Calcutta, 16th August, 1980: Eden Gardens was jam packed. One felt that the greedy organizers had as usual let in more people than the capacity of the stadium. The atmosphere was electric, the tension palpable. And why not? After all it was a grudge match between sworn rivals. Their last meeting between the two had resulted in a virtual fisticuff on the field. As tempers rose along with the tempo of the game, the dreaded moment arrived! As the match referee flashed a few cards of multiple hues, all hell broke loose in the stands. Till then the exclusive preserve of the English fans, Football hooliganism made its presence felt in an Indian stadium. Once the mayhem ended the score was match abandoned, 16 dead, countless injured. A few days later the marquee clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal were suspended from the game.
Bridgetown, Barbados, 1962: During the Indian cricket tour to the West Indies, Nari Contractor the Indian Captain was at the crease. Bowling thunderbolts at him was the fiery West Indian fast bowler Charlie Griffith. This as you would have rightly guessed was the pre-helmet days. As the contest increased in its keenness, yet another blinder from Griffith found its mark, right on the batsman’s head. Nari Contractor collapsed on the pitch in a pool of blood. The game was stopped and Contractor was rushed to the hospital fighting for his life. So severe was the injury and so critical was contractor that a surgeon had to be flown in from US for an emergency operation. Nari contractor survived but never played test Cricket again.
Two different stories, two different countries, two different sports, two different set of people; two different tragedies resulted in one similar but wonderful result. Mythologies suggest that from destruction geminates new life. How true! Every year on 16th August since that tragic day at Eden Gardens, Indian Football Association (WB) has been inviting fans to pay homage to the lives lost by organizing a voluntary blood donation camp. Dubbed the ‘Football Lovers Day’, thousands have been donating blood on this day in the camp generally organized at the sprawling Netaji Indoor Stadium.
|Sir Frank Worrell|
Nari Contractor’s surgery was about to be underway when the hitch was noticed. The surgery needed a lot of blood. It was then that Sir Frank Worrell, one among the famous ‘3Ws’, the holy trinity of the pantheon of West Indian batsmanship collected the players from both the teams and donated blood to save Contractor’s life. Since 1981, the Cricket Association of Bengal has been calling its faithful to the hallowed Eden Gardens to celebrate Sir Frank Worrell’s Day by organizing a voluntary blood donation camp. Thousands turn up to mark the occasion which is also CAB’s Foundation Day and carry back a small band-aid patch on their hands and a certificate signed by a Cricketing Legend in lieu of a bottle of their blood. The goose bumps moment was when Nari Contractor was himself one of the donors during the inaugural edition of the Sir Frank Worrell’s Day blood donation camp!
|Nari Contractor donating blood|
Sports are such an integral part of our lives. I don’t think we live even one day without our daily dose of an update about our favourite game or sportsperson. In a land where sportsmen are elevated to rival Gods it is but natural that we share such passion for our stars. Our association with our star does not end with just what he/she does on the field. We expect our stars to be a paragon of virtue off the field too. And once they hang in their boots, we expect them to give back to the game what it gave to them. There are numerous instances of players post their retirement setting up academies, conduct coaching classes and some have joined the administration of the sport they were earlier part of as a player. Where all this eventually takes me to is this: While the sportsmen are doing their two bits for us, what is it that we fans are doing? Beyond filling up the stadiums or being a couch potato I mean!
During my years in Calcutta, I unfailingly marked my attendance at these two venues which had seen many a sporting clash. And every year I proudly came back with the band-aid patch on my hand and with a feeling that my life was not a wasted effort after all. The two days are even today marked on my schedule though it has been years since I left Calcutta. A reminder set on my ‘to-do-list’, alarm set on my phone. Irrespective of where I am and what I am doing, I make it a point twice a year, on the said dates to walk into the nearest blood bank to renew my association with the band-aid patch. At the cost to sounding pompous, I have been doing it ever since the age of eighteen when one becomes medically eligible to donate 250CC of the life giving liquid. There have been other occasions, some emergencies too but these two are days when I connect directly with that sphere of human activity which has given me so much joy, Sports! This is my tribute to the game that I love, homage to the stars who have shed their sweat, tears and blood for my team on the pitch, my payback as a fan.
PS: Do you know the most common reason quoted for not donating blood? A survey says it is the fear of the pain caused by the prick of a needle! What is your excuse?