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9 Jul 2018

Losses fail to dash hill football spirit ....Despite defeat, flags of soccer countries fly high in Darjeeling

Flags of various countries flutter along a street at Sonada near Darjeeling. Picture by Passang Yolmo 
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Jul 09, 2018, Darjeeling: Countries considered the powerhouses of football might have bowed out of World Cup in Russia but their supporters in the Darjeeling hills have refused to bow down.

The big brothers among the soccer playing nations - Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain - have returned home much earlier than expected but their flags are literally flying high in the hills where football is the most popular sport.

Kalden Pakhrin, a diehard supporter of the Samba boys, had hoisted two Brazil flags on the rooftop of his Pakhrin Restaurant along Dr Yen Singh Road, while another flag was placed at an altar inside.

Brazil was defeated by Belgium in the quarter-finals but Pakhrin refuses to take the flags down. "Why should I?" he asks angrily. "Look at that huge Argentina flag that is still fluttering," he said pointing to his neighbour's house.

Their teams might have lost but that has not defeated the pride among supporters.

"Bringing the flag down would only invite more jeer? It has to flutter till the World Cup finals are over," said Sanjeev Pradhan, a supporter of Germany.

Defending champions, Germany, did not go beyond the group stages this year.

Unlike in other places, almost every rooftop in Darjeeling sports a flag proudly announcing their allegiance. "It's amazing that almost every taxi in town sports a flag," said Ashish Mehta, a tourist from Mumbai.

An owner of a tailoring shop said they easily earned anything between Rs 20,000 and Rs 30,000 by selling national flags of participating countries during World Cup periods.

In fact, before the start of the World Cup, the residents of Darjeeling had self declared the place as "The World Cup Town". Local youth clubs have tried to outwit each other in decorating their area. "This is the only sporting event in which every person in the hills, right from children to women, shares a common interest," said Arjun Khati, a Darjeeling resident.

Sporting flags have always outdone political flags in the hills during the football World Cup. "Seeing so many flags atop rooftops, I am wondering, when our country will participate in the World Cup so that we can hoist Tricolour," Binay Tamang, the head of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, said recently.

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