Football: The most important of the unimportant things in life!

Over a century ago, amid the backdrop of the World War I, a football team comprised mostly of Tangkhuls led by Reichumhao Rungsung under the 66th Unit of the 20th Manipur Labour Corps Company played in a football tournament 9816 km away from home. With the Allied forces witnessing early victory in the later part of 1917, the Labour Corps deployed at France were afforded holidays on Sundays. There and then, leaving aside the pangs and the cries of the war; the labourers took to the field at Blargies in France and played the beautiful game like possessed men.

That was it, 90 minutes of escape from the harsh reality of their lives; 90 minutes of respite from the ever haunting thought of whether they would ever see their homes and their families again. For the men whose “work mainly entailed collecting damaged or exhausted guns, non-functional or working ammunition, rocket shells (lid), bullets, bombshells, soldier boots and rubber boots” (Pamkhuila Shaiza for in war zones, football brought more than just entertainment; it kept them going, 90 minutes at a time.

The most common reaction from every non football fan when talking about football is that the game is trivial and overhyped. The biggest prejudice towards players in any sports is taking them to be robotic athletes who make easy money doing something that isn’t essential at all. And sure, in football, the idea of 22 grown athletes earning eye watering wages for running around a rectangular football pitch chasing a ball for 90 minutes seem absurd.

But then, it is more absurd to think that there’s so much hate meted to a sport that impacts the lives of millions if not billions around the world. Football, like any other industry in the entertainment business, is an art. And in an era where artists in every walk of life are glorified and idolised, what is so wrong in indulging in a little football? And what is the parameter that distinguishes what really constitutes the most important things in life?
When the onslaught of the pandemic Covid19 brought a halt to all the sporting events worldwide, the world went into a certain pall. Life felt incomplete and distressing; like a rainbow that had lost its colour or an itch that you couldn’t scratch. It’s no news that many people lead miserable work lives and look forward to their weekends to reboot and recharge their batteries; football provided one such escape. When the virus struck, their misery imploded but sadder even was that they didn’t have anything to look forward to their weekends anymore.

It was no surprise then that the return of football was met with such joy worldwide. Nevin Thomas, a senior football journalist and avid football aptly summed up the psychological importance of the return of football in his poignant piece for Asiaville, “The restart of football was, for many, a glimmer of hope. A hope that will be paramount to surviving this ongoing battle against the coronavirus. A belief that normalcy will return, delayed perhaps, but eventually”.

Sure, football didn’t save the millions from the pandemic. And likewise, football didn’t save our Labour Corps from the war either; but football kept them going. In the darkness of the tunnel during the war and the pandemic, football provided the glimmer of hope that led them on with the hope that daylight was just around the corner.

The sport which was once considered a mere entertainment in our land today is regarded now as the ticket out of poverty by many young boys and girls. A profession as honest as it comes for earning one’s bread and butter. And at the end of the day, aren’t we all trying our best to put food on the table while doing what we love?

Football has always been a glimmer of light for millions worldwide, not least the professional footballers or our aspiring youths. And if this light, no matter how dim it may at the moment, has the potential to make a one person dream of better days instead of straying and getting lost in the dark tunnel, don’t ever say that football isn’t important.

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