Playing to the crowds

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When you are their darling
When you are their darling

Sporting team colours on their faces, wearing particular kits or jerseys, waving away big and little flags, raising slogans, posters or some message or morale-boosting advice for a player the spectators in any match are, indeed, the specialists of their field — supporting.

The players may be showered with rose petals and presented with bouquets as soon as they step into the crowds, at stadiums or the airport. Paparazzi gathered there are also ready for them with cameras clicking, blinding flashes everywhere, microphones thrust in their faces. This is likely to happen subsequent to a fabulous victory or even a loss where the team may have gone down fighting like heroes something that won the hearts of their supporters.

A Brazilian fan reacts to the 1-7 semi-final defeat to Germany
A Brazilian fan reacts to the 1-7 semi-final defeat to Germany

The players are then, most likely, carried on shoulders to roof-less busses or big open trucks and driven to the highest authority as every single fan waiting for them for hours on either side of the road to catch a glimpse of them cheers as they pass by.

On the contrary, the same players or team would be wise to escape silently through secret exits at airports in order to avoid the media and to refrain from the enraged fans seeking explanations, especially after a disgraceful loss which is otherwise beyond the team’s abilities and standards.


The emotions of the crowd, spectators and fans only depict their extreme involvement and psychological attachment to the players, their team and the game itself


Inzamam takes offence
Inzamam takes offence

The emotional involvement of spectators in the game is just like any other powerful emotion. It has its own degree of severity be it for celebrating or airing grievances.

And in case of associated betting, this involvement is increased manifold regardless of the sport to become very negatively inclined. In that context, who can forget the Colombian footballer Andres Escobar who was killed five days after the team’s elimination from the 1994 Football World Cup? It was the own goal against USA that he scored which resulted in the team being knocked out of the tournament. It cost him his life in his own country.

The recent unanticipated and spineless 1-7 loss of the host Brazilian team in the semi-final against Germany in the World Cup and that, too, in front of the home crowd also provoked widespread anger and despair among the local fans. The Brazilians were stunned into silence following the “historical disgrace and humiliation”. This followed by venting out anger with people weeping, holding heated discussions on the game with some reported incidents of rioting outside the stadium and on the streets of almost all the cities of the host country. There were reports of burning of the national flag and buses by aggrieved fans and heartbroken spectators threatening to commit suicide as it was extremely painful for them to be a witness to such a tragic game.


The recent unanticipated and spineless 1-7 loss of the host Brazilian team in the semi-final against Germany in the World Cup and that, too, in front of the home crowd also provoked widespread anger and despair among the local fans.


Colombia’s Andres Escobar after scoring the own goal in the 1994 Football World Cup
Colombia’s Andres Escobar after scoring the own goal in the 1994 Football World Cup

The direct and indirect involvement of fans and spectators is, thus, impossible to exclude from the game. This is especially with reference to Third World countries where sometimes a national game or a certain sport is the only respite available for the nation from normal day-to-day life.

Earlier, in hockey and later on in cricket, the Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan and even Bangladeshi crowds would be shown praying in their distinct religious and cultural styles at the crucial junctures of the games. Being totally absorbed in the game, sometimes they provide for wonderful embarrassing clicks for the media as well. Such is the involvement, that it is quite difficult for them to conceal their feelings and dissatisfaction. They are extremely happy if their team it victorious and suffer headaches, restlessness and insomnia followed by mood swings the following day at their place of profession if the game is simply lost to the competitor.

It was spectators’ power that stopped the semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in the 1996 cricket World Cup when the former was facing certain defeat at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. The crowd vented by setting on fire portions of the stadium’s stands and throwing things at the Sri Lankan players. The incomplete match was finally awarded to Sri Lanka by default.

A jubilant German crowd after winning the FIFA  World Cup 2014
A jubilant German crowd after winning the FIFA World Cup 2014

Again the crowd factor in Kolkata was evident during the 1999 Asian Test Championship when the Test match that Pakistan eventually won was played on the last day in front of empty stands, which was contrary to the buzzing first four days. The crowd factor seeped in due to the unlikely bizarre dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar.

South Asian spectators and fan power, subsequent to a loss, may even cost the captain, coach and the key players their respective jobs in the team. This reminds one of the overhauling of the Pakistani cricket team following the 1999 World Cup. But it is a very important fact that Pakistan was the runner-up. The second-placed in the world and the unbelievable way they lost the final to the Aussies should also be remembered, also that they defeated the same team in the pool matches of the same tournament.

Children with Andres Escobar’s statue
Children with Andres Escobar’s statue

So the fans may queue up outside a player’s place just to get a glimpse of their icon on their birthdays and they may hurl stones at their place while burning effigies of the same player whom they may have been worshipping up till that point.

Be it the ‘Marry me’ posters and cards from the girls to the superstars or a round of curses after a poor performance that even provoked a gentle giant like Inzamam to lift the bat and run after his offender in the stands in Toronto.

Angry fans set fire to stands at Eden Gardens
Angry fans set fire to stands at Eden Gardens

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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 20th, 2014