Kochi My Favourite Place to Commentate: ISL Commentator Andrew Paschalidis

IANS

New Delhi: July 8, 2014 is not a date that fans of the mighty Brazilian football team would like to remember. For that was the day when the Canaries were given a 1-7 hiding in the 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-final at the cavernous Mineirao Stadium by eventual champions Germany.

It is the kind of result that makes people remember the circumstances in which they watched the match, let alone the sequence of events within the game itself. Those who saw the game from India would invariably have remembered staying up till early in the morning in expectation of a good contest.

They might also remember the voice of Andrew Paschalidis, doing his best to describe the sense of disbelief and shock that had gripped the stadium when their team conceded five goals in the first 30 minutes of the match. Just over a year later, those with an attentive ear for a commentator's voice, may have recognised Paschalidis when he did commentary for his first Indian Super League (ISL) match.

"They were looking for someone to just fill in for about four or five weeks," Paschalidis told IANS of how he got involved in the ISL. "I had worked on the Asian Cup in 2007 and one of the regional producer-directors referred me to Star and the rest is history, I guess. I have been coming back since."

The Australian has been commentating on football matches since 1983 and has covered multiple editions of the biggest tournaments in the game. Since 2015, he has been a regular among Star Sports' English commentary team for the ISL.

"There had been some Australians who had played here," he said. "Some of them in the I-League. Tolgay Ozbey is a friend of mine. He played in season one with FC Goa. In terms of commentators coming in from Australia, I knew that there have been a few Australians who specialise in cricket and have been warmly received.

"The irony is that when I first started doing commentary in 1984, a lot of people used to say to me that there is one place you would settle in well and that is India and I used to laugh and say that opportunity will never come."

For any non-Indian commentator, one would think that pronouncing Indian names would be one of the biggest challenges but Paschalidis says that it is the names of the foreign players that often turn out to be the tougher ones.

"We have our own media summary of each team. We are also given audio files before each season which I listen to religiously before match commentaries. Best way is communicating with the crew here at Star Sports. I always cross check if there is any doubt with certain names. The main issue which I found is not with the Indian names, it's actually the foreign names.

"I am a little bit eccentric when it comes to match preparation. I have a whole wealth of information for myself from (players') appearances to previous history. I check all the websites for anything to do with that game. It is a pleasurable experience. Even if I may have such deep information, I might use only five to 10 per cent of that in match commentary. Ultimately that itself makes a difference to what anyone knows out there."

About his favourite stadium in India for the ISL, he says, "It's a no-brainer really, it's Kochi. When there are 60,000 people in that stadium while you are reporting on a match, there is nothing like it."

Paschalidis finds a lot of similarities in Indian football and where Australian football used to be in the early days of the A-League, the top-flight football league in Australia.

"One thing that is common for both countries is that football is not the number one game. There we have rugby and Aussie rules football, here we know that cricket will always be king.

"But what I like about here in India is that, as much as it is played all over the country back home it isn't number one anywhere. But here there are areas in India where football is no.1."

Paschalidis says that one of the most interesting things to observe in the ISL is that how the game changes due to the humidity and heat that exists in most venues. "A lot of people probably don't realise outside of India that I try to stress in commentary is that we are playing at night and the conditions are hot and humid," he said.

"So people see intensity in the first hour and they wonder why the pace of the game slows. There is a good reason for that, it's not like the players are playing in the United Kingdom where it is five or six degrees and the players are running as much as they can to stay warm. Here it is energy sapping. You try to translate that in commentary. We actually now put up the forecast and the humidity up on a graphic. It is difficult for the foreign players also to adjust."

The ISL may not offer the quality of football that can be seen in the other big tournaments that Paschalidis has done commentary on but he says that this has been a rewarding gig for him.

"I've got to say each year that they call me back is a blessing. It's not just the experience but also seeing the emergence of football in the country and seeing the passion that so many parts of the country have for football. I see similarities with Australia when we started the A-League. I watched that evolve and it is sort of refreshing to see the progress here," he said.

India will host the FIFA Women's U-17 World Cup next year and Paschalidis says that the fact that the country is doing so just a few years after hosting the men's U-17 World Cup is a positive sign.

"I've been a big advocate back home (of women's football). The Matildas (Australian women's football team) are one of the top ranked teams in the world and women's football back home in Australia is the fastest growing sport and it can be so here in India.

"What I think does for Indian football on a global scale is that in 2017 you had the male U-17 World Cup and three years later, FIFA decreed that India can host the women's equivalent. That tells you that FIFA sees the potential for the sport here," he said.