Friends, Goans, and countrymen, lend me your eyes. I come not to tell you who won, but how they won it. The result that comes off it lives after the game, the moments of comedic genius oft interred with the trophies. But, I cannot let it be. And so, here it is. The story of the 115th and final game of ISL 2020-21.
Scene I: Just outside the Mumbai City penalty box. Ahmed Jahouh is dawdling on the ball. As he does.
‘Ah, football, the beautiful game. The ball feels so good at my feet. I cannot quite explain how good it feels when I roll my studs on the ball. Wait, a butterfly. Ah, how beautiful nature is.’
‘My precious! Where have you gone?’
Enter Stage left, Roy Krishna, who had been running around the stage like a child on a sugar high — and had earlier harried Mourtada Fall into passing the ball to Jahouh — has robbed him off his ball. The one thing that matters to him.
‘I have it now. But i don’t want it. Willo, my friend, take it’
David Williams has been running around with Krishna from the moment the curtains were raised. He now receives the ball, sees Amrinder’s knees collapse from under him and smashes it past him.
KRISHNA AND WILLIAMS
‘Hehehehe! We lead!’
Off stage, another cackle A bald head peeks out.
‘My plan is working! I will beat him, finally!’
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SCENE II: Just outside the Mumbai City penalty box. Ahmed Jahouh is dawdling on the ball. As he does. Lead in pocket, though, ATK Mohun Bagan are no longer pressing.
‘Ah, my precious. I have you with me again. Let us enjoy this beautiful, warm, Goan evening. Oh! Wait… is that my little blonde-haired winger cutting in from the left?’
‘Yes! Here you go, Bipin’
The ball sails through the air, over everyone. Except Tiri, who’s taken to the air. Or Bipin Singh, who’s now in behind a flying Tiri.
‘Oh, no you don’t, ball. You are going nowhere but into my keepers safe embrace’
Arindam Bhattacharya, said keeper, had silently moved forward to intercept the ball. He had seen Bipin, but had inexplicably not seen Tiri. Neither had he shouted him a warning. Tiri suddenly realises, neither had he. All that dialogue about safe embraces had been in his head.
It all happens in slow motion. Tiri falls, Bipin runs, Arindam flails… the ball loops off Tiri’s forehead and right into the unguarded bottom corner.
‘Hehehe! We’re back in it! I made that happen with that run’
Off stage, a booming laugh. A man with a neat haircut and a t-shirt buttoned up to his neck peeks out.
‘Hehe! Yes you did, Bipin!’
He looks at someone backstage and laughs even more.
‘You’re not beating me today, my friend.’
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SCENE III: Somewhere along the right touchline in Mumbai’s half. The scene has gone dark. Ominous music fills the stage. Amey Ranawade is struggling to get back onto his feet, but his legs are buckling underneath him.
‘I want to play, I want to help my team win.
‘NO! Get him an ambulance’
An ambulance races onto the stage, loads Ranawade in, races right off.
SCENE I: The Mumbai City dressing room. Everyone is tense. Faces are ashen, shoulders have dropped.
‘Let’s do this for Amey’
Off stage, an announcement is made — Ranawade is alright, in stable condition, and under observation.
SCENE I: Inside the ATKMB six-yard box. Hugo Boumous is running onto a ball that’s rolling slowly toward him.
‘It’s mine. Glory. Victory. That trophy. Mine!’
Under no pressure whatsoever, Boumous has smashed the ball off stage, and into the stands. That was the best piece of play City had strung together all night, Lobera-ball finally materialising into reality.
SCENE II: Somewhere along the left Mumbai touchline, deep inside their half. The ball is in the back of the Mumbai net. The players, though, are mobbing the linesman, who has his flag raised.
‘Are you kidding me? I didn’t touch the ball.’
‘Doesn’t matter, interference with play. If you hadn’t made the move, Rakip wouldn’t have had to extend his leg, and the ball wouldn’t have ricocheted off his shin and into the goal’
‘So what? It’s an Own Goal! How can you call offside on an Own Goal?
SCENE III: Just outside ATK Mohun Bagan’s box. A hopeful ball has been punted forward and Bartholomew Ogbeche is on the chase. The curtains are half-down, it’s almost time to shut the theatre down.
‘I shall be the hero now. I shall redeem myself. My mistake shall no longer define this game!’
He races forward, chests the ball. Straight to Ogbeche.
‘Haha, gotcha! Easy now. Hahaha! Bye’
A strong shoulder to hold him at bay, a cool nutmeg to sit him down and Ogbeche’s free inside the box.
‘Pass! I’m free, I made the first goal, I can win this for us’
‘Sure, bud. Here you go’
‘It’s mine. Glory. Victory. That trophy. Mine!’
Head up, he calmly passes it into the area of the net a scrambling trio of Arindam, Tiri and Sandesh Jhingan have not covered.
The man in the buttoned-up collar peeks out again and shakes a fist at the sky.
‘First the league shield, now this? Sack me again, why don’t you!’
SCENE I: Mumbai City’s players and staff are gathered at the middle of the stage. A trophy is brought forward. There’s glitter and confetti everywhere. Water and champagne flying through the air. Laughter fills the stage.