India - Culture
Football in the land of the billion
Clint Misquitta sees India still far away from its international counterparts in all aspects of the game. He encourages the young to pursue their dreams in football, saying that it won’t be long the day a billion will shout out: “Goal’’. From Mumbai.
Football is one of the most exciting games in the world. Not just in South America and Europe but the whole world over, millions of fans are fascinated by it. Fast paced, skillful, attacking, flamboyant and poised, football is not just a game; to some it is a religion, to others, a way of life.
The land of the ‘billion’ loves this game too. Fans all over India were glued to their television sets right through the recent world cup in South Africa. Not just the beats of waka waka, or the drone of the Vuvuzela, but the players from different countries were supported too by Indian fans. Being a land of hero worship, Indians pick their favorites from the big powers in the football world like Brazil, Spain, Argentina and Germany. The world heroes like Pelé, Maradona, Klinsmann and the likes are heroes here too. Young footballers are seen with jerseys that sport these great names and they are worn with pride.
Considering all of this, it is still unfortunate that Indian football has not yet reached its full potential. An irony that in a land of many, few can claim football excellence. Are Indians any less skillful or athletic? Or is it a system flaw? Is there a lack of proper planning, infrastructure and funds? The game is reeling from these issues.
Football is a passionate sport and is close to the heart of the passionate people of India. The home of football in India is Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), in the state of West Bengal. The city houses the two most famous Indian teams, East Bengal Club and Mohun Bagan AC. Contests between these two clubs are popular events in Kolkata. Packed stadiums followed by revelry is common sight in the city of joy.
The beautiful state of Goa also produces good football. Goan clubs have been doing well in the I-league with Dempo SC being the most successful club in the history of the league. Churchill Brothers and Salgaonkar are other leading clubs in Goa. Besides this there are various corporate houses that own clubs under their banner; some of the famous corporate football clubs are Air India, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation). Punjab, Kerala and Karnataka are also leading football states in India.
So what is happening to football in India? Where is it? How does it stand compared to other sports? Does it inspire the youth? Is it lucrative? Here is a background…
So what is happening to football in India? Where is it? How does it stand compared to other sports? Does it inspire the youth? Is it lucrative?
Any sport is engagement. It is all consuming for the student. So any student of football needs to push hard to excel; wake up early to practice; make sacrifices; constantly compete against his/her own level of competence; work in a team; learn to accept defeat; learn to celebrate victories; learn to be calm in the face of a storm; develop an attitude of healthy competition. It is in other words – an education.
The fact however, is that, in India till now, sport is almost always seen as a deterrent to education. It indeed, is unfortunate that the education system largely judges a student by academics only. Parents and the entire social system pressurize the student to perform academically. As a result sport and other non curricular activities take a back seat. Education is not holistic but very skewed towards numbers. “My son must secure a distinction; or at least bring home a better scorecard than my neighbor’s”. This is the regular competitive thought that sadly exists here in India. An interested or talented footballer dies a premature death. A victim of the system.
To add to this, even those footballers in India who are talented and have aptitude do not have the necessary infrastructure and funds to hone or shape the student into a world class athlete. A few aficionados of the sport struggle to keep it alive though.
Even though Indian football has not received international acclaims, there have been a few cheerful moments in its history.
Initially, games were played between army teams. However, clubs were soon set up by the British. Mohun Bagan Athletic Club was set up in what is now West Bengal in 1889. The club became famous in 1911 when it became the first Indian team to lift the IFA Shield, a tournament previously won only by British teams based in India. It defeated the Eastern Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 in the final of the tournament, in a victory that is still regarded by many as the greatest by an Indian team before Independence.
The national football team was quite successful until the 1970s. The Indian team also won gold medals in football at the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games, and finished fourth at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.
The Indian team also won gold medals in football at the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games, and finished fourth at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.
In August 2007, the Indian national team won the Nehru Cup for the first time in its history beating Syria. In August the following year, India defeated Tajikistan 4-1 to lift the AFC Challenge Cup and in turn qualified for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. In 2009 August, India again won the Nehru Cup beating Syria.
After a lull period for Indian Football, there is light at the end of the tunnel it seems. Most schools now have begun to adopt a more balanced approach to education. These are however just a few and they are too expensive for the common man to afford. Football in India is also waking up to the need to encourage the sport further. Cricket, it’s more popular counterpart, has been eating most of the pie so far. The nation needs to wake up to the fact that it is a globally competitive economy now and it needs to encourage international sport. We are waking to this fact. Indian football clubs have been investing in improving infrastructure. A lot of African players have been contracted into Indian clubs over the last one year. The clubs have adopted better structure in terms of quality of coaches and the panel of professionals that work with the athletes. Clubs now hire a team of coaches that work on fitness and skill. Sports psychologists, physiotherapists and physical trainers also form part of the team.
The foreign players recruited in Indian clubs are attracting more fans and the players are encouraged to push harder so they become like their heroes.
However, we are still far away from our international counterparts in all aspects of the game. It is going to be a hard journey for Indian football. But, as the Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is today’’. Each Indian can all do our bit even as spectators to support football in India; be it encouraging the young to pursue their dreams or acknowledging other sports besides cricket. May be the World Cup in Rio in 2016 is still a distant dream, but after all a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Join India in her football journey. India’s demographic profile today is her biggest strength – her people are young and with the right direction and support - it won’t be long before a billion people shout out: “Goal’’.