MIDWAY : Different ball game

Professor Ottjes is an avid Arsenal fan. His lectures, not all the time didactic, had ample interesting examples from the field of soccer. A good-humoured old man of short stature, he is poles apart from the normal type in Holland.

I happen to be one of his fortunate pupils. Or unfortunate for that matter. Because during the tutorials I had the privilege of short breaks when Dr Ottjes would walk away every fifteen minutes to get the latest updates on the Arsenal match telecast live on the TV set placed in the building next to ours. This habit became all the more pronounced when the European Champions League drew towards a close and the English Premiership rankings went neck to neck towards the fag end of the league. When Prof. Ottjes took those free kicks, I would still be puzzled over the same goalless draw of an engineering dynamics project, the success of which would guarantee me a postgraduate degree. Much as I was hitting the ball of my advanced engineering dynamics off target, Prof. Ottjes would time and again put me through a discourse on the dynamics and aerodynamics of the soccer ball. More important to him, it seemed, was the momentum of European soccer.

He would make it a point not to miss even a single match of Arsenal at Highbury. “Keep building a model until I come back from Highbury this Monday”, he would say and leave me to defend the goal post all alone. That would give me the jitters one would get when facing a penalty kick being taken by the likes of Beckham or Roberto Carlos.

As European Champions League final is just over and the countdown to the fiesta in Germany has begun, Dr Ottjes’s students can remain assured that they will have no end of soccer tales for months together.

Thierry Henry’s extraordinary juggling with the ball up front, Pires’s miraculous curl into the net, Lehmann’s calisthenics at the goal post, or Ronaldinho’s dazzling skills — all these and many more Dr Ottjes will reel off effortlessly to the rapt attention of his students. As June 9 nears, soccer fever has already started gripping many football fans back home, too, who won’t miss a single of the sixty-four matches going to be played in Germany. Soccer makes you crazy, huh?