With the 2010 FIFA World Cup just days away I'd like to recap the 2006 FIFA World Cup which for me was like my own World Cup. You could ask why? Simply put because it was played here in Germany and three of the venues Cologne, Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen where within 70 kilometres of my home town of Remscheid, it just felt like my own World Cup for me. It just wasn't that month of action in Germany, but it started much earlier for me.
I was not just following the 2006 FIFA World Cup as a fan, but working as a journalist covering matches and the overall flair of the tournament across Germany. For me it was a once in a lifetime experience. I always tell friends it was the best month of my life. Travelling across Germany, watching football, reporting about it and having a chance once in a while to come back home and sleep in my own bed. I couldn't have asked for more.
But as said the 2006 FIFA World Cup started for me a lot earlier, in December 2003 to be precise as I covered the draw for the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Frankfurt/Main. India were drawn in a tough group along with Japan, Oman and Singapore. My slim hopes of seeing India play in Germany were more then over. It would have been a dream come true, but it only remained a distant dream.
In August 2004 I was asked to help in the organisation of the India vs Japan qualifier which would be held on September 8, 2004 at the Saltlake Stadium, Kolkata. Actually it was a number of coincidences that happened which led to this. I was actually flying down to India for a longer break with my parents for some research work for my studies, but on my British Airways flight from London to Kolkata I happened bump into the East Bengal Club squad, which was returning home after having played a tournament in Leicester. The then IFA (West Bengal) secretary Subrata Datta got to know, we met a day after my arrival and he asked me to join his team to organise the match. He asked me to help with media work with a special focus on the Japanese media and TV production as I had interacted with the Japanese media at the draw ceremony in Germany.
It was a mammoth exercise as Subrata Datta got a team of nearly 50 people together, all volunteers willing to spend close to a month's time, to organise the game. And this was just the inner circle of people needed to organise such a game, all hand picked by Subrata Datta under whose able leadership a lot of things worked which else would have failed.
The month's work was a lot of fun, I made a lot of new friends and got an invaluable insight on how Indian football works. At least the Bengali way with all its pros and cons. Once more I was around Team India during their preparations often visiting their morning practice before heading off for other work.
Match day wasn't that spectacular. We had 90,000 spectators as a sell out crowd, close to 5,000 Japanese came into Kolkata and left again with no one really knowing where they had actually come from and gone to. India lost 0-4 against a superior Japan and we all did our work with a lot of dedication. The only blip was a long power outage during an extended half time, which was later blamed on a rat which went into a transformer.
India didn't even get near to qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup but my enthusiasm for the tournament was ever growing as it came closer and closer. For me it somewhat started in December 2005 when I visited Kolkata with FC Bayern Munich II to take part in the IFA Shield. My friend Jason Dacey would interview me for ESPN-Star Sports on the upcoming World Cup. And later on I got to know that that interview was repeated again and again over the coming month's ahead of the World Cup on ESPN. I don't remember what I said nor have I ever seen the clip, but it must have been something of substance.
In February 2006 I was in Kolkata on an assignment. And a friend working for a Bengali news channel then asked me if he could do a series of interview with me ahead of the World Cup with a focus on Germany. It was a series of five interviews shot over two days across Kolkata with the last one the most entertaining as it was shot in a shopping mall as it was rather on the lighter side and people thought we were shooting for a soap opera. It was really hilarious...
Only a couple of weeks before the tournament I would come down to India again visiting Mumbai and Kolkata. And a number of friends and journalists would ask me about the atmosphere in Germany before the big event. Honestly at the time it was somewhat mixed. Germany was worried if it would get fully ready before the arrival of guests from around the world and the weather was extremely cool in late-May, early-June which could have also worked as a major dampener. But days before the tournament the weather switched and it stayed warm, even becoming hot throughout. And it would be a complete success.
On June 8 I arrived in Munich for the opening match. That afternoon I would be at the International Media Centre, where journalist friends from India and Bangladesh would ask me questions about Germany - the do's and don't, help them get started with their German mobile numbers and install WiFi on their notebooks. For some I would be their local guide for the next one month.
And in the evening with an Indian journalist friend I would meet local friends, who are Bayern Munich fans and had visited Kolkata with FC Bayern II in December 2005. We had a great evening in an old Bavarian tavern.
June 9. The World Cup started, Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 and that victory started of the carnival atmosphere which was prevalent for the remainder of the World Cup. Germany seemed a changed nation as everyone was friendly and helpful to the foreign guests. The perception about Germany would change over that month. I myself would get my work for print and radio done though it sometimes meant nearly sleepless nights rushing often home or to the hotel before moving on the next day.
July 9. It all ended with the final in which Italy beat France 5-3 on penalties. The match saw the famous head butt of Zidane against Matterazzi and we like nearly the whole stadium wouldn't know what had really happened until we reached the media centre and watched the replay. I think never ever in the history of a FIFA World Cup final were the champions booed off the pitch as it happened that night in Berlin.
The next day it was back home to Remscheid and the World Cup was over, not only for me but for everyone. Still the fond memories remain about a month of hard work, a lot of travelling and loads of fun.