A conversation, an idea, a rush to bring it to fruition; is only the start of COO, Asesh Dutta’s journey to the Football World Cup 2014.

It all began over a casual coffee table conversation…

Prelude

Take a late, cold December evening, add three Bengali friends and stir it up with coffee. What do you get? Conversations that revolve around football, food and more football! And of course, ideas that evolve into adventure. It was just such an evening that brought my friends, Rony and Gourav and myself together to chat about World Cup Football. The buzz around the table was the upcoming WC 2014 and the possible outcomes. I, being a hardcore Brazilian fan, was naturally betting for the five-time WC winners and was desperately trying to explain to Rony (a hardcore Argentine fan), why they did not have a chance. Gourav kept interjecting with his favourite Italy, but Neymer and Messi were calling the shots that night

It was at that point of time that a wild thought occurred to us. How about going to Brazil for the game? It was like a defining moment for me, a ‘bucket list’ wish coming to life: “Witnessing the Brazilian team play a Soccer match amidst Brazilian fans!” and the forthcoming WC 2014 perfectly fit the bill. The first match was scheduled to be held in Sao Paulo between Brazil and Croatia on June 12. Talk about fate dealing us the perfect run. So began our dream project,a wild one at that, if statistics were anything to go by. (a) Brazil is 26 hours from Kolkata by flight (another few hours and one would have actually reached somewhere near the moon); (b) Tickets for the matches were being sold by FIFA though their website, which for some strange reason could not be accessed from India, whatever hour of the day one tried (at one point in time, I had deployed 4 people to try reaching the ticketing site on a 24/7 basis, continuously for 5 days, without any luck). The site would invariably say ‘searching for a suitable ticket option’ and the little round circle would go on and on and on ; (c) News channels and web mags were abuzz with bad press.Apparently, the common Brazilian was not in favour of the games. The hefty spend on the preparations, especially with the economy reeling under a financial crisis, had not gone down well with the common Brazilian. Infrastructure facilities for the games were also underprepared and running much behind schedule. In fact, FIFA was pondering with the idea of changing a few match venues, as the grounds were not ready per their standards. Doomsday prophets were predicting a very chaotic WC event. The list of negatives just went on and on and there just didn’t seem even one good enough reason to go for the Cup but a fanatic beating heart drove the will to tick this off my bucket list. Against all odds and a huge family showdown (which had every element of an evening soap opera), the three of us decided to follow the Nike motto (go for it)

First things first - match tickets. After the futile efforts on the FIFA website, we switched to the other commercial sites, selling match tickets at a high premiums. The sites did not guarantee any tickets. However, once confirmed, delivery will be effected only a few days before the respective matches, by when we would already be in Brazil. Thus arose the question of where should we have the tickets delivered, as our whole schedule were uncertain. As luck would have it, Rony got hold of an old acquaintance of his, Mr Gupta, an erstwhile Satyam Computers employee. Incidentally, Satyam had designed the current FIFA website and our friend was head of this Project, by virtue of which he knew a few top FIFA officials. (Incidentally, if one is not aware of, the FIFA officials very strangely do not seem to ever retire; only till ‘death do them apart’). Based on Mr Gupta’s assurance, we went ahead and made our travel plans and stay arrangements.

The d-day was approaching.With no tickets in hand, we were all very nervous. Imagine going all the way there and being confined to watching the matches on television! What about all our expectations and excitement? Rony, being a heavy blogger, had already started collecting photos of the match venues and used his morphing skills to create appropriate backgrounds with them. He wanted them handy so as to post regularly through his Facebook, once we are there. To add to our woes, our visas had been under processing in the Brazilian embassy in New Delhi for some time. For some strange reason, Mr Gupta wasn’t answering our call either.What a complete recipe for disaster was being cooked up for us!

It was the week before our departure and we were arguing whether to cancel the trip and discussing the financial damages involved. The persistent ringing of my phone added to this cacaphony. “Mr Gupta here,” the voice on the other end said. “Actually, I was travelling overseas and could not reach you guys. Your tickets are ready. Please go to the Sony Max office at Malad and collect your tickets from Mrs Braganza (the MD’s secretary).” I was too shocked to move. For a couple of seconds everything went blank. Then the enormity of the situation rushed in. Senses restored, I cancelled my lunch appointment and rushed to Malad instead. Truly, there existed the Sony Max office (incidentally, Sony Max was the official broadcaster of the WC in India) and by a stroke of luck, so did Mrs Braganza. After producing the required identity proof, she handed over the tickets. I took the tickets and held them with trembling hands. I couldn’t get out of the office fast enough as I rushed out to call my other two comrades to share the good news.

Flight tickets - Check. Stay - Check. Match tickets - Check. Visas? Still to arrive. Apparently, the Brazilian embassy in Delhi was in ‘slow-mo’ and Visa issuances were taking more than the normal time. It was time to take destiny in our hands. Plans reworked, we rebooked our airline tickets from Delhi, so as to get an extra day, should things get delayed. A very wise decision in hindsight, as the scene outside the embassy was nothing short of a fish market and no one had a clue of what was going on inside. Every half hour, the security guard would call out four names who were allowed to go inside. The time arose again to shape destiny.Desperate calls were made to all and sundry, who we thought could contact and influence the embassy staff. Finally, around evening, our names were called and we came out brandishing our passports, as if it was the World Cup we were holding. Brazil here we come…

Action

Our first destination took us from Delhi to Sao Paulo, after a brief stopover in Doha. Our Doha–Sao Paulo flight was 15 hours long and non-stop. Contrary to such long hauls, the aircraft was abuzz with football lovers from across the world and like us, each of them had a World Cup story to tell. Seated beside me was a young octogenarian. Young, because he was coming all the way from Australia, a more than 36-hour flight, to attend his eighth consecutive world cup! The only difference being, this time he was travelling alone, unlike the other seven times, when his wife had accompanied him. And I call myself a football lover! Another passenger with us was Mohd. Idris, a Syrian national. His house had been bombed a few months prior and he had no option but to give up his flourishing business back home and shift his entire family to Dubai. He had no match tickets, but was just flying to Brazil to get the feel of the games and maybe a match, in case he was lucky enough to get tickets. And I call myself football crazy! I also met Jonathan, the Aussie statistician. Armed with his numbers of the last ten cups, he almost rattled out the entire games’ outcome and went to lengths to justify why Brazil would be the ultimate winner this time. Music to my ears. And I prided myself with football data? Miles to go man, miles to go…

Sao Paulo was a hard landing. No World Cup banners, no festoons, not even cut outs of the games anywhere in the city. We were surprised and a bit disappointed. If this was the scene in the largest city of Brazil, with a population of more than 18 million people (just short of Mumbai), god knows what’s in store for us for the balance of our tour. Was it the literary arrogance of the city, which was keeping the Pulistanos (people born in Sao Paulo) aloof from such worldly trivialities? Incidentally, Sao Paulo is known as the arts and culture capital of South America. Ironically, the city also has three Soccer teams: Portuguesa, Sao Paulo & Corinthians, who play in the first division of the National League. Maybe the media was right - the average Brazilian had boycotted the games. The buzz in the news was that there were going to be wide spread protests and violence on match day. Having come all the way to Brazil and that too after getting tickets for the opening ceremony and the first match of Brazil vs Croatia, we were ready to take on the entire population of Sao Paulo, should the need arise. Our plan was to start early and reach our venue ‘Estadio De Sao Paulo’ by noon, much before the kick–off time. Excitement and anticipation, kept us awake for the whole night. Excitement, as was very near to a dream come true situation and Anticipation for the event to happen. So near and yet so far …. Waiting impatiently for the sun to rise ..

To be continued...

 

 

Asesh Jyoti Dutta

Asesh Jyoti Dutta is Chief Operating Officer of IL&FS Financial Services Ltd
Asesh shares his beginning to unexpected and adventurous turn to event that eventually leads to Brazil World Cup



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