CHENNAI: The closest Carlton Gomez came to a World Cup before this was in 1980. Back then, he was playing hockey for the Railways and tipped to make the national team for the Hockey World Cup. But he had one thing going against him. He was a goalkeeper and there were only going to be two of those in the squad.
“When the final list came, I was not in it,” Gomez remembers. “That was the closest I came to making the national team.”
Thirty-seven years on, Gomez is one final interview away from making it to a World Cup again. This time though, Gomez — who wore Railway colours from 1973 to 1987 — will be a volunteer and the sport will be football. The native of Madgaon is one of the 30,000 people from all around the world who has applied to be volunteers at the U-17 World Cup.
“We have to assemble at the Fatorda Stadium on Thursday for the final interview process,” he says. “I have been to a number of high-profile events, including the Special Winter Olympics as coach of the floor hockey team in 2013. But never a World Cup. It’ll be great to finally be part of one.”
As the volunteer selection process for the tournament rumbles on through six cities, it keeps throwing up stories like that of Gomez, of people who are defined by nothing more than their love for the game.
Sitting in his Candolim home, Lucas Cardoso laughs when asked about his age. At 72, he is the oldest volunteer applicant for the tournament.
“Whatever help I can be of at this age, I would like to do it,” he says. He is likely to be a lot of help, given his proficiency in Portuguese — his work as a volunteer during the 2014 Lusofonia Games in Goa was so impressive, a Portuguese newspaper did a feature on him.
But for Cardoso, a retired banker, the World Cup is an opportunity to finally be part of an event that has captured his imagination for more than half a century. “It was during the 1966 FIFA World Cup that I was hooked onto it, thanks to Eusebio and his Portugal team,” he says. “For all these years, I’ve supported Portugal in the World Cups,” says Cardoso. “It is great to finally be able to support India in one of these.”
When Vikas Srinivasan first applied to be a volunteer for the Brazil World Cup back in 2012, he had already given thought about his next World Cup. It was going to be Qatar in 2022, not Russia. Then in December 2013, everything changed. India was going to host its own World Cup. “These kind of events happen only once in a lifetime,” the 38-year-old, who works with Oracle in Bengaluru, says.
“Volunteering for the senior World Cup in Brazil was a great experience. I was assigned to the transportation section and that meant seeing the likes of (Lionel) Messi and (Arjen) Robben in person. But now, I would like to pass on all that experience to the team here.”
Vikas has a problem — there are no matches in his native Bengaluru. But he’s applied for Mumbai. “My company has an office there, so I have asked to be deputed there for the duration of the tournament. That way, I can still work and volunteer at the same time.” It’s a World Cup after all.