The story of a TIFR football match


— Kshitij Gajjar



It was the first match of the TIFR inter-departmental football tournament. The rules were simple: six-a-side and a total time of forty minutes. We, the STCS and Mathematics department, were a bunch of amateurs facing the large and athletic guys from the Chemistry department. We came up with some strategies: 3-3-1 or 3-2-2 formation, but the foremost strategy was to not concede a goal, since we knew that we lacked the ability to score one.

The match began. We were doing really well. On a man-to-man basis, we had all our opponents covered. In fact, at times I looked around and it was just our boys that I saw. We were all over the place. Probably the reason that underdogs are so determined is that they have a point to prove. At half-time, the score was 0-0.

By the second half, we had enough confidence to try scoring ourselves. With five minutes to go for full time, someone from outside the field yelled, “Stop. There are thirteen players on the field”. A head count revealed we had seven players and they had six. It may have been possible that during some substitution, one player had made a quick exit from the field while two had walked in. After a quick retracing of the events on the football field, we realized that all the substitutions were legal. And then it dawned upon us – we had been playing with seven players all along.

It all made sense now. We were omnipresent because we had them outnumbered, quite literally. Moreover, I could not find any man to cover because there was no man to cover for. Everyone was already covered. We were such a weak team that we still couldn’t score a goal and it took them close to thirty-five minutes to figure out that something was amiss. As compensation, the Chemistry guys were given a free penalty.

Usually, a penalty shootout has a lone striker and the goalie. Contrary to popular practice, we were not even allowed a goalie. The striker had complete freedom. Amazingly enough, he missed. The match was drawn. We had lived up to our promise of not conceding a goal, by hook or by crook. Later, we thought, seven of the nation’s top young researchers calculated 3+3+1 equals 6. The future of this country definitely lies in good hands.

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