- Football fans Pannalal and Chaitali Chatterjee have been to nine World Cups
- Their first World Cup experience was in Spain in 1982
- Couple delighted that India is currently hosting the U-17 World Cup
Pannalal and Chaitali Chatterjee are not a couple who can visit any restaurant in Kolkata and eat without caring to look at the prices on the menu card, and neither can they decide to take off on vacations to coveted destinations like England, France or Mexico.
Yet, this couple is already making their preparations to attend their tenth FIFA World Cup™ in Russia in 2018. A recent guest at the unveiling of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Winner’s Trophy in Kolkata, learning about Chaitali's World Cup experiences was nothing short of taking a virtual trip with her to Spain in 1982, Mexico in 1986, and right up to Brazil in 2014.
Reminiscing about her very first World Cup, Chaitali spoke about how her and her husband’s chance visit to Spain 1982 was a pure stroke of luck without which they might never have found how deeply their love for football ran.
“My husband’s childhood friend lived in Sussex and he was soon to become the Mayor of the province. He wanted all his friends to be there for him to share the special moment, so we decided to go," Chaitali said. "Incidentally, the World Cup was going on in Spain and two old friends couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the happy occasion than going to catch some football. Being there in the stadium, purely on an impulse, I realised how this is something we have to do every single time. I will always consider this a gift of God since if we had not gone to England, Spain would never have happened and our lives would never have taken the turn that it did.”
The decision to visit every World Cup came with a hundred sacrifices, from curtailing on food they liked, to always living on a budget, and making sure that their World Cup fund was not compromised with. It was not such a bad decision, one could tell, from the way her face lit up when she was asked what her most memorable World Cup moment was over the past 35 years.
“Of course, it was watching [Diego] Maradona’s brilliance at the 1986 World Cup," Chaitali said. "I saw him leave defenders helplessly looking at each other, as there was little they could do when the tiny fellow had the ball at his feet. Watching the Hand of God occurring right before my eyes, well, how can you expect anything else to top that memory?” Moreover, in spite of being a quintessential Brazil-supporting Bengali (she and her husband were even photographed with Pele), she had no qualms in admitting that Maradona would always be her favourite footballer.
Her love for Brazil was further apparent when asked about being in the stadium in Belo Horizonte when hosts Brazil were beaten 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals in 2014. “You have no idea what it is like to watch something that heartbreaking happen before your eyes. If you support someone, you just do," she said. "You don’t need to be a Brazilian to struggle with the waterworks when the team fell like a pack of cards.”
Brazil, though, has to play second fiddle to her true allegiance at home in Mohun Bagan. Having watched 31 Santosh Trophy matches in different parts of the country, her love for Indian football was far from fickle. “You can cut open my wrist. You will see Mohun Bagan running in my veins and nothing will ever change that,” she added with a grin.
In spite of her frail and sweet demeanour, she did a rather poor job of disguising the tinge of football snob in her when she spoke of the differences between watching a match on TV and watching games live. “When you watch a match on TV, the camera is just following the ball. Of course, there are a lot of people who are satisfied with that," she said. "I need more. How can you not pay attention to how the defender takes the position when he sees an attack brewing? So much is going on without the ball. It’s all part of the game.”
And watching the beautiful game live just got a whole lot easier for the couple, with the U-17 World Cup currently taking place in India. They are very grateful that Kolkata hosts 11 games, including the final on Saturday. Nevertheless, one should expect to see the Chatterjees in Russia next year for the latest edition of football's showpiece event.