CHENNAI: It is well past Sunday midnight; even the heart of Chennai — Nungambakkam — seems weary. But enter Rutland Gate, the stretch that houses some of the swankiest bungalows and high-end retail outlets, there seems to be a preparation underway. With the Football World Cup finals match between Germany and Argentina just minutes away, the Goethe-Insitut Chennai or Max Mueller Bhavan, the 54-year-old centre, is all decked up. Colourful lights adorn the structure and balloons arch like canopies in every corner; this could have been a marriage hall or a venue for a grand party. But one look at the riot of colours — black, red and gold —and you know it is a stage set for the German blitzkrieg.
A queue of football enthusiasts snake through, dividing the road. This reporter and a friend stand at a distance, wondering how they will make it to the entrance. A couple of Germans tell them they could scale the gate. Politely refusing the adventurous alternative, they wait for the insider who stealthily opens the side gate and ushers them into the auditorium.
A giant screen, layers of carpets and close to 100 chairs welcome the enthusiastic crowd that runs hither and thither to get the choicest of seats. Selfies and group snaps rain down the gallery. A few find exclusive seats in the corner of the stage and some on the spiral steps, connecting the ground floor and gallery. Even the gaps between the steps aren’t spared, as they double up as leg support. In no time the crowd turns 250-people strong, and this excluding the floating members of the audience!
All the commotion and race for the best seats ends, as the commentary begins. However, we can’t stop wondering how uncanny a scene it is — a majority of Argentina fans making a beeline outside a German institution to catch the match being screened. This is blasphemy, yes?
With the blow of the whistle, however, the focus shifts to the game. This is unreal. German teachers, staff from Max Mueller, college students, families and a handful of misfits under the same roof? A good 30 minutes pass without any goals. A couple of shoves, yellow cards and contrived falls ring in the typical aye, dei and poda. It is half time and there is still no sign of a goal or even the dramatic red card that could make them squirm and abuse in the choicest of cuss words.
The hall fills again to its full capacity. Hoots and whistles overpower the commentary, and amid the babble of cries and inferences, we hear someone say that the college results are out today and another roar of laughter. An announcement that could have made any student shudder gets brushed under the carpet or should one say by the football fever.
With more yellow cards and a couple of injuries, 90 minutes go by with still no sign of a goal, leave alone goals. The lights are on again, offering a little respite from the crowd that refuses to lessen even when it is well past two. An extra time of 30 minutes begins, raising the anxiety and frustration. The excitement is overtaken by fervent prayers. A little past 15 minutes and there is a goal out of the blue. Sharp cries shoot through the darkness that sporadically lights up with the flash from cameras. Wehey try hard to find the best view of the screen, hindered by the heads that swing back and forth.
The German fan following in the auditorium leads the charge, while Messi fans give angry and wary looks and a few slink to corners. With four minutes of extra time, there is yet another twist in the form of a free kick by Messi. Waiting with bated breath, the moment is frozen for many Messi-maniacs in the venue but with no gain. Two more minutes pass like eternity, but with a befitting end. The tri-coloured balloons burst; the Germans in the hall celebrate, acknowledging the handshakes disrupting the embraces.