May 25th 2005: It was the first time ever that I was watching a football game. It was the Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan at Istanbul. At that time, football for me was a rainy day sport, seriously I played football only when it rained because the fields were unsuitable to play cricket ! Within 15 minutes of the start, I could sense the whole crowd in the common room of our hostel getting divided into two groups, two very hostile sections and by then, as a neutral, I preferred to stay silent and just watch the game. Half time AC Milan 3-0 Liverpool . AC Milan fans were going wild, cheering and taunting. Liverpool fans cheered back but cheering was they could do. 9 minutes after half time, Liverpool had equalized thanks to their charismatic leader Steven Gerrard. Liverpool fans were now roaring and as a neutral, I could sense the tension in the air. Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties and Liverpool fans went crazy. AC Milan fans were sulking away but were being poked by their rivals. I was thoroughly enthralled by the experience and in my excitement, I turned to the fellow next to me and said, “Nice game dude … Liverpool deserved to be the champs!” Smack! He punched me right in the face and by the time I realized what went wrong, I was in the middle of a riot! There were chairs flying, guys beating the hell out of each other and scary shit! Two guys walked towards me and I was scared to death when they said, “Don’t worry mate, You Will Never Walk Alone!” Thanks to them I left that place with just one punch to my face.
Things cooled off later among students and it was life as usual. But now I was hooked to football and its raw energy. I still saw the guys from before, sometimes we shared a smile and sometimes “YNWA!”, but mostly it was just about football. And football had become more than a rainy day sport for me, more like a daily ritual. I was googling about football, watching football, talking football and hell! I even dreamed about football. All this and I still had no team to call as my own.
July 1st 2006: World Cup ’06 quarterfinals England vs Portugal was an exciting tie. I wasn’t supporting either of them but what made the match memorable for me was the sending off Rooney and the winking of Ronaldo. Rooney was young hotheaded bullish player and Ronaldo, on the other hand, was the stylish fleet-footed trickster – both Manchester United players. A team which was unable to win the premiership since 2003 and here were its two important members of the team in the eye of a controversy. Somehow all the hype and controversy around these two players, especially Ronaldo [who in my view, did the right thing by appealing against Rooney] and thus, maybe that’s when I started following Manchester United.
As luck would have it, Manchester United won the premiership title in the season 06-07 and Rooney-Ronaldo partnership was one of the best pairing in world football had seen in present football world. By mid season 07-08, I was a walking encyclopedia on Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo. At last, I had a team that I claim as mine. But as luck would have it, every fan faces his test of faith sooner than later.
May 2008: Three English teams in Champions League semifinals was a good news for almost everyone I knew. Everyone loves English Premier League. It was the same common room where I was punched a few years back. This time I wasn’t a neutral anymore , I was a Manchester United fan. When I entered the common room, I overheard someone saying, “Remember Istanbul 2005? Liverpool rose against odds to win in penalties” I couldn’t help but comment, “Barcelona 1999… Manchester United stole victory from jaws of defeat to win in full time”. There I was surrounded by the same people who saved me before and this time, I was walked alone out of there with a black-eye and bloodied nose. Liverpool never made it to the finals to meet Manchester United but in the end, the victory at Barcelona was more than enough reconciliation to me. From that day onwards, I proudly proclaim myself as a Manchester United fan for life and life hasn't been better since then.
MANCHESTER UNITED – EST 1878 – WE WILL NEVER DIE!!!