager or team selection, they will support their countries. There is hardly a choice.
I watched France v England in the 2004 Euro on a huge screen in London. France won 2-1, a Zidane free-kick and a penalty in injury time securing the win. I was cheering — secretly and secretively. On my way back, as thousands of England supporters streamed out of the common and towards pubs, I was relieved that there was no chance of my being mistaken for a Frenchman.
A friend of mine is supporting Germany during these championships. ‘For Joachim Löw and for Hummels, Muller, Kroos — basically for old times’ sake,’ he told me. Individual players and a style or philosophy of play usually dictates who we — those without a national team in the competition — throw the weight of our fandom behind.
When Spain had the best midfield on the planet, in the days when some found Spain’s tiki-taka self-indulgent, somewhat effete even, I used to root for them. I found the beauty of it, the fluid geometry, the clean lines and angles, enthralling. This time around, I am hoping France repeat their most recent World Cup success in the Euro.
They are a team of thrilling attacking talent and possess in Kylian Mbappé arguably the best young footballer in the world. Mbappé seems to inhabit a different metier, and his bursts of electric speed and twirls and feints and nutmegs leave the best defenders chasing shadows. On his own, he can elevate a team, transform a game, light up a tournament, offer the fan and viewer an otherworldly experience. Because support a team we must.
A certain kind of partisanship is the lifeblood of the joy sport offers us. Watching a game where we have nothing emotionally invested in either participant is an exercise in abstraction. It may be somehow purer. We notice things more clearly. Our judgement and viewing are not clouded by the desire for one side to triumph over the other.
To the fan, sport means at once everything and nothing. It is a sort of willing suspension of reality, a way of keeping at aremove the real world in which our real lives are lived out. For the 90 minutes we watch a football match, we enclose ourselves in a mental space that pulsates with drama, action, athleticism, and unpredictability. Unless one supports a team or player, unless one wills on one particular participant to victory, this space loses its unique authenticity.
Advertisements, like marketers, are usually economical with the truth. It is in the nature of the job. If your task is to exalt your product as the supreme offering (by implication, to the detriment of the competition), to burnish its image and reputation, there is only one way of doing it.
But ‘Meri Doosri Country’ — the campaign of Sony the official broadcaster of the Euro, which it first launched during the 2018 World Cup — hits the sweet spot. It taps into the urge for fans to find a team to support to heighten the sense of what the game means to them.
The writer is author of You Must Like Cricket? Memoirs of an Indian Cricket Fan