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Go, book your tables
For the past one week, men and women alike have been working the phones and posting on Facebook, trying to arrive at a collective decision that could transform a day to be spent in front of television from banal to a night of debauchery.
Queries range from where to how much. And size. The size of the spectacle is perhaps more important than where it is to be viewed. Choices range from bars to pool parties and everything in between. For once, a Saturday evening is not being planned around the hippest place in town with the prettiest girls in the smallest skirts, but around what 22 men will be doing with one ball, twice over.
Saturday, or May 28, is when Mahendra Singh Dhoni's yellow men will defend their tag of champions against opponents whose name is still unknown - thanks to the Indian Premier League eliminator concept and our deadlines - while Manchester United, on a high after winning their 19th English Premier League title, are up against an inspired and mercurial Barcelona in the Champions League final at Wembley.
These 44 men are no ordinary men. Some of the richest and most famous men in the world, on them depend the hopes, ambitions and of course wagers of millions.
Central to this evening being a success is the mandatory requirement of lager and lots of it. No cricket carnival, especially one like Twenty20 or a football feast like this particular Champions League final, can be savoured without some bitter.
Cases of Budweiser, the ale of choice for many a boorish United fan, are being stocked while Thai beer Singha and Russian vodka Smirnoff, among the many sponsors that Glazers have roped in, will also flow freely. For Rs 1, 500, you can drag yourself to any of the six Manchester United Cafes in India, and drink yourself silly. Cricket might still be king in India, but when it comes to passion, football has little competition. The Indian Premier League and its irritatingly catchy bugle tune are made tolerable only when faced with the proposal of Happy Hours till the last over. Capable of turning men from surly to gay within a couple of hours, the concept of 'drink two, pay for one' is one great innovation. Pints finish just as quickly as the overs and the sight of a table full of empty pints is as beautiful - or heartbreaking, depending on where you stand - as a last-ball six.
But if there was ever a competition, drinking or cheering, football fans would beat cricket fans hollow. They seem to take Bill Shankly's words, "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that, " to heart. Drama and despair often walk hand-in-hand on a football field.
Nemanja Vidic and Carles Puyol, who wear the captain bands for their respective clubs, know that whether in Michigan or Mumbai, tears will flow after the final whistle is blown. And what will be there to lend closure will be an open bottle.
Lalit Modi's dream was to emulate what Manchester United, the world's most famous club, has achieved. With more fans than any other team, many of whom have never even heard of Old Trafford or Matt Busby, Mancunians outnumber any other species. Maybe that is the reason why most restaurants and bars in India have applied for special permission to stay open for a match that begins at a quarter past midnight.
Even in India, with over six Manchester United Cafês open, there are still many 'unofficial' fan clubs that organize their own screenings. The Manchester United Fan Club of Mumbai, a five-year-old fan club, regularly organises screenings where members and curious onlookers are allowed to attend with an entry fee of Rs 270 - you can get your own booze - at Hotel Avon Ruby, a rundown but available property at Dadar.
Other EPL fans despair not. There's also Arsenal Mumbai, Chelsea Mumbai and Liverpool Mumbai.
"For those of us who are not lucky enough to visit Old Trafford, the Mecca for all Red Devils, watching them in action with fellow supporters is the second best thing," claims Sunil Thakur, a 30-year-old who runs a student counseling company and wears the regal title of the fan club president. He expects a turnout of 250 people for Saturday in Mumbai while 'sister' outfits in Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai are gearing up for smaller numbers. With a list of 500 registered members, the club is trying to obtain Official Status from Manchester United, "just a question of when rather than how."
Any screening with the MUFCM is replete with shouting and singing, with some members even having made their own terrace chants.
Everywhere we go/ People want to know/ Who we are? Where we come from?/ We are United/ Mighty Mighty United/ We are the Army/ Red Red Army/ Mumbai Red Army!
There might be a sea of red across India on Saturday, but Lionel Messi and David Villa have more than a few tricks up their socks. Thakur and his boys know that as well as Alex Ferguson and his boys.
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