Sony Norde arrived in Kolkata in the early hours of Monday amid unprecedented fanfare that greeted the Haitian at the airport. The 29-year-old has returned after 10 months during which he underwent a surgery on his right knee and was rehabilitating in full swing in Miami.
It is believed that Norde had offers from multiple clubs in the middle-east and the ISL but waited for one from Mohun Bagan because of the connection he feels, mutually, with the fans.
With tears in his eyes, Norde had said to the media, in January, before leaving, "You can compare the club with every team in the world but you cannot compare the supporters. It's very hard for me seeing the supporters cry."
The relationship Sony Norde has managed to develop with the Mohun Bagan fans has been quite unheard of in recent times and has, over time, become very personal. His popularity is so high that he has, in fact, become a part of the regional pop culture with soap operas referring to a phrase that had become commonplace in the various pandals during Durga Pujo – "Sony Norde is coming".
Of course, there was a good amount of people expected to be present at the airport given the reception Norde's previous arrivals got and the photos that appeared on social media of various posters that were being painted after his make; yet nobody could have foreseen what was to take place in front of "Gate 4B of the international arrival" at the Kolkata airport.
With Norde's flight QR540 slated to land at 2:20 am in Kolkata, videos started flooding Facebook at 1 am of a huge gathering at the airport. This gathering only got bigger and by 1:30 am, security had to be deployed as a precautionary measure because the gathering had taken gargantuan proportion. There were masks, garlands, bouquets, posters, effigies and most importantly, thousands of people united by one single emotion induced by a footballer – an absolute rarity in football.
Those who couldn't make it were hardly left out of the action as plenty of people at the airport started streaming the occasion live on their social media as they – those watching and those that made the journey – patiently waited for nearly two hours.
Sony finally emerged around 3 am after everyone else from the flight – including the pilots and cabin crew had left – to a deafening reception. Moved and almost in tears by the welcome, Norde accepted all the garlands and even in that rush managed to hug those that wanted one before finally making it to his vehicle.
At 3:30 am – merely five hours before the first working day post the holidays in Kolkata – everyone who had a vehicle or managed to get onto one, escorted Sony Norde's car to the gates of his hotel. Wrapped in green and maroon, hundreds of bikes and cars serenaded the roads of Kolkata and it felt as if the festive season was having one last dance under the night sky.
In India, cricket is said to have a maddening effect on the common man. In Kolkata, there is one more sport – football.
With context and cultural significance stretching far beyond independence, the city of Kolkata is mad about football and when the passion manifests itself as it did in the early hours of Monday, football very much becomes the beautiful game.