The phone rings quite late in the night and my father picks up the call. After a brief exchange, he calls me to receive the call as it was my friend from school on the line. “Remember to bring Maradona tomorrow I have your Frank Rijkaard,” said the voice on the phone. I was overjoyed finally my set gets completed. In case you are wondering what I am talking about then it’s nothing but Football Card that we are planning to exchange over the phone.
It was the year 1990 and the FIFA World Cup was about to start in Italy and all my classmates were busy collecting football cards which one would get after buying a bubble gum which was rightly named World Cup Bubble Gum. Things became such crazy that shops started running out of World Cup Bubble Gums and the ones that still did were not getting sold as the shops did not have any new football cards with them.
Apart from buying a bubble gum and getting a football card one could also exchange these with others. The exchange always did not mean one to one but also depended on how demanded the card was. A Maradona card could fetch two cards in exchange and a Pele could fetch you three.
We used to eagerly wait for school recess when all of us would take out our cards and get down to business. The cards were so precious that we did not leave our bags out of sight and if we had to then would hide the cards in our socks.
It was two days for the world cup to start and there was a big problem in our house. We did not have a television as we had recently shifted to Bangalore from Kolkata and those were the days when very few families had a television set in the first place and having a second one was extremely rare.
Something had to be done we had to find a solution as there were three very football fans in our house. My dad was a Brazil supporter while I supported Argentina and my sister supported Italy. Dad still had his Pele nostalgia with him and for me, Maradona was much more than a God and for my sister Roberto Baggio was everything.
So we had to get a television within two days. My dad took me to various electronic shops scouting for the cheapest available television set. The cheapest that we found was a BPL B/W television and it was costing us around Rs. 2200. I was expecting my father to buy the television but instead, we left the shop and returned back to home. The reason I came to know is that we did not have enough money to buy the television so it was time to take out all the combined savings that we had. My mom took her savings from the trunk below the bed and somehow we managed to arrange the money.
Next was to go to the shop and finally buy the television set and we just could not afford to waste any more money in hiring an auto so it was the turn for my father to ride his motorcycle and my sister at the back somehow holding on to the television box. My father drove as slow as possible to make sure it does not fall from my sister’s hand. I and my mother were waiting at the balcony looking towards the street and finally, it did arrive a small portable red colored black and white television.
Those were the days when cable television was non-existent and in a small city like Bangalore the terrestrial television signal was also limited to certain hours. So we plugged in the television and eagerly waited for the signal. For some time, it was just white noise and then the Doordarshan intro music started followed by regular programming.
And then it finally came the first match between the last year’s winner Argentina and Cameroon and what a match it was. Cameroon that year became the dark horse proving that African players and teams need to be watched out for.
Back at school the football card exchanges took to a new level and depending on the player’s performance the demand and supply changed. All of a sudden Roger Milla card became much more valuable than Maradona. This continued till the finals where Argentina took the challenge to win over West Germany. The end was however not that sweet as a teary-eyed Maradona failed to lead his team to victory and as the last whistle blew a stream of tears rolled down my eyes as well. A brilliant West German team won the cup but the real winners for me that year was always Argentina.
As the football world cup came to an end so did the craze for football cards. We were young and restless so we found the next best things which were cricket and baseball. Coincidentally our time in Bangalore had also come to an end and we shifted back to Kolkata leaving behind my close buddies like Akash, Sandeep, and Pramod. Back in Kolkata, I started exchanging cards with a new set of friends but that fun and excitement never returned.
Slowly the cards were forgotten and were carefully stored in a plastic box. One fine day I found my 6-month-old German Spitz chewing up on my football cards. I somehow managed to snatch it away and hide them in a shoe box. I was disheartened as I wanted to keep the cards in pristine condition so that one day these will become valuable.
Years passed to be precise 28 years passed and just when FIFA World Cup 2018 is going to start in Russia I suddenly remembered about the football cards. I knew that I had kept that in a shoe box and somehow managed to track that box inside a basket full of letters and cards which I had collected over the years from my school and college days. Amongst the pile of old letters was the old World Cup Bubble Gum Football Cards. Some in good condition while some damaged with bite marks from my dog still visible.
As I went through the collection of cards I had a smile on my face some players were dead while some were old football coaches now. Some countries were no longer existent like USSR, Yugoslavia, West Germany etc. What still remains is that sense of possessiveness about these cards as I was going through each of them I used a hand wipe to clean each of them one by one and store them back in the plastic box.