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In the current generation, if there is one man who has defined the game of football, has shaped the way fans around the world see the game, it's Lionel Messi. The little magician, the master of footwork, the man who has made the entire world of Barcelona supporters dream- and cherish all the years he has been associated with the club. And India counts itself as a country with a phenomenal number of Lionel Messi supporters who would do countless offbeat things just so that their star would notice them. And predictably, this fan is from the state of Kerala - one of the two Indian states that has gloriously contributed to the Golden era of Indian football alongside West Bengal. The state, the streets of which get colourfully decked up during the World Cup, is a hub for football followers both of India and worldwide. Clifin Francis, 28, is just another extraordinary such name among a class of people who consider the beautiful game a religion. Also Read: The beautiful game through the eyes of a humble fan Francis flew to Dubai from Kerala on February 23, bought a cycle and took a ship to the port city of Bandar Abbas, the capital of Hormozgan province on the southern coast of Iran. From there, he carried on his journey ahead on a bicycle. Speaking to PTI, from Tambov, a countryside town in Russia, Francis spoke of his monumental odyssey and how an inherent love for football is better realised when you share it. After all, the experience of the World Cup is one that brings together an entire community of fans. Different nationalities, people with different experiences and emotions attached to the sport, all supporting different teams- this is the magic of the World Cup.
"Every day you meet new people, see new landscapes, new culture....," he said.At the end of the day, that is what it is all about- a new experience, a new adventure. The race to stand out of the crowd- something that Francis has undeniably achieved. He has bought tickets to the June 26th clash between Denmark and France and will be watching the match in the stadium- a definite dream come true.
"There were times when I saw the goodness in human beings as people whom I had never met gave me shelter, the warmth of their homes and offered food," he continued.
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
~ Jack Kerouac, On the RoadIf one is familiar with Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road', it is easy to see why the Beat poet so recommended the entire experience that came with stepping out of your comfort zone. Perhaps the biggest thing it entails is the perspective that such trips bring along with it. It makes you desirous to experience everything at once, to hold on to cherished memories, to look back and learn from the mistakes you made. Being on the road, is the only thing that makes sense. Clifin's journey of nearly 4000 km, too, was marred with the good and the bad that are an essential mix of the life we live. On the one hand, he celebrated his birthday with strangers. People who never met him, opened their hearts out to commemorate his special day- as if they were familiar all alone. On the road, even the stranger becomes family. It was in this town, Maymeh in Iran, that Clifin found a slice of India waiting for him. "The local people there are great fans of Indian film stars like Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty, while the younger ones especially enquired about Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai," he said. But not all could be smooth sailing. He was denied permission to enter Georgia through Azerbaijan, forcing him to take a detour through an alternative and longer route. "I felt sad at their behaviour as a German cyclist was allowed to take the route." But at the end of it all, it is important to remember what the ultimate goal to achieve is. "I have reached this far. I am an optimist. My desire is to meet Messi. (I) Don't know if it is possible....I am a diehard fan of his." Clifin's odyssey gives us goals. It makes us wish we were brave enough to undertake a journey of this magnitude just for pure passion. It is because of stories like his that the World Cup has a soul of his own. This is Joga Bonito. This is why it's the beautiful game.