Football is the most popular (and the most commercialized) sport in the world. It is played in almost every country. It is a game that unites people from all castes, creeds and religions. The love that football bestows upon its followers is unparalleled. The sheer thrill of being a part of a high octane football match is second to none. Despite being the most popular sport in the world, somehow football failed to leaves its footprints in India. Even though football is the second most popular sport in India after cricket, the gap between the two is huge. Football is very popular in states like West Bengal, Kerala, Goa, Nagaland, Tripura etc. It cannot be denied that India has a loyal football fan base which is on the rise. With the advent of Cable Television and the Internet, the popularity of foreign leagues like the English Premier League, La Liga, UEFA Champions League has increased by leaps and bounds.
The history of football in India dates back to nineteenth century when the game was introduced by British soldiers. Initially the game was played among army men but soon it spread to the common man. The Durand cup was introduced in 1888 in Shimla, and it happens to be the third oldest football tournament in the world after the FA Cup and the Scottish Cup. Calcutta soon became the football hub of India, being the capital of British India at that time. Calcutta FC, the first football club of India was established in 1872. Mohun Bagan Ac was founded in 1889 and is currently the oldest surviving football club in India. The Indian Football Federation, the first football association of India was found in 1890’s and ironically did not have a single Indian on its board. The current football association, i.e. All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) was founded in 1937, and gained FIFA affiliation in the year 1948 post India’s independence.
The Indian national football team has usually underperformed on the International stage with its last major success coming in form of a gold medal in the 1962 Asian games which also happens to be its most decorated moment. 1951-1962 is considered to be the golden era of Indian football. Under the guidance of the coach Syed Abdul Rahim and with stalwarts like P.K Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Peter Thangaraj etc., India won numerous accolades. Currently India is ranked 162 in the FIFA rankings tied with Guam, which is nothing but agonizing. Problems like lack of infrastructure, mismanagement, negligence by authorities etc. has plagued Indian football since time immemorial.
The introduction of the Indian Super League (ISL), which has led to a huge inflow of money into Indian football, has paved the way for a brighter future. And with the I-league all set to merge with the ISL, there are some exciting times ahead. But, for traditional clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, which do not have the financial prowess of the other ISL franchisees, the same might not be great news.
Football will undisputedly continue to be the greatest sport on earth. It’s high time that we Indians start giving football its due attention. It’s time that we come out of our bubble and shine in front of the world. Like the great Swami Vivekananda once said-
“You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita.”