This is the End of U-17 World Cup, Beautiful Friend!

As the U-17 World Cup ended on Saturday, thousands of volunteers and support staff returned home with happy memories.

Published: 28th October 2017 11:23 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th October 2017 11:44 AM   |  A+A-

England player Foden with golden ball after FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 final match in Kolkata on Saturday. Also seen in the picture are Fifa President Gianni Infantino(L), West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, AIFF President Praful Patel and Union Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.| PTI

By Express News Service

KOLKATA:  As the U-17 World Cup ended on Saturday, thousands of volunteers and support staff returned home with happy memories. For the fans in Kolkata, it marked the end of a series of some great football games. For India, a journey that began in December 2013, at a FIFA meeting in Brazil, came to a close.

Saturday was all about journeys ending. For four teams, the first World Cup they’d ever play, for some of them, the last as well came to an end on the hallowed turf of the Salt Lake Stadium. For the fans in Kolkata and India in general, Saturday marked the end of a series of some great football games, their last chance to see future superstars in their backyard. For India, a journey that began in December 2013, at a FIFA meeting in Brazil, also came to a close.

Beneath the bigger plotlines, lie strands of stories that are too minor in the context of a World Cup but no less captivating. Tales of learning experiences, of volunteers, of journalists, even of security guards who were at stadiums for every game, but never saw a ball kicked. All those journeys came to an end on Saturday too, a lot of which were worth the while, some a bit less so.

For the permanent officials and volunteers of the Local Organising Committee, the last few months have been learning experiences. On Saturday, they were still learning, for at this level, every day brings new problems to solve. It was as late as the semifinal between England and Brazil that someone pointed out they weren’t supposed to screen highlights of match action on the giant screens at stadiums during the match. They do that during cricket matches, but that excuse wasn’t going to sell here. But on Saturday, after the final was done, the relief on their faces was palpable as they piled out of the stadium for their post-tournament party. They had pulled off a World Cup without too many hitches.

Most of the LOC are youngsters, people who quit jobs and shirked college for an opportunity to be a part of the World Cup. Take Abhay Bhow, who was the venue press officer for Mumbai. 

Abay was one of the earliest people to work on the U-17 World Cup, as a part of the PR agency who was hired to represent the LOC before they got their media team in place. He later quit that job to work on the World Cup full time. Abhay was also supposed to get married in April. However, he postponed it to December, just so he could work on the tournament. “The first thing on my list when I get back is to pick out some clothes for the wedding,” he says.

Aman Shah was studying in Japan when the opportunity to be part of the organising team came around. He convinced his university that working on the tournament was work experience relevant to his course. That meant that he spent a good portion of his eighteen-month course in India. “I really wanted to and didn’t want to lose the chance to be a part of the first-ever FIFA tournament in India,” says Aman.

Javier Ceppi probably knew he was going to be in India for a while, soon after the hosting rights were awarded. But for a lot of people who flew in to India for the tournament — people hired by FIFA to work with the LOC, broadcasters, scouts, commentators, journalists — the notice was much shorter. Samindra Kunti booked his tickets to India with barely a month to go for the World Cup. 

The Belgian was at the Confederations Cup in Russia in July, so he wasn’t expecting to cover another big tournament so soon. Samindra, whose father hails from Kolkata, though ended up spending a month in India, travelling as far as Aizawl to see the Mizoram Premier League. He will only be taking two Indian words back with him through — one in Hindi and one in Bengali. Neither are mentionable on these pages.

Timir Baran Sikder has been coming to the Salt Lake Stadium since 1996. His first game here is a painful memory — the East Bengal fan saw his favourite team lose out to Mohammedan Sporting, with a goal in the dying stages. He has been present at every game of the World Cup so far. But the closest he has got to experiencing a goal has been listening to the excited shrieks of the crowd. Sikder, a policeman, has been standing guard outside the stadium entry to every game while others enjoyed the football inside. 

“It hurts here,” he says, furiously jabbing at his chest. “But this is my job. I have to do it. I was a player myself, I got into police through the sports quota, so it hurts even more.” 

Sikder’s World Cup came to an end on Saturday, as did a lot of others’. The memories though will remain for a while longer.


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