I have always been a loud and proud sports fan. Maybe because I am not particularly physically skilled at playing said sports, I have always embraced the role of sports nerd. This has defined a major part of my life - my hobbies, the books I read, how I spend my weekends, and even how I got my job!
It was 1999. I still remember going to school in Mumbai and hearing my classmates talk about Sachin and Waugh and Donald and Inzamam, and not knowing what was going on. It was the 1999 ICC World Cup, and I had no clue. I hated not being able to join in the conversation (probably my first experience of FOMO) and I told my dad about it. The next day, he came back home with all the World Cup squad lists printed out. I remember trying to memorize all these names and joining in the conversation at school (come to think of it, I probably tried really stupidly hard to fit in). But that was how it began - that print out was how I joined hundreds of millions of other Indians in their national craze for cricket. But the real turning point came a few months later, back home in Chennai.
My cousins were (and still are) huge cricket fans, and they used to collect cricket cards that came with the now-defunct Big Fun chewing gum (shoutout to Big Fun!). When I discovered these cards, I was absolutely hooked! I would spend days with my cousins, playing cricket (which I sucked at) and cricket card games (which I didn’t suck as much at). I would try to memorize the stats on these cards (which I now know was absolutely futile) and decide who my favourite players were. When my cousins let me borrow a part of the collection, I was beyond thrilled. These cards were the birth of my cricketphilia, and the love stayed with me ever since - in early 2014, I built my first web app, and it was a cricket trump cards game similar to this! This project was all I had to show when I applied for an internship at a really cool startup. Which I ultimately got. And which led to my first job coming out of college. So yes, the obsession did lead to my first job!
I’ve come a long way since then. My weekends are a football festival with days before and after spent analyzing my EPL fantasy team, my mornings begin early for the NBA, grand slam tennis is one of the best things ever, I have managed to catch the last two Super Bowls live on TV, and I believe the Olympics is sports porn. I read a lot about sports and think ESPN is one of the greatest companies ever. But how did I get to this?
I read Everybody Lies a little while back and there was one particular piece that really caught my attention. It included studies which showed that people choose their sports team allegiances early on in their life, and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz uses his own analysis to suggest a rough estimate that people decide who to root for around the time they are 8 years old. I turned 8 in 2002. What sporting event caught my eye that year?
2002 Natwest Series - India vs England (Finals)
I don’t think there is any Indian cricket fan who does not remember the sight of Sourav Ganguly shirtless on the Lord’s balcony.
I’m pretty sure I have watched entire cricket matches before this, but there’s nothing that really sticks out in my memory. This was a major turning point. This was back in the day when a 300+ score in an ODI innings was very rare, and chasing it down was even rarer. So when India chased down 325 in one of the most dramatic ODI chases ever, it was huge for the budding cricket fan in me. Seeing two players I had never heard of before, Yuvraj Singh and Mohd Kaif, carry the team was (and still is) one of the greatest things I had seen. And then there was the finish - full toss, tap to cover, Kaif sliding in to complete the single, the overthrow, Kaif and Zaheer Khan rushing back for the second, and the camera cutting to Ganguly in the balcony swinging his jersey in the air. And I was a kid screaming in celebration, enamoured with the passion that I saw.
2002 FIFA World Cup - Sweden vs Senegal (Round of 16)
This is one hell of an unorthodox first game to have watched.
I still remember the setting. It was my sister’s first birthday, and all of us were at our cousins’ place with a few family friends. It was during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, so we turned the TV on to see what game was on. What I watched for the next 2 hours absolutely captured my heart - Henrik Larsson putting Sweden ahead, Henri Camara equalizing, the game going into sudden death (I know the golden goal was an unfair system, but damn, wasn’t it fun), and Camara winning it for Senegal. I know it’s blasphemous to even say this, but Henri Camara was my first most favourite footballer (sorry, Becks and Leo). I spent the evenings after the Finals wearing the blue shorts from my school uniform and a yellow T shirt (because I obviously couldn’t convince my dad to get me the actual Brazil jersey), and kicking a football around. I definitely did not get very good at it, but you can’t fault me for not trying.
Also during the tournament, I saw this player named David Beckham. And I heard about a team called Manchester United. And there began my love story with the most beautiful team in the beautiful game. #GGMU
2002 US Open - Pete Sampras vs Andre Agassi (Finals)
The first match I watched happened to be a legend’s last.
Sure, this was no classic 5-setter, but the 8 year old watching didn’t know that and absolutely didn’t care. I was just mesmerized by what I was watching. It was just 2 people, with no one around them, battling it out. And this is where I learned the tennis scoring system. “So if they’re on 40-40, it’s called deuce, and they have to get to advantage first and then only win the game? And if they lose a point on advantage, it comes back to 40-40? WOW!” There were games that went well past 10 minutes, and I found myself very strongly rooting for Agassi to win it. An amazing match. And a new amazing sport.
Yeah, I have to agree with Seth.
The 2003 ICC World Cup, the 2004 Olympics, the 2006 FIFA World Cup - over the next few years, my love for sports just kept growing. I wore my “sports nerd” tag really proudly. In college, I spent hours and hours preparing for and taking part in sports quizzes - I kept reading about anything from the Class of 92, Dennis Lillee’s aluminium bat, and Lance Armstrong to Sergey Bubka, Bela Karolyi, Murderball, and how fans saved Real Oviedo. Phrases like “in the air.. and Sreesanth takes it!” brings a big smile on my face, while hearing “AGUERROOOO!” is stuff of nightmares. Sports evokes more emotions in me than almost anything else. Now I’m a few months away from catching a FIFA World Cup game live, I have a long sports bucket list (which I will hopefully completely check off), and I want to (hopefully, in time) get to a job that has something to do with sports. It’s been a long love story, and this love is forever.
If you’re looking for me, you’ll probably find me watching a game. And waiting for my next scoregasm.