For some strange reason football is synonymous with Bengal, although Goa and Kerala will claim equal suzerainty over it.In the early 1980s, I landed in Kolkata having grown up in Delhi. Imagine my horror, when I, a cricket junkie, found Kolkata was completely football crazy. The towering statue of Goshto Pal on the maidan, at the very intersection where the holy trinity of the megalopolis football craze converged – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting – was nothing short of a pilgrimage for a neophyte like me. Having played football in school and a more bruising form later in the tea plantations, I too trooped to the makeshift stadia to make my tryst with the Kolkatan version of the beautiful game. And the passion on display was unbelievable – Shyam Thapa with his bicycle kick, the speedy Subhash Bhowmick, Subrata Bhattacharya tall and stately in defence, Gautam Sarkar, Mohd Habib, Mohd Nayeem and many more were part of a fabled pantheon worshipped by all of us.ArtistryBut this flirtation with football was to receive a rude jolt. Two Iranians landed in the city – Majid Bakshar and Jamshed Nassiri – and they opened up a whole new playing style. Nassiri was the poacher in the strike zone while Majid was the playmaker and ball passer. They made a fantastic combine, Majid with the flair, daredevilry and derring-do in the mid field, making the play for his compatriot Nassiri who struck home with dexterity and timing. The duo came from the province of Khuzestan and Majid even represented Iran in the 1978 World Cup played in Argentina. Both came to Aligarh Muslim University to pursue higher studies, but were spotted by talent scouts and recruited by East Bengal. Subsequently, they joined Mohammedan Sporting Football Club and Kolkatans flocked to the maidans.advertisementThe duo’s entry into the football cauldrons of Kolkata was a defining moment in Indian football. Football supporters were astonished at the artistry with which the two Iranians played the game in stark contrast to the the rest of the league. This first glimpse of real football was ‘revolutionary’ a term that may be politically incorrect given that Kolkata was then in the throes of Leftist rule. The end came swiftly as the more talented of the two – Majid – was debilitated by substance abuse. He returned to Iran, while Jamshed stayed on in his adopted city Kolkata.Jolt number two came with the advent of the Nehru Cup in Kolkata in 1982. My memory of that tourney was of the Uruguayan player who could throw the ball into the D such was the power of his throw. The robust playing style, the smart set pieces and the sheer agility of the Uruguayan players was a delight to watch as they vanquished China 2-0 to win the inaugural tournament. The Uruguayans had shown all too well, why the South American style was a killer app in world football. Two years later in 1984, Poland showed their hard tackling man-to-man marking style and defeated China. Kolkatans awoke with a start to the pace and speed on display in the Nehru Cup final.BrillianceThe final decapitating blow to the ‘art form’ practiced on Kolkata’s maidans came with the introduction of live television which beamed pictures of the 1986 football World Cup for the very first time. India’s love affair with the World Cup football tournament started in 1982, when for the first time the semi finals and final had been telecast live on Doordarshan. There was also deferred telecast of some of the earlier round matches. Brazil’s brilliance in that tournament, showcased by the attacking flair of Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Toninho Cerezo, won them many supporters. In the eighties, the majority of India supported Brazil.Over the years that changed. In 1986, for the very first time the entire World Cup was telecast live in India. With Mexico being the hosts the tournament gained notoriety. Almost overnight, pocket dynamo Diego Maradona became a star with fans all across the globe, and Kolkata being no exception. Whatever bad feelings Maradona may have created with his ‘Hand of God’ goal, he erased with the second, ensuring the quarter final between England and Argentina will never be forgotten.OutsidersThe goal, which was voted the “Goal of the Century” in 2002 on the FIFA website, saw Maradona running past five English players before scoring. With 20 minutes to go, the introduction of John Barnes as a substitute changed the tide of play in England’s favour, as he pinged in cross after cross into the Argentine penalty area and with just nine minutes left, England striker Gary Lineker got onto the end of one and scored. Lineker almost repeated six minutes later but was unable to reach the ball thanks to a timely block by Olarticoechea: 2-1 to Argentina remained the final score line.advertisementThe goals made Maradona a superstar. In the semi finals, he struck twice in the second half as Argentina beat Belgium 2-0. The final against Germany did not see the same magic but Maradona did enough to see his country home. With seven minutes remaining, a pass from him gave Jorge Burruchaga the chance to score the winner for Argentina.Argentina’s victory managed to turn Kolkata’s world upside down. Maradona’s staggering display of running, passing and goal scoring was viewed as a tour de force and since then, nothing has remained the same. Now, whenever Kolkata, Goa, Kerala or other urban agglomerates in India go gaga over football – be it EPL, Champions League or the World Cup – it reminds one of Begaane Shaadi Mein Abdullah Deewana. This iconic song from the Bollywood film Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain, which literally means that you are dancing at some unknown person’s wedding, is something Indian fans have had to do, World Cup after World Cup, as Indian football has remained on skid row. Consigned to the rubbish heap of history, it will be some time before the nation can take part in the beautiful game, on the world stage.