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AWAY WE GO: Kolkata fans heading off for the fields of dreamsWhat unites a retired dock worker, an LIC employee, a wine shop owner and a small businessman from Kolkata with the football World Cup in Japan and Korea? Well for one, they’re all going to be together for the,AWAY WE GO: Kolkata fans heading off for the fields of dreamsWhat unites a retired dock worker, an LIC employee, a wine shop owner and a small businessman from Kolkata with the football World Cup in Japan and Korea? Well for one, they’re all going to be together for the next 30 days.Indian participants in the World Cup are usually sleep-deprived television audiences as their own football team floats between 115 and 125 in the world rankings.But every four years, a small bunch of the faithful from India makes the pilgrimage to wherever football holds its high mass. This year too about 20 fanatics from Kolkata have signed up for World Cup packages and will be heading off for the sights, sounds and smells of football in the Far East.However, these are not well-heeled jet-setters with a penchant for foreign travel and dollars to burn. Former dock worker Pannalal Chatterjee and his wife Chaitali, wine shop owner N.C. Saha, LIC employee Pranab Kumar Mukherjee and compulsive sportswatcher Chittarajan Debnath are part of the small group that will be in Japan and Korea because they are passionate enough to save and scrimp from their meagre earnings to indulge their passion.The group has signed on for Leisure Sports Management’s (ISM) “football package” for the forthcoming World Cup. The sports and travel outfit has put together a programme which includes two league matches, two semi-finals and some sightseeing. A fortnight’s holiday with match tickets thrown in- for league matches they range from $60 to $150 (Rs 2,940 to Rs 7,350), according to lsm official Sabyasachi Dasgupta-will cost a little under Rs 2 lakh per head.advertisementAstonishingly, this will be Chatterjee’s sixth World Cup. Ever since his retirement in 1992 on a Rs 10,000 pension, Chatterjee, now 68, and Chaitali have done away with luxuries like outings and domestic help to squirrel away money for their grand indulgence. “We put aside Rs 3,000 every month without fail,” says Chaitali. A 1994 photograph with Brazilian soccer legend Pele is among their most treasured possessions.Mukherjee, the LIC employee, came to the World Cup in a truly miraculous way. A devotee of godman Lokenath Baba as well as Denmark’s Laudrup brothers, Mukherjee was spreading the baba’s gospel around the country when he ran into a man willing to foot some of his bills for the 1990 World Cup.”He has come through again this time. You think I’d be able to make it on my LIC salary?” But even a benefactor’s bucks don’t go far, so Mukherjee-much to the consternation of his travelling companions-has decided to skip meals to buy memorabilia. That is besides the special match uniform he has got tailored: a dhoti-kurta with the cup logos emblazoned on it.Debnath has dedicated his life to watching sport. He opted for an “early retirement” by handing over his share of the family business to his cousins. A sports addict, the 44-year-old has spent the last 20 years chasing sport over the world.Bangalore-based PV. Ramdas too is taking the road less travelled. Ramdas and his six-year-old daughter Vanya will backpack through Korea and Japan during the cup, sinking Rs 1.5 lakh into their adventure. Why? “Because not even God can predict when the World Cup will be played in our backyard next,” says Ramdas.The World Cup has opened up options for Indians to sign up to a new brand of travel: sports tourism. While a cricket package to the 1999 World Cup offered by Cox and Kings attracted 4,000 takers, there are fewer than 30 on board for the trip to Japan and Korea.This is because FIFA has stopped selling tickets directly, and opted for country-wise allocation since 1998. Which means countries like India are low on their priority list. When one soccer buff from India wrote to FIFA this year, officials said they would be happy to give him unlimited tickets to the final-for $3,000 (Rs 1.47 lakh) a pop.