In India majority of sports are given a raw deal despite having individual brilliance and glorious achievements in most of them. This is the tragedy several players of certain games live with. Recently, Indian football’s star player Sunil Chhetri became the second-highest active international goal scorer and also reached 11th in the list of all-time goal international scorers. But, this milestone was largely relegated to the insignificant part of newspapers and the digital arena. This explains why Football has remained a poor cousin of cricket and fallen in popularity.
These things are indeed sad as there used to be a phase when football in India was hugely celebrated. In fact, the Indian Football team was even called the “Brazilians of Asia” in the past. But thanks to several systemic flaws, Indian football has lost a lot of ground in India. The blame for the same squarely falls on the Federation, the broadcasters and the stakeholders.
The Golden Era of Indian Football
The best years of Indian football can be traced back to the early 1900s. The date was 29 July 1911, the English side East Yorkshire regiment was expected to easily tame a barefooted Mohun Bagan side. However, to everyone’s surprise, the Indian team thrashed the Britishers 2-1. After this miraculous victory, the 11 players came to be known as the “The Immortal Eleven”. Post the triumph, Mohun Bagan was considered the National club of the country. As an after-effect of the victory, several tournaments were organized and football became very famous in India. The team went to several Asian countries like Australia, Malaysia, Japan and Indonesia in the late 1930s.
In the 1950s, a momentous opportunity fell on the lap of Indian football. FIFA, the governing body of world football, invited team India to participate in the World Cup in Brazil. However, thanks to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the Indian team was denied the honour of taking part in the football’s ultimate carnival.
Later on, India secured gold at Asian Games. This was their first major win in an international event, which further established their superiority in the Asian community. They got their next Gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games held in Jakarta. So, the period from 1950 to 1962 is usually called the “Golden Era of Indian Football.” Sadly, things are not the same anymore. Will things change for the better? What is the root cause of the ills plaguing Indian soccer?
Crises at Clubs
One of the iconic clubs in India, East Bengal has only had a few occasions to celebrate. The Red and Golds lost in the semi-finals of the Durand Cup in 2019 and had to satisfy with a second position in the I-League behind arch-rivals Mohun Bagan.
Former striker Shyam Thapa, who played for the club during the 1970s laments the situation that the club finds itself in. During Thapa’s time, the club flourished a lot and became one of the best clubs in Asia in the 1950s. Even after these also, the Red and Golds were superior in Indian football alongside Mohun Bagan. However, Thapa feels the club failed to adapt with the time and is currently paying a heavy price for the same.
Still, there are some hopes left as the club after a lot of delaying tactics finally joined the Indian Super League (ISL). We all know the quality on offer at the league and East Bengal can only get better by competing in the league. Their arch-rival Mohan Bagan faced a lot of crises in the past, especially financial in 2015, but they have recovered well. They have joined ISL after a lot of resistance by merging with Atletico de Kolkata (ATK). These two clubs provided a lot of joy to Indian soccer fans in the past. But suffered a lot due to administrative apathy and monetary issues. If they can reclaim the old glory then Indian football can gain a lot.
Last but not the least
It is pretty much evident that Indian football has a lot of grounds to cover to match the exploits of the past. ISL has been a shot in the arm of Indian football, which has the participation of quality players from abroad. Our younger players can improve a lot by playing alongside such internationally acclaimed players and this can also revive the lost interest in the game. For the sake of Indian football let us hope ISL can help the game to regain its glorious past.