By Sabir Akhtar
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
The ballet of the masses, as they may call it, football IS the most sought after game, after cricket in our country. Can we blame the lack of viewership for the absence of development of football in our country? It is the sweet taste of victory that lets you get hold of an upper rung in the ladder of history. 29th July, 1911 was one such memorable day in the history of Indian football, when they lifted the IFA Shield Trophy, defeating the East York regiment by a 2-1 victory edge. This victory over the reigning supreme immediately was followed by a successive upsurge in Indian politics, letting out the aggression in the Indian youth.
Another realm worth mentioning in Indian football is the 1950’s. The Golden Era of Indian football needs a special mention here. For the first time ever India qualified for the World Cup, but eventually faced the back door, as FIFA would not allow them to play bare foot. 1951 to 1962 saw a plethora of achievements in the international arena of football, starting from the splendid gold medal at the Asian Games’51, New Delhi, followed by an entry into the semi-finals at Melbourne Olympics (registering themselves as the first Asian Nation to make a semi-final appearance) to the 1962 Asian Games where they emerged victorious again.
Enough said…But what about the global success?
It comes as a shocker to many people that despite being a success in the cricket world, have a football team that is listed 154th in the whole world out of 207 countries!
Right now, everyone is ecstatic about the World Cup 2014. Tom, Dick and Harry, people who never watch the league matches, start rooting for the Oranje, Seleção, Azzurri, Les Bleus and The Three Lions to name a few. After the World Cup are left a handful of people who still stay up late nights to watch their favourite club play, be it Manchester United, Chelsea , Bayern Munich or Barcelona, to name a few.
A country where the game is loved so much, yet drowned in discreet amnesia by the game of the colonized cousins, Cricket. We, ourselves are somewhat responsible for the pathetic condition of football in our country. We set our eyes glued to the television watching the English Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga, but we have no iota of the next game in the Nehru Cup! Being a mere fan does not render anything positive for the game. The game needs to be promoted where it will be most effective-the grassroots level.
And every one turns a blind eye when it comes to the development of club football in our own country. Sleeping Giant, as Sepp Blatter, the FIFA head honcho had once termed India, the country having the world’s second largest population, is quit under-represented in the world’s most popular sport. Many will smirk at the fact about the dearth of “quality players” in our country. But one needs to keep in mind the fact, that no one is a legend in the game from the beginning. The player needs the proper guidance and the exigencies of each player need to be fulfilled. This is where the main issue lies- the lackadaisical authorities of the game in empowering the youth. The infrastructure is shabby. One needs to get the global exposure. Only will that leave a colossal impact on the young footballers and give them that urge to bring about the much required revolution in Indian football, though World Cup finals remain a distant dream.
With such teeming population, serious steps need to be taken to ignite the footballing passion among the youngsters. At the end of the day, the passion for the game has been traditionally much intense amongst the kids who dwell in the impoverished strata of the society. Their pitch may be a dry patch of land, but their dedication towards the game is worth appreciation. Organizing tournaments will not bring random changes in the upliftment of the game. There have been many changes in the technics and tactics of the game, which need to be dealt with. But sadly, there is paucity of such means. Cities where football is played immensely need to be exploited into. Go to Goa or West Bengal and you will find kids running hither and dither in exuberance, dribbling and trying to get the ball through the two bamboo posts somehow tied together, that they call goalpost.
But every cloud has its silver lining. And so we have Pune, being dubbed as one of the “footballing hubs” in our country which claims to have contact with English Premier League clubs including Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers, both of whom have established training facilities in the city. Academies, so the clubs say when they establish a football coaching academy. The common man gets disillusioned by these budding football academies without realising the fact that there are many kids who still have the talent are not even looked at, due to their financial inability to bear the academy fees. What a fallacy! But the DSK Shivajians Liverpool International Football Academy (also known as LFC-DSK Shivajians) at Pune aims at using the profits from their football academies to impart guidance to the best young players in the game. This academy promises to undermine talent, and utilize the infrastructure to place India on the map of professional football.
Everyone loves to watch matches but in a better condition. The player needs the good turf and the spectator needs the good stadium. A major shift in the framework needs to take place to see this change in our country’s football. Administration has been an arch enemy when it comes to Indian sport. Cricket apart, every other game is treated in a pitiful manner. We need to learn the strategy behind the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The infrastructure of Indian football needs to be looked into and companies should buy into the proposition that Indians love football and can play the game too. Marketing and publicity divisions for potential sponsors need to be worked on. Only then will the game be lucrative.
The Indian Super League, having been launched recently, focuses the interests of Indians in the game by setting up a number of franchisee clubs with collaboration of hefty clubs. Spanish giant Atlético Madrid of La Liga has joined hands with the Kolkata football club to form the much hyped about Atletico Kolkata. The team will not only provide a brand value to the team, but also looks forward to rigorous extensive training under a former Athletico coach.
This should start the ball rolling for the sport to see a brighter phase. Maybe soon enough! We are not much far from the time for good things to happen. As they say, “achche din aane waale hai”, the Louis Jordan classic drifts into my ears, “So let the good times roll, let the good times roll”.
Sabir is currently pursuing bachelors degree in Electronics and Instrumentation engineering from KIIT University, Bhubaneswar. A “tech geek” . as many of his friends may call him; other than the world of gadgets and electronics, which he finds mesmerizing, he is also a budding writer, newly attracted to the world of economics. a movie buff and never hesitates to depict his views on social issues. When alone, you can find him quietly engrossed in a novel or plugged in to music.