Greatest Sachin Tribute I’ve ever seen. Featuring @Warne888 during India v Australia, 2nd Test, Chennai, October 15, 2004. Chennai missed its adopted son, Sachin, who was injured for this game. But true to Chepauk’s wisdom, the crowd more than made up for it with their tribute to the Master. One Mr. Shane Warne can take a lot of credit for that. 

After breaking Murali’s record as the leading wicket taker (533), Warne took the ball and waved to the entire stadium.

 

 

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He then walked towards third man position from the Wallahjah Road End. Towards the epitome of ‘Knowledgeable Chennai Crowd’, the D Stand. The entire block stood up and clapped while Warne doffed his hat and milked every bit of it. For most cricketers and for most fans, this would be the high point. But not for Warne and certainly not Chennai. The D Stand now stepped up with Haka like intensity – “Warney! Warney! Warney”. As soon as Gilly collected a standard dodge from Dravid, Warne turned quicker than any of his leg breaks to face us again. Thankfully, it was McGrath bowling at the other end. It meant that Warne had enough time to respond. But suddenly, D Stand changed its mind. Someone triggered something somewhere. It caught on like the Mexican Wave. 3000 fans or so facing Warne but chanting his nemesis’ name. “SACHIN! SACHIN! SACHIN!”. Louder than ever before.

I was half expecting Warne to turn away and ignore the relentless chants. McGrath started his run up. It was the perfect distraction. Dravid dodged, Gilly collected but Warne decided to step it up. He turned around and faced the “SACHIN! SACHIN!” chants head on. By now the entire stadium joined in. The Australian slip cordon looked on with anticipation as Warne paid the ultimate tribute. “SACHIN! SACHIN! SACHIN!”. He did the double squats, the head nods and then went down the track and smashed the ball right into D Stand. 40000 erupted with joy as Warne then did a Billy Bowden style bangra to signal the Sixer. He then pointed to his ‘Sachin’ imitation again and humbly bowed down with his hands raised. 

And in a moment of beautiful seamless transition, D Stand went from “SACHIN! SACHIN! SACHIN!” to “WARNEY! WARNEY! WARNEY!”. Almost as a Thank You to a legend for being beautifully sporting and yet brutally honest. You knew then that this tribute was special. As there is nothing else in Cricket that would stop an impervious McGrath from his run up. 

Thank You Sachin!

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Why Leeds United?

 

(This is an article I wrote for a Football magazine 4-5 years ago. Found it to be relevant even today. Rehashing it now.)

Why did Gandhi fight for our country’s freedom? Why did Sachin choose the game of Cricket? Why did Rajnikanth’s Sivaji shake up the nation? Such phenomena cannot be explained by mere words. Hold your breath as I’m going to cheekily add the question “ Why Leeds United “ to the list above .

Forgive my impersonation of the Yorkshire histrionics as deep down inside a cauldron of thoughts, I still look upon the disastrous year of 2002 for Leeds United with a lot of pride! During the fag end of the Ridsale’s leadership (or lack of), what seemed to be traumatic and laughable for the Leeds fanatics and the Leeds haters (the rest of England) respectively, felt like a bed of Roses to me. I was a keen supporter of the underdogs in any competition and that’s how Leeds United caught my eye in the first place . The 99-00, 00-01 seasons were supposed to be our first proper glorious phase in the Barclays Premiership ( which we inaugurated as the defending champions by the way ). Finishing inside the top 4 started becoming a hobby for O Leary’s boys. Nobody expected O Leary to promote youngsters and create one hell of a team from the corpse that George Graham left. I was just a “ TV Fan “ during such dizzy seasons. A casual onlooker and an eavesdropper of some sorts. When David O Leary was bravely riding his rookie managerial luck during the 98-99 seasons, I liked the mix of fearlessness, dirt, flair and  the youthful zest about his team. It was all about Manchester United, Arsenal , Real Madrid etc then but everybody still had half an eye on this rising phoenix called Leeds United. The older football fans were whispering about whether the World was going to revisit the glory days of Don Revie again. The days when the words Leeds United sent shiver down the spine of all the leagues. They were a team full of champions who dominated the 70’s of English football with a take-no-prisoner attitude. There was a similar buzz about O Leary’s team which had the cream of the Premiership’s exciting young prodigies playing out of their skins in Kewell , Bakke , Bridges , Keane , Bowyer , Ferdinand , Woodgate etc . The only difference was that Revie’s men were hated to bits for their route to success while O Leary’s boys were silently backed by many. Who would not like it when out of the blue, a bunch of modest untried youngsters from England under the stewardship of a fledgling manager vehemently shoved many European and English giants and kept Marching On Togther!

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Such a narrative would have been the perfect recipe for any normal football fan to immediately fall in love with that club but to my surprise , I only batted a few eye lids when Leeds fiercely represented England in the semi finals of  the UEFA Cup and Champions League in consecutive years. Pitting against the likes of Barcelona , AC Milan , Real Madrid etc and more than matching them on all occasions feels unbelievable now, though it felt like just another day at work then! It was only after O Leary was sacked in June 2002 and Ridsale along with the English Media started washing our dirty linen in public, I started to bond with this club emotionally. Terry Venables stepped in and showed the opposite of the Midas touch. He fell out with top class players and fan favourites like Dacourt and Batty after just one training session. Rio Ferdinand went for an astronomical fee, both Robbies (Keane and Fowler) left because he didn’t pick them, and Bowyer jumped in the exiting bandwagon as well. Ridsale revealing the frailties of the club’s economy did Terry no good, when Woodgate was sold without the consent of the manager to settle some debts.  El Tel left us in a relegation dog fight by the time he was sacked in March 2003 .  Such twists and turns made Leeds look like a time bomb to most but I found it an attractive proposition. The icing on the cake from a dramatic perspective was when Ridsale made a cowardly sneaky exit and economics expert John Mckenzie took over, who appointed Peter Reid as our manager and had to secure our Premiership status . Step up Mark Viduka ! A super hat trick in the 1-6 away win at Charlton and then clinching the winning goal  during the dying minutes of  one of the most scintillating games ever in the history of the Premiership , a 2-3 win at Highbury versus Arsenal (thereby gifting the title to eternal rivals Manchester United and securing our premiership status. Bleh!) .

Believe it or not, the drama exhibited in 02-03 season as sampled in the video above was the force that made me fall in love with this club. That season was like an entrance exam Leeds conducted to test my abilities to be a future Leeds fanatic. I passed it with flying colours while many ex Leeds “followers“ backed out and moved to greener pastures.  Throughout such sad lows for the club, the way the Leeds fans backed their club home and away by and out-loving and out-singing their opponents was inspirational. I could not help but realize that there was something uniquely special about this club. The way we hit jackpot with O Leary , the way we crumbled in a cruel manner, the way our gold fish loving Chairman Ridsale revealed some of his atrocious financial gambles ,  the way the fans put up with all of this by selling out every game , the way we continued to produce home bred talents every season , the way so many players stabbed us in the dark after learning about our insecurity and the way the footballing world looked on us with sarcasm, delight and envy, all these signs pointed towards an elusive door . A door that opens rarely but when it does, it provides admit to a permanent status of being and breathing Leeds United. A peerless feeling. I was lucky to have developed the knack of loving the lows and blows to this club from that moment onwards as the worst was yet to come.

I knew from the second we secured our premiership status with Peter Reid that we were going down next season come what may. It was like wallowing about a bad dream even before you are ready to hit bed and that prepared me for a roller coaster of a ride as a Leeds fan. What was left with us in the 03-04 season was a bunch of crocked players on huge and continuously rising pay packets like Viduka , Bakke , Barmby , Seth Johnson , Duberry etc along with some real heroes in Smith , Radebe , Kelly etc and some top young talents in Lennon and Milner. Only during that summer did Peter Reid realize the blunder he did by accepting the job. Hardly did he receive any financial backing as the chairman’s board were busy restructuring our huge debts and selling our valuable assets for cut price deals to scavenger like buyers. All the premiership clubs took advantage of our precarious position . Take it or leave it was what they told Ridsale and his successor Trevor Birch (chief executive and insolvency specialist). Something was better than nothing for our board at that time as we were in a lose-lose situation! Either we keep them and pay the monumental and suffocating wages of theirs or we sell the remaining jewels and still pay a small part of their unaffordable wages! Both ways , administration remained a possibility.

The team that season never really settled. The loan players had no idea what they signed up for. The remains of the Venables era were busy in the treatment room taking their own time or in the chairman’s room plotting a quiet exit ! Hardly a handful could come out of that season with their heads held high. Even the hero from our championship winning side of 92, David Batty, turned a villain by not accepting a cut in the players’ wages and staged a revolt of some sorts! Our financial troubles did not leave any stone unturned and was relentlessly killing us by all means. Peter Reid was the next victim and amid all the notorious pontificating from ambitious, headstrong board members, a self-obsessed chairman and fly-by-night managers, it was left to a genuine Leeds man in Eddie Gray, to try to stop the club from going to the wall in the final phase of our last season in the Premiership. Even a Leeds legend like him fell prey to the claws of our demons. In Football, money kills ruthlessly, simple as that.

I will never forget the game at the Reebok Stadium that season where we had to win to stay alive in the relegation battle. During that time, the set top box system was introduced in only one city in the whole of the country and that was in good old Madras, my hometown. Hardly anybody took up the Set top box due to its ridiculous pricing and the football fanatics had to resort to Soccernet’s Gamecast. I sneaked into the house of one of my friends who afforded that setup and watched that game without the knowledge of his parents. I left home in tears as Viduka got himself foolishly sent off in the first half and the game ended with the famous pictures of Smith and Robbo embracing themselves with tears and a little boy crying in the away stand with the markings of “ We will be back !! “ on his body. Those scenes were a deafening moment in my time as a Leeds fan as I could hear only the Leeds fans sing their hearts out after the inevitable happened. We were relegated. Some players had the face to clap the fans off the park, some didn’t while some just didn’t care!

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After this game, I was dragging my sorrows through the backdoor at midnight. My friend was sending me off and sarcastically said – “So then, who is it going to be next season? Newcastle would be a good choice for you! Spurs maybe?“. I stood there baffled by the stupidity in his question but such was the average football fan’s attitude. Little did he realize that this was not a one-off thing with Leeds. I was not there for the fun of it. It wasn’t about doing something different and grabbing attention. It was that awesome moment where your passion finds its greatest calling. I gradually realized that after shedding a tear or two for something that was countries away! So, I told him gently – “ Machan, if it doesn’t kill us, it only makes us stronger!“ and now, roughly 10 years later, after watching us ( the club , the fans and myself! ) alive and kicking , I’m sure he got the message.

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The Damned One.

In a land where every Tom, Dick and Harry seem to be an Arsenal, Manchester United or a Chelsea fan (in that specific order), I present to you the curious case of Leeds United. My single biggest claim to fame as I’m probably the sole Leeds United fan in the whole of India. To describe Leeds United to an average  football .. they are one of the bravest, one of the coolest, one of the biggest and the greatest clubs in English Football …… to have never made it to the English Premier League in the last 10 years. But my passion and loyalty towards the club has remained undeterred. So what if they suck at football? So what if their name is ‘Leeds’ United when they have never led in a game? I still love them. I have managed to stay connected to the club for the last ten years quite actively through an internet message board. Hey their matches don’t come on TV okay! But I’ve followed each and every game of theirs in my spiritual stadium, i.e Chat Rooms.

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What is the greatest dream of any English football fan? It is to go to UK and watch your team play live in a stadium a where fans don’t have to break their keyboards to celebrate a goal (chat room, spiritual stadium – remember?). That is exactly what I wanted to do, so I applied for my Visa, and in the application form, there was a question that said – “ reason for visiting UK … “ and I wrote one of the most passionate essays ever, about my decade long passion, unwavering loyalty and undying love for Leeds United. Few weeks later, I get a letter from the Visa office and it read …

 

“ Dear Mr Aravind, your story sounds endearing, engrossing and  fascinating, and would make one heck of a Bollywood film but unfortunately, it does not sound  CREDIBLE enough for a VISA………………………………… “ Here is the best part “ If you had been a Manchester United fan, we would have probably let you in! “

 

Pause. Manchester United and Leeds United are like the biggest rivals in the footballing community. They are like India and Pakistan. They are like Obama and Osama. They are like Apple and Google. They are like Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. Therefore comparing me to a Manchester United fan is blasphemous. I told my Firang Leeds friends about this in the message board online and they decided to make it an issue. They started a petition, that was signed by 5000 Leeds fans from all over the world, testifying my love for Leeds united. Wipe that surprise off your face because there are 5000 of us in this world okay! That petition was immediately sent to the HOUSE OF COMMONS and my issue was discussed by the Leeds MP. He fought for my case in the house and the next day. There was a walkout staged at the house of commons by all the Leeds supporting MPs ! A grand total of 2 out of the 650 MPs walked out.

 

I became an overnight star of sorts, every radio station wanted to interview me, BBC Radio Leeds, BBC World, BBC International, BBC 5 live, BBC Asia etc. They wanted to tell the story of the small town boy fighting against the system, to realise his childhood dream.. But there was just one small problem, my story sounded way too similar to one of their films that had just swept the oscars, as I was going live on air. So one of the interviews went like this –

 

“ So tell me Mr Aravind, how are you feeling right now ? “

“ Oh well I am agitated .. devastated … frustrated …. “

“ Yeah but come on, “Slum Dog Millionaire” just won the oscars ! “

“ Eh ?  so ? I want my visa and I will fight, I will scrap, I will graft till the end “

“ Oooooohhh ! So are you from the slums as well ? “

“ Alwarpet is not a slum ! I live right opposite Rajnikanth” (Google that shit yo!)

“ Rajni Who? “

“ Rajni who ah ? RAJNI WHO AH ? yeeeeee , thalaivar ah paathu yaarunu ketutan, adinga *censored Tamil abuse*… saroja samanikaloooooooo…. “

 

That is how this radio interview went but the rest of my media coverage were a lot better. So by the end of all this drama, I had great paper work. I had letters of support from BBC Radio Leeds, Leeds United’s Chairman, Leeds MP and I had a petition signed by 5000 Leeds fans. So along with all these I re-applied for Visa.

 

As I was heading to the airport with a night flight for Leeds, I stopped at the embassy to pick up my visa. I was given an envelope and I opened it. BEHOLD. I was introduced then to one of the finest, one of the simplest, one of the most effective yet most abused inventions of the digital era – CONTROL C CONTROL V. I was given a copy pasted version of the first rejection letter all over again. Dear Mr Aravind, your story sounds endearing, engrossing and fascinating, Bollywood blah blah … !! but with two changes..

 

First, the date was changed. Quite clearly they are not as bad as our Indian Govt.

Second, remember the Manchester United part ? IT WAS IN bloody BOLD !!!!

 

So thanks to the British Embassy, I now have two black marks in my visa. This probably means that I am eligible for citizenship in Pakistan. Anyways, I slapped my thigh like Rajnikanth in “Annamalai” (Brother Mountain) and told the British High Commission – ‘You can take me out of Leeds but you can’t take Leeds out of me’. But then I was politely reminded that I’d still need a Visa  for that punch dialogue to hold true. Damn it!

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PS: This blogpost is the opening piece of my first ever Stand Up show. I am going to shamelessly plug that disastrous debut. Cheers!

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‘Satired’ was my secret identity for the internet until my 12 yr old niece broke through the ingenious word play (SA-tired/Satire-d). I blame peer pressure for this embarrassment as I was quite happy with the name ‘Koduvayoor Ramachandran Subramanian Aravind Balakrishnan’ until I was introduced to twitter. Apparently 140 characters are for what YOU had to say and not your lineage. But long names have it’s advantages. My relatives would have passed out while typing my entire name to find me on Facebook or Twitter.

The reason I need a secret identity is simple. I have a hobby. It’s called Stand Up Comedy. They have a hobby. It’s called Making-your-life-miserable-24/7. Both are the same but I still prefer to keep mine as I get paid for it.

I want to keep my family far away from my Stand Up ventures because frankly, I don’t believe they are capable of comprehending my stage persona. I use the F-word, drink the A-word instead of being at R-word. F-Word is Fuck and A-word is Hayward the beer. I added R-Word to the glossary as I consider ‘Harvard’ a bad word too. I’m as surprised as my family about dabbling with Stand Up Comedy. Many reasons I can think of, starting with inability to remember lines. Only reason I remember our National Anthem is because it’s parody version taught by mum is tremendously funny.  Adding to this was the stage fear I developed in school after a Sanskrit play where I was Sudhama who didn’t know about the KitKat wrapper stuck to his dhoti. Failing in front stage is what led me to take backstage for a living (film making) and nobody could convince me otherwise.

Ranting is something I indulge in often. My best friends have been an audience to several exaggerated stories of the world conspiring against me and that usual cute girl giving me the looks. While I thought I was saving up thousands by moaning to my friends instead of a shrink, they were having a ball soaking up my miseries. Weekends were a delight for me.

One fine Saturday evening, I was called to my best friend’s office to hang out. I went there hoping to resume my tale from last weekend but I was in for the shock of my life. The office was filled with some familiar faces from the theatre circuit in Chennai. Walking up and down. Murmuring something from a script in their hand. If being reminded of my board exams wasn’t scary enough, my friend welcomes me with the words – “Welcome to the audition for Stand Up Comedians. You are going next, good luck.”

I was stunned. It was a sly, sick and smart move. I knew very well why he did what he did but I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I asked him what the hell do I go joke about as I have not manufactured any like others in the room. He said – “Be yourself. That’s the joke.”

I had no choice to take that insult quite seriously. I had been avoiding the auditions for ages. There was no turning back now. I imagined the room to be filled with psychiatrists who wanted to listen and help me out. I had a dramatic story from my first stint as an Assistant Director in the Tamil Film Industry (coming soon in a blogpost near you). It was about how I signed up to orchestrate pigeon movements in Varnasi while managing retarded Sadhus who look like Bob Marley visiting Sabrimalai. I narrated that with my eyes expressing the angst and my tone expressing the woes. The more the self deprecation  the more they laughed. I found this logic baffling but gratifying. The ultimate purpose was to extract laughs and if it was at my expense, so be it. I found tremendous pleasure in being able to laugh at myself through others. My nervous energy turned into excitement during the performance and everyone believed that I came prepared with such a frantic style and empathetic content. But I didn’t and somehow I got the most applause that night. And a spot selection.

Now I’m nearing 50 shows and I don’t know how I ever thought bad of this idea. Of course, my debut show was a disaster but hey, there was no turning back. Improvement is inevitable if you do something you like and you do it often. Sometimes, you just need that push from somewhere outside to believe that. My friend gave me just that. He put me in a position to Stand Up and be counted. It’s great because I get to be myself, I get to laugh at myself, I get to laugh at the world and most importantly, I get to tell stories. But the best part is, if ever I am stuck on stage with a KitKat wrapper inadvertently stuck on me, I need not freak out, it’s all part of the act 😉

Stand Up and be counted

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