World of sports is more or less like the world of glamour. Where the players go through extreme highs and lows regularly and unpredictably. Their place in the game is as much a function of their talent as their political skills. And their ability to maneuver themselves through the maze of authority and middlemen. These two stories Striker Stopper by the noted sports journalist of West Bengal are set in the world of Football.
Between the two stories, he takes you through the rise and fall of a football star. In the first story, the protagonist is a poor, young second-generation footballer. Who has to fight it out through the maze of various club owners to prove his game. Until the time his game is so well recognized that the clubs do not have a choice in picking him up.
In the second story, a footballer is dealing with his sunset days in the game. Where he thinks he can still give the younger generation a competition while balancing his job that he got because of football. He keeps looking at his balance sheet of life which has footballs in every row. He wants to leave his legacy in football by grooming a young player just the way his coach groomed him.
Besides the personal stories of these two players, the stories provide a look at the management of sports in this country. How the clubs are like personal properties of a select few. The match-fixing and buying the players to play in a certain way almost seems like a rule than an exception. The pathetic conditions in which the players have to live and the only things still driving them to the field is their passion for the game. Even the basic requirements like ample nutritious food are not available to most players. And a whole lot of them, are driven away from the game in lure of a small job here and there. It amazes you that rival clubs would sign up some players only to make them sit on the bench and lose their magic touch on the field.
Stories take you through the dirty world of sports which the audience has no clue of and which the players have to go through before they can present themselves to the public.
At a psyche level, it takes you through journeys which have lows, which are extremely lonely and can break a person if he is not mentally strong or does not have a strong support system. This is where the role of a coach becomes very important. On the other hand are the highs which can get into a players head. And become the very reason for his downfall. Players have to keep oscillating between these two extremes for most of their playing lives. It requires as much a mental strength to deal with all the opposing forces to stay in the game, as honing the talent and maintaining the passion for the game.
What is heartening is the fact that in the end, it is always the game that wins. Because once a player attains a certain status with the crowd, no one else matters.
Striker Stopper is the second book that I read with a sports theme and based in India, after Tom Alter’s ‘The Longest Race’. While the Alter’s book is based in Dehradoon and is about an athlete. And Nandy’s book has Football in Calcutta. The books portray a very similar picture of the world of sports in India.
I would recommend this book Striker Stopper if sports interest you.