An ardent football fan shares his passion for football and its positive influence on his life

August 16, 2019

To anyone who wonders why I am in despair over a missed chance
To anyone who cannot make sense of my distress after a crushing defeat
To anyone who wonders why my emotions run so high
To anyone who says, "It's just a game"
Let me tell you in no uncertain terms -
It's not just a game. It is football.
Pulsating with life, overpowered by passion
No longer a sport; it is life in its entirety

On a football field patriotism is the uninhibited love you have for the jersey that your team wears; devotion is when silent prayers impregnate a stadium during a nerve wracking match and passion finds new meaning as football fans and players alike wish that their feet pumped harder than their hearts. Football, my dear friends, is not a game! It is a passionate affair where players, football clubs, coaches and a billion fans are unified by their sheer love for the game. I am Rohan Iyer, a football fan and more importantly a student of the game for this lifetime and beyond!

Growing up in India, cricket was my only understanding of sports for a long time. I had no inkling that playing a video game called FIFA 98 with my friends would ignite my unabashed love and passion for football. Even though my first encounter with football was playing the game on a computer, I distinctly remember being intrigued by the technicalities and nuances of the game. Gradually I started building my interest around the game by religiously following matches and staying up at ungodly hours to witness 90 minutes of magic in stunning stadiums across the globe. While many fans of the game are enthralled by the heady passion that defines every football match, for me, the game had a life of its own beyond those 90 minutes.

As a young student in Mumbai I was on a perennial quest to know more about the players, their fitness routines, their quirks, their larger-than-life lifestyles, their coaches, the passions that flared within football clubs and everything else in between. Growing up in the pre internet era I would obsessively collect magazines and newspapers cuttings to record everything I could about the game. Till date, my collection of newspaper cuttings is one of my most prized possessions. While I am no longer the young student who devoured sports magazines, it is safe to stay that my passion for the game has only strengthened over the years and I have evolved as a student of the game.

I believe football is not just a game; reflecting upon my life I can vouch for football being the foundation on which I have built a life that I truly love. On many occasions football helped me break the ice with strangers I met in a new city as a young professional. Conversations that started by debating about football clubs, matches and players with fans from rival clubs eventually led to building meaningful friendships that will last a lifetime.

In the last decade or so, I have often picked up life lessons and drawn inspiration from football players and their coaches. I am inspired by Sir Alexander Ferguson, one of the greatest managers of all times and a legend at Old Trafford, who lived a life where he proved to his detractors that the fight does not end when you lose, it only ends when you give up. Through his struggles and successes, Sir Alex Ferguson taught me one of life's most valuable lessons - on reinventing oneself, evolving with time, taking the hard decisions and believing in them with conviction. While in the beginning I associated with football as a sport, today it is not just a game; it is a valuable chapter in my book of life.

Football occupies a dominant landscape in my life and happily coexists with my love for travel. As an avid traveller, it should come as no surprise that football takes centre stage even when I plan my travel itinerary. Over the years, one of my favourite travel rituals is to spend time playing football with the locals of whichever country I visit. Without a doubt the people I have met and the moments we shared during these impromptu matches are some of my favourite travel stories. I consider myself privileged to have witnessed the universal passion and love for the game while playing with locals in Spain, Russia, Lebanon or Hong Kong. During my trip to Spain last year, I visited the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and the Camp Nou stadium. Standing on the fields where legends of football had left legacies that redefined the game I remembered how I scoured these fields while watching the match on a television set as a young boy. In that one moment life came full circle as it was my love for football that led me to explore and experience life outside my comfort zone.

In a world where boundaries are blurring by the day, all it takes is a 90 minute long football match to evoke love, passion, persistence, team spirit, brotherhood and sportsmanship not only among those playing but also among those watching. And in all honesty I believe the world needs more of the latter than ever before. Here I rest my case - "Football is not just a game".

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