The old man and the football match

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At almost sixty but he looked older, Stephen, a towering force of nature, was our village Benny Hill offering live comedy every time the local team was playing home. The ground was hilly, patchy, brownish uphill and yellowish further down. This explains the Sugar Estate tractor, we children called it “katapilar”, which was in fact a deformation of ‘caterpillar’, had left an unfinished task. The leveling would come two decades later. But the enthusiasm of our football stars didn’t dwindle any degree and the voices of the spectators echoed for long even after the game was lost.

The ground was bordered by sugar cane crops on three sides so that spectators had no choice but to squat on cane snags. The fourth side was flanked by dodgy rows of housing units that only a sugar camp could provide. The tenants were invariably sons and daughters of sugar cane labourers, themselves having got into the professional shoes of their parents. Spectators reached the ground from this side.

Stephen, a factory artisan by profession, sat behind the goal post on the northern end from a position he could see all players at work. The absence of a net on the post facilitated his favourite task. That of reporting the match live through a very original mike of his own making. He uprooted a cane, broke it at one meter length and held it close to his mouth as Modh Rafi or Elvis Presley was seen singing in a mike. No need to say Stephen was the point of attraction and his frenchified riddles amazed us primary school goers.

Stephen’s was a strategic spot on the ground. Most of the children rallied round him and cheered even before he was to shout in his mike “ala Manon gayn boul, ala Manon alé, ala Manon va piké la gol, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Manon inn perdi boul.” In effect, Manon, a one-metre something tall or short was the ‘rocket’ of the match. At that, Stephen sorted out his more acclaimed expression, spraying his saliva on the cane-mike and on all those by his sides so much did he jibe at the local players who lost possession of the ball “ala fizet, ala roket, to pou koné la monwar”, as if addressing his threat directly to the players of the visiting team. Manon ran fast in all directions often a liability to his team.

Penalty

The referee was as selfappointed as Stephen the reporter. Stephen blamed him as modern reporters do, for the wrong refereeing of the match. So quite often the referee had to whistle more to create confusion among the players than to sanction one of them. Stephen shouted “penalty” which echoed for minutes even though there was no fault as even a local fanatic would not have seen. But that was not knowing the accomplices, Stephen and Siwa. The penalty was granted, Pierrot kicked but missed the large post and more confusion, increased doubt and unhidden shame got hold of every spectator.

Stephen announced the premature end of the game while Siwa ran for his life in his trousers hanging from below belt scrambling through the cane rows. He disliked shorts. The reporter’s stentorian voice printed a long hour ache in our small head when we walked back home, my father holding my hand careful of the mud in the dark.

Stephen reported many matches live and direct for our pleasure. But he ceased for good as one lad, a member of a Literary Circle, having pronounced a short speech on request at the end of a tournament which surprised all, became from then a kind of replacement. These are unforgettable childhood and adolescent days.

In Reminiscences of younger days

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