Liverpool vs Arsenal – Boot Room versus Marble Halls

The Boot Room was a sacrosanct place to the identity and spirituality of the Liverpool FC. Eight years back I took the Anfield stadium tour where they showed what used to be the Boot Room. They would make you stand around it and passionately narrate its significance. In the Liverpool history and tradition, it is that dome where the Gods and their chosen men sat for the light to shine upon them before and after every match. Perhaps the temple where the warriors and their leaders went to speak with the immortals. They would not hide their angst that it does not exist any more. They would also look up to the Gods in repentance, seeking for liberation from the curse that the Gods have stuck them with, for demolishing it was a mistake, not a sin. Last season they thought that the Gods were forgave them. They hoped enough for the Reds to nip the Premier League from their new Manchester rivals. As I watched the final day match and the result thereon, I could not help but think of the Boot Room. Although they won the Champions league, but never the Premier League.

The Boot Room. Picture Courtesy : Mirrorpix

After my Anfield trip, I had the opportunity of taking the Emirates tour as well. They were definitely proud of how the Arsenal FC has naturally progressed through its steady successes of the late nineties. The stadium itself was a matter of pride and they felt that it commanded its position as the majestic marvel in this classical city of the world – London. But did it have the warmth and the coziness of the Marble halls from the East End of Highbury? The Gooners would take a moment of silence before they answered. The moment that the loyalists needed to convince themselves that progress and change are as organic as the nature itself . That moment they usually took to quickly relive and wipe out the memory of being the Invincibles in the history of the English Premier League. They also believed somewhere that they were juggling the jinx ever since they moved from Highbury to Emirates. Whilst at Emirates, the Gunners reached the finals many a times but never won anything more than a few FA Cups. Especially never the league.

Marble Halls

What would they have in common, these two clubs, apart from their cycles of ups and downs, their jinx which still seems to have gripped them, their history, their legacy and their ingrained despise for Manchester United? They are not even territorial enemies, neither were they league contenders at the same point in recent history. There has not been any particular player swoop which would have antagonized one team’s fans with the other. What made Liverpool vs Arsenal (#LIVARS) a special fixture then?

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No real animosity. Picture Courtesy : The Anfield Wrap

One of the most entertaining footballing encounters from time immemorial has been Liverpool vs Arsenal – a fact that could be statistically backed. The only memories that one can vividly remember is the intensity of the game between these two clubs. You can almost never point out the exact year or the season. But you know it happened and how. Record goals scored per match and the highest number of hat-tricks are just a few attributes of this fixture. These clubs with their most animated matches may not have received its hype. Despite their positions and strengths in the league, #LIVARS has been a fiercely fought match with injury time goals, last minute penalties, sometimes three goals in three minutes, and sometimes a player scoring all four goals in a match. This is  a match where a comeback could also face a backlash. An anti climax could also face an anti climax. No matter what the result, it usually tends to have its impact on the league table.

Four-goal feast is not enough for Arsenal striker Andrei Arshavin
Four At Anfield. Picture Courtesy : Getty Images


Firmino’s No Look Goal. Picture Courtesy : Getty Images

Liverpool lost only one match in the entire last season. Of course not to Arsenal. But it did have a draw with Arsenal at the Emirates, perhaps a couple of points that could have landed Liverpool a point above the title winners Manchester City. Who could have possibly known that Arsenal would have indirectly impacted Liverpool’s title chances. This match today would be one of those rare moments where Liverpool and Arsenal are the league leaders, after two matches. Well they are the only two teams to have won the two games out of the two played. Given how close was the title race as well as the top four finish, this game so early in the league has created its own importance. Any team with a clear win today could perhaps send a different kind of ripple effect down the colloquial “Top Six”. With Chelsea taking a drubbing at Old Trafford and Tottenham holding the fort against Manchester City, it is for Arsenal to upset the apple cart of the convenient rivalry between City and Liverpool for the title.  Can Arsenal finally win three in a row at the start of a season (After the Invincibles season)? Can Liverpool hold its lead for this week? Can this fixture be a decider so early for the League winners?

Who knows. I don’t mean to jinx it.

Mohamed Salah thanks Allah after scoring a goal
Picture Courtesy: Eddie Keogh/Reuters


Picture Courtesy: Getty Images

Elephant vs Tail

India lost yet another test cricket series abroad. Ballwinder explains elephant and its tail over a cup of Black Ivory Coffee.

“And yet again Indian Cricket team loses a test series abroad”, I said with a quick glance towards Ballwinder Paaji while swapping the sports channel to the one where Premier League was on.

England vs South Africa 2017, third Test match, Day 2: LIVE streaming, TV listing, date, time, venue
We did it again, lads! PC: Reuters


“How can you claim to be the best batting line up in the world when you collapse before such low totals?”, I looked again at Ballwinder paaji. “Who is responsible for such performances?”, I was on a rant, hoping for some response. It had been long, I did not realise what exactly was I asking for. Ballwinder paaji was busy burning the fresh Arabica beans for his double/triple shot espresso. But he was listening.

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There is coffee, and then there is espresso


“Elephant and its tail”, said Ballwinder.

baby elephant GIF
Lemme introduce this beauty called the elephant, and well of course, its tail.


“You sire, are in for a ride. Perhaps an elephant ride”, I said to myself. The most exciting thing about an elephant is its size, its trunk, its tusk. Why would anybody even think about its tail. Who has ever even thought about its tail.

Elephant Hair-Facts About Circuses
Elephant’s tail


Then there is Ballwinder. Ballwinder would tell me not only the significance of an elephant’s tail, but also its relevance in the context of Indian cricket team losing yet another cricket series abroad. Now I don’t even bother asking the obvious question like “Ballwinder Paaji, What on earth just happened?  I just commented on the consistent claims of Indian team to be the best in the world despite losing abroad, series after series??”. But I did not ask. I just patiently waited for Ballwinder to address the “elephant” in the room. He knew what I was thinking. He looked at me with a slight smile and only broke eye contact when his coffee did the magic for him.

good morning drinking GIF by Panic! At The Disco
“I know what’s on your mind. Wait, this coffee is ecstatic!”


“Elephant is such a majestic animal. You are in its absolute awe. That trunk, the tusk, you are blown away. A creature of magnanimity, true class. And then there is its tail. A tail which does not go with its size, style, trunk or tusk. Something that is there to give it acceptance in the jungle. Everybody’s got one. Well, elephant should also have it. What’s its purpose. For example, look at a cheetah, its tail helps as rudder when it attacks. Look at a crocodile, its tail gives a torpedo effect in water. We, homo sapiens, did not have any use of it, so it vanished. Poor elephant is stuck with this tail. Just as a part of nature’s contract. Quite a price to pay, must I say.

Cheetah’s tail


Crocodile launches completely out of the water, using its powerful tale. Photo: Trevor Frost, screen grab
  Crocodile’s tail


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Again, Elephant’s tail


“That’s interesting, Ballwinder Paaji”, I said with intrigue. I actually was. Useless, elephant’s tail. As enlightening as it sounded, I still sought an answer to my question. “I understand this much, that you are referring to the Indian cricket team as an elephant. Its character can be compared to the class that an elephant belongs to. But what’s with the tail? Who is the tail? Why is the Indian team losing series after series”, I had to address the “elephant” in the room.

benedict cumberbatch sherlock GIF by BBC
What’s the tail gotta do with the Indian cricket team?


“The tail end of the Indian batting is the elephant’s tail”, said Ballwinder in a firm voice. A voice that sounded as if coffee was still somewhere there in the throat. I was shocked. I was taken aback. Not as much by the voice as by his reply. “The tail end of Indian batting, you mean the bowlers? They are not supposed to be batsmen”, I was enraged. At the tip of being offended.

Mohammed Shami
Why always me?


“Indian bowlers are not tail end batsmen Ballu Paaji, they are bowlers. We have to play them else the English would never have gotten out. In fact, Ballu Paaji, they got the England batting limited to such low scores! Here (England) as well as against South Africa! They did their job!”, I  said, now officially being offended.

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Indian bowling is not tail ending batting!


Ballwinder was unmoved. He was not at all moved by my reaction. Somewhere he knew that truth is as bitter as coffee. Not everybody can handle it bitterness the first time they sip it. One has to get used to such bitterness called the truth to relish its flavour and slowly come to terms with one’s mind and soul. He continued to sip his coffee, while my blood boiled in ignorance.

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Coffee is bitter, so is the Truth


“I understand your angst”, said Ballwinder Paaji while trying to patronise me. “But this is the bitter truth. Indian batting is as majestic as an elephant. You have to, have to admire it. You don’t have any choice. You just can’t criticise. Someday you might admire its trunk (Kohli), someday its tusk might stand out (Pujara), maybe never as a whole, but you can never condemn the elephant in its totality (The “grand” top order batting performance). Because you just cannot question the beauty of the elephant. Everybody ends up disgusted with the tail, never with the elephant. Who is acknowledging the fact that the Indian bowling performance has been unprecedented, that they have been successful in limiting the opposition batting to such low scores in the recent test matches? If the bowlers themselves cannot fend the challengers’ bowling attack, play between the gaps, keep rotating the strike, hit the odd one out for a boundary, and reduce the bat-pad gap, well then, they are as efficient as an elephant’s tail.”

 Although I could not even raise them, Ballwinder Paaji opened my eyes. I wish I never had to find out the truth. Not at least this way.

My eyes were opened, just couldn’t raise them.


“Ballwinder Paaji, how would you go about dealing with such an elephant?”, I asked gathering back my zen.

“I will make the most beautiful roasted coffee through the elephant’s digestion – Black Ivory Coffee”, responded Ballwinder paaji.

Black Ivory Roasted Coffee


“In fact, I was just having it. You want to try some?”, asked Ballwinder Paaji as a gentleman.

“Thanks, but no thanks”, I said with the straightest possible face.

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Elephant fermented coffee – Thanks but no thanks



The Game Changer so far.

Group stages done. Look at who has emerged out to be the real game changer so far.

FIFA has seemingly turned a page in the history book of footballing entertainment.  This page in the history book was quite into the turning for almost the whole decade, with the events like awarding of the world cup to new hosts like Russia and Qatar,  the sitting president coming under the scanner, and perhaps the most debated refereeing system. With this world cup in action one can safely assume that the page has hence turned for the better.

The balance of upsets in the group stages and the first day of knockouts has been quite as expected. The previous world cup winners exiting at the group stages has been the unsaid norm for a quite a few world cups now and hence this time too the tradition continues.

When you wait for the bus that has already left.

The real twist in the tale of this world cup which many people were cautioning about has instead swiped us all like the penultimate episode of every Game of Thrones season. The game changer so far:

VAR- Very Angry Response

Congratulations to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) for making the game even more entertaining. I also personally condole all the Foot-draggers and the naysayers who had written the epitaph of the beautiful game with the advent of a TV review system. Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has come out to be the best surprise and has hardly failed anyone in getting entertained.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR)

About 50 matches have been played as yet in the World Cup and the VAR has come into action for about a couple of dozen times. The biggest complaint that the critics had was the slowing down of the game due to over indulgence in the review. The other vehemence in the argument was that any outside intervention at a crucial moment in the game would affect the sanctity of the arbitrariness or uncertainty in decision making. The joy of such arbitrariness was being defended as the real excitement of the game and the advent of technology as a corrosion of pure entertainment.

The VAR has done nothing short of impressing the viewers, perhaps even more the neutrals like you and me who want to see the controversial decisions being taken and then either being confirmed or being reversed by the VAR.  The suspense that looms for that time period and you sitting at home and judging with the referee is the unprecedented excitement that has taken us by surprise. The probability of its fairness has also increased. The apparent penalty that Neymar won against the Costa Ricans that was later confirmed to be the step of Neo-dodging-bullets that caught the referee’s imagination and was later overturned after VAR review is the whole reason that this review system is a success. More than anything, it is the FIFA that has gained any goodwill for not only making the game fairer but even more exciting.

‘Justice was done’: Praise for VAR after Neymar penalty decision reversed (VOTE)
Neymar seen dodging the bullets. Until, of course Agent VAR steps in.

The sense of grief that arises from injustice is only put to rest when you vindicate yourself in the future. The joy of vengeance perhaps leaves a deeper scar on the minds and hearts of the ones being perished, even more when such vengeance is attained at the cost of injustice. Because then two injustices added up to make one justice. A great approach to life, this, in the medieval times. Today you would have only tightened the noose on the neck of the beautiful game had the use of adequate technology not been put to test.

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Technology to medieval thinkers

Has the VAR actually changed the fate of the game so far? Yes! one at least. Spain getting back the goal that was ruled offside right at the brink of the game against Morocco. Just one game, is this worth it then? Of course! Imagine the sense of injustice had Spain not qualified due to the wrong decision.

Offside that never was

VAR courtesy Gianni Infantino is one of the real game-changers that has really entertained this world cup.


You are welcome – Gianni