Now we are free

Shom de nomm, ma-lun des.
Dwondi, Dwwoondi.
Alas sharum du koos.
Shaley koot-tum.

Don’t try it. We did, and all we hit was a dead end of vague interpretations. Some places, whether conveniently or honestly is still up for debate, left out these lines from musician, singer and composer Lisa Gerard’s pièce de résistance in Sir Ridley Scott’s Academy Award sweeping epic – Gladiator.

For most parts her words are indistinct, as Gerrard sings not in Sean-nós, Puirt à beul, Turkish, or Gaelic, but a language that doesn’t even really exist. Idioglossia, it is called; speech that is known to only one individual. But you feel what you do because of the grace you find in the title of the track.

And, when it does play out with a score from Hans Zimmer at the end of the movie, its verse seems to encapsulate perfectly the moment Maximus Meridius finds out that he is where he wants to be. In his mind there is a feeling of disbelief at the lengths he has gone for his family, an undertone of regret at not being there for them in a tough time. Yet, there is also a sense of victory in knowing that he is where he is – at last.

It had been 260 days since the Blues had fought. Much like Maximus, they had spent long days in captivity, away from those they love, waiting for a chance to smell victory, pining for that moment where, though devoid of armour or wolf skin, they could growl into the face of an adversary. And it had finally come.

But there was also an oddity. For the better part of a month, Carles Cuadrat’s Blues and FC Goa had shared more than just the knowledge that a common battle awaited them. And despite being wolves of different packs, pleasantries simply had to be exchanged when players met each other at parts of a hotel that both teams portioned. But with only one shank of meat going on offer, things were very different on Sunday in Vainguinim.

The corridors were eerie, pleasantries had turned into curt nods and with just a little under three hours to kick-off, both teams exited the hotel within minutes of each other as two separate rows of hotel staff applauded the men whose meal, laundry and upholstery preferences they knew like the back of their hand. The Fatorda was an hour-long drive, but the sense of combat was realised in that moment at the hotel.

The Goans take their ‘all roads lead to’ bit on a matchday very seriously. Everyone in anything that operates on fuel is wearing orange and is headed to the Fatorda. It isn’t blue, but it sets the tone for the game perfectly. Sunday would be different. Well, for crying out loud, this year has been different. The cacophony was missing as were happy ensemble with trumpets and accordions churning out hits by Lorna. The Fatorda stood naked and silent, much like the hallways and stairwells back at the team hotel.

Yes, there was poetry, poignancy and a sense of belief with which the boys carried their faithful to the stadium when they plastered a badge onto their boots, shin pads and shirts. The tiny stickers that had the West Block Blues’ new avatar printed on them, were the closest the boys were getting to the fans.

The WWE-esque entries with pyrotechnics and more weren’t there to glorify the simple act of walking on to the pitch. Cuadrat and Juan Ferrando were greeted by sounds of sweet, sweet nothing. No songs. No waves. If Cuadrat’s fist was clenched, it wasn’t for a thump to the heart. It was to greet Juan Ferrando just as things got underway.

Cleiton Silva, who had referred to himself as a ‘really Brazilian player’ in an interview with the club channel, was the link between Chhetri and Udanta. His flicks and twists were aimed to pick out Kristian Opseth, the Blues’ Norwegian focal point. Erik Paartalu’s mop, meanwhile, was back at work – and if ever it couldn’t reach a spot, Suresh Wangjam was there to cover. This was the plot.

 

 

In the days leading up to Carles Cuadrat’s first days back on the pitch, we would spot the boss through the window of his hotel room in Bellary. Much like Le Penseur de Rodin, the Spaniard had his eyes fixed firmly on a screen where numbers, routines, systems, and patterns ran riot. And when his studs had finally felt the turf again, he sat on a football at the training centre in Carambolim, adopting the same pose.

Yes, there were days when the Blues pushed themselves to the limit, testing their fitness in the sweltering Goa heat, but there were also they days when they didn’t even break a sweat. Preceded by a team-meeting that had often sent schedules out of the window, set-piece routines were the ace up Cuadrat’s sleeve.

With Dimas Delgado starting on the bench, Ferrando’s side had little video evidence that could hold relevance. Then with a relatively new commodity to deal with in Cleiton, free-kicks were anyone’s guess. In the opening stages, four players in blue had run over a dead ball before Chhetri managed to wriggle free in the box. It was going to be a long day.

Ashique, who started the game down the left behind the skipper, looked like the real-life form of the Road Runner. Seriton Fernandes was the Wile E. Coyote that struggled to keep up for most parts. There were those that came in Ashique’s way, but rarely does he shy away from a challenge. After what seemed like a series of party strolls, leaving defenders in his wake, his was the first shot on target.

Cuadrat’s boys were in a hurry to dust off the rust. Chhetri made that clearer to the world when he opened his hands to the heavens and killed a ball that Gurpreet Singh Sandhu had hoofed high into the Goan night sky. Then, with a seemingly harmless throw-in down the flank, Bengaluru pulled a fast one on Ferrando’s men.

 

 

Khabra, who had spent the final minutes of his matchday-minus-one training taking instructions from Rahul Bheke, made his way down the field to the opposite flank. The man from Mumbai had ‘catapult arms’, and standing alongside them both on the touchline the previous evening was Naushad Moosa, whose long-launches had won Kolkata Derbies of yesteryears. This was a crash course on throw-ins, if there ever was one. At the Fatorda on Sunday, it paid its dividends.

Khabra’s hurl was flat and high, and could only be nodded down into the box. Lurking like he should, was Cleiton, who arrived with his forehead to nod past Nawaz, watching in dismay as his fingertips felt the least possible purchase on a ball that seemed destined to hit the net. 1-0 Bengaluru. You’re not Brazilian if you can’t put on a show for a celebration (unless of course you’re Ronaldo. Then even a drab wag of the finger looks like a spectacle) and Cleiton needed a little prod from Juanan before he went all Nadia Comaneci on a somersault. The landing was staggered. The goal, a perfect 10.

 

 

But the message had been simple. Prior to leaving the team hotel, in a spirited team meeting that could be heard far outside the confines of the room it was taking place in, the boss had demanded that the moment the boys got one, they should go for more.

A variation. Bengaluru sent big bodies into the box, but there were also those around the touchline that needed tending to. And when the ball was played short, fed back to Khabra, and then down to Ashique, those in orange were tempted to close down. But deep in the box, Paartalu, Brown and Juanan, among the tallest lads on the squad, knew this wasn’t the signal to retreat.

Ashique’s punt into the box turned into a game of ping pong for the trio, as Brown picked out Paartalu, and Big E nodded it down for Juanan to finish. Caught between this little exchange was a hapless James Donachie, who could do little other than pick the ball out of the back of his net.

The evident effects of a jet-lagged campaign were to be seen not long after the hour mark. Players flooded their systems with water, dousing flames caused by fatigue at every possible moment available to them. And in the game’s most crucial moments, it was Goa that had the dexterity to build with the ball. And it soon counted.

As Cuadrat looked to juggle, Ferrando pulled out his wildcards. Within ten minutes of conceding the second, the Gaurs had sent on Romario, Brandon and Noguera. The plan had been to prey on Bengaluru’s deep defensive line, one that offered the hosts a route towards goal that only needed to be unlocked.  And right enough, the key clicked.

An inch-perfect escape of the offside trap was followed by an impeccably placed finish off Noguera’s pass as Igor Angulo scored his first in Indian football. Soon after, Brandon’s pass to Romario was fizzed across goal and the Spanish no. 17 diverted the ball goalward with his lower abdomen. They all counted. 2-2. It had been a flash.

For the quarter hour that followed, the game seemed destined for a winner; its fortunes refusing to place a firm hand on the direction to which it would tip. Dimas Delgado, who began to stitch things together in a cameo, had scored the winner two years to the day, but towards the very end, the sides had relented. In the grander scheme of things, it was only right that a scalpel run its way through the spoils. These two had become accustomed to sharing. Goa and Bengaluru had provided yet another classic of sorts. Maybe, just maybe, if there was an audience, they would have been at the heart of a fifth goal on the night.

On a night when a lot went right and wrong for both teams, it must also be known that there were broken shackles in each dressing room. In what have been hugely disconcerting times for football and everyone involved with the sport, the looking glass had offered views of what seemed like a distant utopian dream; where fans flocked the streets and stadia in thousands, where smoke bellowed from the terraces in different hues, and where allegiances were renewed and more than just tactics were on show. This wasn’t that, but it was something. Football is back. Now we are free.