Lights and cameras ready, Kolkata waits for the action

She sits there, decked up like a bride, all the lights on her, the object of everyone's awe and adoration; cars slow down as they drive past, passers-by stop and gaze, and of course it is the selfie-spot to beat all others. Ahead of the Under-17 World Cup Final, the Salt Lake Stadium is the centre of Kolkata's universe.

Around it, the city has rebooted its Puja spirit, the electricity that fuels everything for that one mad week; the Puja festival, Kolkata's version of Mardi Gras, was at the end of September but maybe it never really left. Like most things about the city, perhaps it just lingered, getting its second wind as the monsoon humidity gave way to the first nip of winter. There's a buzz of anticipation, a sense of optimism and purpose that penetrates even the most doleful and pessimistic of Bengali hearts. It even manages to wash over the hideous half-statue at the stadium's VIP entrance.

This is what football can do to this city.

The sport is everywhere. Billboards and posters all over the city remind you that the circus is in town (and also who brought it here, but more on that later). On Park Street, the city's nightlife capital, there are special menus offering discounts to ticket-holders. In other cities, the unsightly parts along VIP routes are blocked off using blue plastic sheets; around the stadium, those sheets have pictures of footballers. I know of at least one group of girlfriends who've organised a party to watch Saturday's double-header. That never happened before. One veteran journalist says the last time the city hosted so many foreign journalists was exactly 20 years ago, for a far more somber occasion: the funeral of Mother Teresa.

For me, personally, this is a strange feeling. I'm Kolkata born and raised, spending 28 happy years here before shifting base, and I will talk about the city given half a chance. This is the city where I first played football, where I learnt almost all I know about the game from countless hours spent reading at the British Council and spent listening to the BBC. This city created my football soul - but this is the first time I am here to cover a football match as a journalist.

This stadium meant nothing to me growing up. Salt Lake was another world, one you had to pass to get home from the airport. This was the new kid in town; the real stadiums were Eden Gardens, the Mohun Bagan and East Bengal grounds; they had the history, the emotions. Later, I heard stories of great matches here attended by more than 100,000. But it left me cold.

Until now, when I saw the lights and cameras and the anticipation for action. Now, this one had the final of a World Cup. And one in which I have been doubly invested, first as a football fan, and then as a friend of one of the organisers. This tournament had to succeed, for his sake.

Which brings me to the state's chief minister Mamata Banerjee, a ubiquitous presence across the city. Taking her cue from the prevalent politicians' playbook, she has made this tournament's success - or at least the Kolkata part of it - her personal mission. Never one to be bashful, she has sold the city as a football destination, as much to Kolkatans as to the world. And it's not about the football alone; the city has been swept clean, roads repaired, even the unseasonal rains banished. My colleague is on his first visit to the city and can't find anything to fault it with in the 48 hours he's been here. And so too, it appears, many of the foreign journalists here. There is still time and scope for a cringeworthy moment or two before, during or after the final - as anyone who recalls Kolkata Knight Riders' victory celebrations after winning IPL 2012 will agree - but the more help football gets, the better.

Coincidentally, I attended the last World Cup final this city hosted - the 50-over cricket one, in 1987 (Twenty20 doesn't count). That time, too, England were the interlopers; where now they had beaten the crowd favourites, Brazil, to reach the final, that time they had upset India. That time, the tide - but not the crowd - was with England right up until Mike Gatting reverse-swept the ball into the keeper's hands. Australia, yet to become the Australia of today, were the underdogs and the city that loves underdogs gave them their full backing, and celebrated as if their own had won.

It's tough to say whom the crowd will back on Saturday. England are the old enemy but they have played superb, attacking football. Spain are the Latino element and the city loves Latinos but they haven't played here to build up a connection.

And me? I'm hoping that when the match is over, when the crowd has gone, when the last light is turned off and the last decorator's van loaded and exited, someone is already planning the next big match here. And the next, and the next. This stadium, this city, needs its football, its fever. In return, it can give you days like this.