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  • The Edict

Ashoka’s Packed World Cup Screenings: A Retrospective

Updated: May 1, 2023

By Samhith Shankar, UG24

Over the last month of 2022, my schedule had been especially frantic, but one regular fixture had become a phone call from my friends at half past midnight. It always went the same way:

“Bro, tu RH2 nahi aaya?” (You didn’t come to RH2?)

“Nahi yaar, Stats padhna hai. Yeh mujhe fail kardegi.” (No, I have to study Stats. I’m going to fail the course.)

“Bhai stats toh tu kal bhi padh sakta hai, par Messi ka last World Cup fir na aayega.” (You can study Stats tomorrow as well, but Messi’s last World Cup will never come again.)

Then I’d sigh to myself and say: “Theek hai, sofa pe seat save kar, mein abhi aaya.” (Okay, save a seat on the sofa, I’m on my way.)

And before we’d know it, the next 2 hours would fly by, and I’d go to sleep content with my daily dose of football.

For some, football screenings on campus are a ritual. Tamarish Talukdar, UG’24, quipped about “marking attendance”: “All members of the UG24 football group are required to attend screenings regularly. If their attendance doesn’t reach a minimum quota, they will be removed from the group!”

Central to the tradition of screenings was securing the elusive RH2 TV lounge — which cannot be reserved past midnight. A sigh of relief was heaved whenever we walked into an empty TV lounge, but that is often not the case. It is one of the most coveted locations for movie screenings, parties, late-night study sessions, and the works.

Keeping this in mind, our unofficial organising committee took special care to ensure every single important World Cup match was screened at RH2. However, securing the TV lounge was just the tip of the iceberg. Regular attendees of screenings have surely become well acquainted with the RH2 didis and the Residence Hall wardens, who are perhaps the biggest victims of the football fanaticism at Ashoka. Celebrations after every goal were quietened down by threats of eviction from the lounge, but this never seems to have much effect, since the next goal is celebrated with just as much fervour.

One of my favourite World Cup stories is from the weekend of the Quarterfinals, which coincided with the Ashoka Basketball Association 6.0 games. The turnout for Croatia vs Brazil was understandably underwhelming, since the crowds had gathered around the basketball court for live sport. Midway through the second half, the few people gathered in the TV lounge decided to disband and head towards the ongoing ABA game. The football ended 0-0 after 90 minutes, but at the end of the first half of extra time, Neymar broke through the valiant Croatian defence to give Brazil the lead. Standing on the bylines of the basketball court, one of us checked the score and told the others, and we dedicated a moment of sadness, expressing collective empathy for the vanquished underdogs. The ABA game ended soon and we headed to the Dhaba for some honey lemon tea. With nothing better to do, I put on the match on my phone, hoping for the miraculous. In emphatic fashion, Croatia executed the perfect counter-attack and the ball nestled in the back of Brazil’s net just a few moments after!

Screams of disbelief took over the atmosphere, disrupting the many conversations in the vicinity. We gulped down our chai and sprinted back to a congested TV lounge, just in time for Marquinhos’ decisive penalty. The crowd erupted as the defender hit the post, handing Croatia a place in the Semifinals. Standing at the back, I couldn’t see much except for the frenzy, and shocked faces who couldn’t believe what they had witnessed. Looking back at that day - about a 100 people had abandoned everything else on a busy Friday night for a football match - it was definitely an indicator of the crazy fanaticism this World Cup witnessed at Ashoka University.

Sutanto Mukherjee, UG’24, recalls Argentina vs Netherlands as his favourite screening: “Last minute free-kick against the literal favourites in campus, camera in hand, saying no way they make it work, and they go on to score the funkiest goal possible, and the whole TV lounge goes crazy. Moments like this are why I watch football, and don’t mind staying awake until 3 AM.”

The screenings for the Semifinals and Finals were some of the biggest events of the semester. Organised by the Sports Enthusiasts Club and Jazbaa, the matches were screened to full houses in Takshila, the university’s largest-seating classroom. In preparation for the finals, Takshila was decorated with iconic pictures of the French and Argentine players and other World Cup related paraphernalia. SEC and Jazbaa also arranged for people to get their face painted with the countries’ flags, and tie customised ribbons to show their support. It didn’t need saying, but the message was clear: this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to watch a World Cup final surrounded by your college peers, and therefore it simply had to be made into an event.

On the day of, seats started filling up more than 2 hours before kick off. I walked into Takshila at 6:30 PM, and the first few rows had already been reserved. My friends and I eventually sat near the back, which are probably the best seats in the house to watch the crowd’s reactions along with the match itself. Over the next 2 hours, Takshila filled up to maximum capacity - approximately 500(!) people - while FIFA music and Messi highlight reels played in the background. By 8:30, there was barely any space left, with people occupying the stairs, desks, and every other inch of space available. The fact that many of these attendees had exams early the next day didn’t seem to have much effect at all. The speakers in Takshila weren’t working properly, but this didn’t affect the ambience of the screening, as the crowd broke into regular and increasingly familiar chants of “AR-GEN-TI-NA! Clap-clap-clapclapclap” or “MESSI! MESSI! MESSI!”, and random bouts of cheering and hooting. The atmosphere during the first penalty (of many) was quite indescribable. Much of the crowd were seeing their favourite footballer come within a whisker of winning the biggest tournament in football. Pictures and paragraphs can’t explain the atmosphere - it was something that you had to experience firsthand, and something this writer can feel very fortunate to have gone through.

Over the next 3 hours, the crowd erupted in moments of joy, stayed rooted to their seats in moments of despair, and held their breath through tense situations - of which there were many. After Gonzalo Montiel scored the World Cup winning penalty, the celebrations resonated through Takshila, and probably across campus. It simultaneously embodied the joy of winning the World Cup, and appreciation for the nail-biting game of excellent football we’d just watched.

Jagrit Khatri says: “It really felt like the most perfect storybook ending for me and even though most of us hated the prospect of a winter World Cup, watching the finals on campus was definitely the highlight of my semester.” On the solidarity between Messi fandom, he says: “Even though Buenos Aires is 15000+ km away from Sonipat, a 5'7 man was the glue and the reason for transcending boundaries and uniting fans across the world.”

(I also asked Argentina and Messi devotee Rijul Ganju for a quote, but all I received in response were chants of “MESSI, MESSI, MESSI” - a sound that RH2 residents had become far too accustomed to over the month prior, as it echoed through the TV lounge coincidentally on the same days that Argentina played in the World Cup.)

The winter World Cup is something that may never happen again. This means we might be the only group of students who ever get to watch World Cup games on campus, since they normally take place over the summer. I was initially quite disappointed that the World Cup would overlap with finals week, but it forced me to take breaks from studying which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For at least 2 hours, I was forced to hang out with my friends and not think about my courses, which definitely helped me avoid burnout. Over the course of the World Cup, for a few matches, I tried watching in my room instead of going to screenings, but it just wasn't the same. The spirited ambience and feeling of belonging amongst other football fans is irreplaceable. Screenings provide a sense of community that makes football more than just 22 men kicking around a ball. What starts out as a throwaway conversation at a screening about Mbappe’s heading ability, evolves into waving to each other in the mess, and eventually develops into a friendship. Sports have always been about more than just some people playing with stitched-together bags of air, as its detractors might argue in vain: its value and the community it helps create has resounding effects, and the month of the 2022 World Cup was testament to that.

On November 21, when I attended the first World Cup screening, I didn’t think much of it - I was just going to watch football with some friends. Little did I know, I would also be making unforgettable memories along the way.

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