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Indian football: In the 20th century and now

Indian football: In the 20th century and now

By Sourish Sengupta

Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

In a country of 1.2 billion people and counting, it is poignant and at the same time ridiculous that we don’t see a playing eleven qualify for the FIFA world cup. But would an Indian believe that India was invited to play the football world cup in Brazil in the year 1950, after its splendid performance in the previous years in International circuit was noted? With all the players being chosen for the World Cup final team, it was certainly a green signal for the Indian footballers. But unfortunately, the governing body of Indian football decided against it. There are a few conjectures about why the players weren’t allowed to play in the World Cup. The key reason still being unknown, many say that playing bare foot proved to be a crime for the skillful players. Another reason may be that the economic condition of the state at the time was not good enough. However, the decision of the governing body was final and irrevocable.

Had we participated in the 1950 World Cup, the story would have been different now. Let’s go back to 1911 when Calcutta’s Mohun Bagan beat the East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 in the final of the IFA Shield. At that point of time, the IFA Shield was regarded as one of the premier football tournaments in India. After this, the actual rise of Indian football began. Many teams -East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Mahamedan Sporting, Eastern Railway, Arians Football Club, and others- came up. A whole lot of young promising footballers started shining. As the British had set up their capital in Calcutta, football started becoming popular in the Eastern region. After the English moved their capital from Calcutta to Delhi, the football fever started spreading. Players from the south as well as the north dreamt of playing in the Calcutta league, the most prestigious football league in India then. Playing for a team in the Calcutta league was like playing in the English premier league. This is regarded as the golden era in the Indian football history, wherein India saw its talent grow, with players like Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Balram, Thangaraj, Jarnail Singh, Nayimudin and many others showing up.

Why did Prakash Padukone hone his badminton skills with champions like Morten Frost Hansen and Spend Pri? That is because it would uplift his set of skills. Similarly, Vishwanathan Anand chose to play and practice with the Russian champions. This is a very simple logic, for which one may not have to be an expert in the field of psychology or physical education. The more one practices with someone with a higher skill set, the more he is bound to improve his game or his skill set. Playing with the same colleagues or your own team mates won’t help. One has to go out there and compete with the best. India ranks 168th in the FIFA world ranking. Now if she plays against a team like Brazil on a regular basis, she is bound to improve her game. But if she continues to play against a team lower to her, it would be nothing but a waste of time.

There used to be a time when no other Asian team could defeat India. This isn’t the case now. What has gone wrong? Is the lack of infrastructure, or is it that the level of the players has degraded in India? Or is it because, there isn’t any money in the game?

The answer is, all of the above. The infrastructure is below par. In a country like Germany, whose size is just about that of West Bengal, there are more than 200 tough grounds; I hope that the Modi government will bring in some changes as far as infrastructure is concerned. The second is the quality of the players being produced. But this again is a multidimensional issue. If there isn’t any money or scope for a career, no mother will encourage his son or daughter to play the game. One should be professional, most certainly. And I am glad that the governing body of the All India Football Federation has taken a few steps by initiating a project like the ‘Indian Super League’. This is a vital project for sure. This will bring in new technology, foreign technical advisors, appointment of good capable coaches and, most importantly, money. The young talented lot will now turn up and play some good football India hasn’t seen in many years.

Sourish is 19 and is currently pursuing Bachelors in Mass Media (second year) from the University of Mumbai. For acquiring practical knowledge, he has been doing internships all the while. He previously worked at Thinking Hat Corporation (THC) as an intern. The profile included content development & editing, social media marketing, search engine optimization, market research & analysis, proof reading, preparing newsletters/ad briefs/reports & ad copies. He also worked at The Bombay Mothers & Children Welfare Society (The BMCWS) as an intern where his profile included content management. Besides, he also worked at Life away from life (LAFL adventures) as a travel journalist where he was involved with Trip ideation, Writing Travel blogs, Social media marketing/creating ad copies for social media, Travel co-coordination(Adventure trips- all over India), Closing accounts per trip basis, Conducting rekeys, Filming travel documentaries. Apart from this, he is a traveler. Mountaineering, scuba diving & music are his passion.


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