“Even if we are losing, we hope for a draw until the last minute. Even if it’s impossible, we make ourselves believe it will happen. When I stop believing, I will stop this madness.” – Majeed, Sudani From Nigeria
If there are two things you could watch this week, make sure the movie Sudani From Nigeria is one of them. Set in sleepy Mallapuram, it’s a football tale that warms the cockles of the heart in the simplest of ways. While the story drifts beyond the game, the retort ‘manager’ Majeed has to a suggestion of selling his club to be able to fund the trip of his injured Nigerian player back to Lagos, could well be Carles Cuadrat’s oath for the season.
Call it the resolve of a cockroach, the cat and its nine lives or a tribute act to the Easter Sunday miracle, Bengaluru FC – as it stands – refuse to be vanquished. Down a goal at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, in Guwahati, we turned to the clock with an air of surety for our 87th minute redemption, and when that passed us by without incident, there was more than just a twitch of discomfort. The boss didn’t have a multitude in the stands to turn to and orchestrate a song for revival. We were miles away from home.
Eighty-seven crawled to ninety and solid ground soon seemed like turning into quicksand. An eight-game unbeaten streak was nice enough. Of course, not as good as nine, but it’s something we could be proud about. Then Kean Lewis – an 87th minute substitute (there’s something about that minute on the game clock, there really is) – floated one from the left that stayed put in the air, just lurking around, waiting for Sunil Chhetri to mock his height, or the lack of it, and nod it to Chencho.
At 1-0 in the 92nd minute and with your unbeaten record at stake, even attempting a tap in from five yards out might feel like the biggest risk you’re taking. Keeping all this in mind, Chencho turned up in the box, then, just to be safe, turned upside down because gravity can be overrated at times and then connected with the kind of perfection that’s troubling. Taekwondo’s loss may have been football’s gain but Chencho had his black belt, tucked away in some corner of his home in Paro, to thank. His celebration, in stark contrast, was simpler. He stuck his thumb to his ear and his pinkie to his chin – need a goal? Call me, maybe?
The seventh floor at the team hotel afforded itself a little mirth later that night. Rahul Bheke turned a year older and celebrations were in order. The captain’s room, meanwhile, was party to an intense game of good ol’ Ludo where love stood the risk of being lost. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Chencho got off the phone with his wife and flopped on the bed, relief smeared all over his face. His phone wouldn’t stop beeping and there was even one from Miku. The Venezuelan, who is happy to make do with monosyllables for text messages, allowed himself a ‘Chenchoooo’.
When word came in from the medical team that Miku would need to fly back to Spain and would stay put for a month till he recovered, Chencho mustered the courage to book his parents on a flight from Bhutan. The Gyeltshens, in an informal meeting at the team hotel last year in Thimpu where the Blues were playing in the AFC Cup, had expressed their desire of seeing Chencho start a game on the same side of the pitch as Sunil Chhetri. The winger wasn’t the slightest bit on the Bengaluru radar then.
But a whole year later, they were in the stands at the Fortress to watch their boy fulfil a wish they believed with all their heart would come true. If Chencho’s outing against Delhi was disappointing, the one against Pune was frustrating to say the least. Television replays showed Chencho’s father, clad in the traditional Bhutanese Gho, rising in anticipation of a goal only to sink his face into his hands after watching his boy miscue for a third time on the night.
“I owed them this. I knew they were watching the game on television back in Bangalore, but I had to hear their voice. It’s the only way the goal and the win would come a full circle,” Chencho would tell.
At the post-match ceremony, the replay of Chencho’s finish was being beamed on the big screen at the stadium and NorthEast United’s goal scorer, Federico Gallego raised his eyebrows in appreciation before graciously turning to congratulate Chencho on his moment of sheer magic. A good goal, is a good goal, is a good goal – even if it’s sunk the dagger in your heart and twisted it.
If you haven’t watched Sudani From Nigeria, you’re welcome. The headline to this piece is from the lyrics to Upside Down by Jack Johnson. If you haven’t heard the song yet, you’re welcome. And the other of the two things of what we recommended you should be watching, is the fourth angle of the replay to Chencho’s goal. If you haven’t, he says you’re welcome.