Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Tuesday was Revolution Day and meant a public holiday. What better way to spend it than with Zinedine Zidane and 40,000 mad Bangladeshi football supporters. They love him here, apparently because the rest of the world loves Beckham more and the Bangladeshis always want to be different. I can certainly think of many ways in which they are different that are far more dramatic. But nonetheless, his visit was an experience.
Zidane was here at the invitation of Professor Mohammed Yunus, founder of Grameen Microcredit Bank and recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Grameen and Danone were opening a joint venture high nutrition yoghurt plant in order to allieviate some of the worse impacts of malnutrition. Zidane was the official ribbon cutter.
At the national stadium, a dilapidated and crumbling relic, we packed into cramped plastic chairs to watch hours of disorganisation. Firstly, a massive group of girls in PE kit and scarves came out on to the pitch and sat around for two hours, occassionally making shapes on the grass. The pitch was checked and rechecked and checked again, seemingly by anyone who felt the need to have a look. They need not have bothered for from our distant vantage point it was still obvious that the pitch was pretty rubbish. Eventually, some players arrived (the under 16 squads of Bangladeshis two best teams) and a horse and cart was parked at the far end of the stadium. Accompanied by a massive roar, Zidane headed into the stadium with Yunus and some other dignatries, and then did a lap in the chariot whilst being chased by paparazzi (the 'filthy paparazzi' as the paper called them), two teams of under 6s and anyone else who happened to be filling the stadium, including one or two riot police. This procession, somewhere between a state visit and a circus, eventually halted and he sat down to view the school girls in their kit give a choregraphed show that would force Kim Jong Il to have then immediately shot were they to perform like that in Pyongyang.
Finally, we were ready for kickoff, late as always, and the two teams lined up as though it were the world cup final, with the FIFA fair play flag and proper referees. But strewn out along the end of the lines were tens of supporters who were able to freely walk on to the pitch and join in! The highlight of the event was undoubtably the sight of riot police clearing the pitch for a under-16 game, as the invaders were heckled. I wonder if FIFA will issue a fine?
Zidane played for about twenty minutes, ten minutes of each team, stopping only one to put on some fluorescent orange shorts. I do not know why. He mainly did a great deal of standing around and occassional falling over (once induced by a phenomenal tackle by the white team's star defender), but it was fun to see. His unceremonial leaving was a wave and a dash of the pitch to the waiting car that swiftly left. In the post Zidane confusion the match continued as everyone left, and eventually the referee halted proceedings in a rapidly emptying stadium.
The newspapers made a lot of the fact that the VIP areas were full of the 'upper class the shun the national stadium and football' and a strange analysis that he is not as popular as Brazilian or Argentinian players, judged by the predominance of young people in the crowd. But all this aside, at least I can say I saw Zizou play, if it was on a dodgy pitch in Dhaka and with him in trainers, jeans and day-glow orange shorts.

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