Voices crying out in anger, despair and irritation, bearing flags of their clubs, yelling at the governing football body as they adorn kits and take to social media as well as stadia to voice their displeasure.
This could be the scene at any derby match in England where the fans are disillusioned with their club’s policies, but that isn’t so. No, this is the scene among the football fraternity in India as their world undergoes serious turbulence as the powers that be vie to bring Indian football into the modern age, even if many of its aficionados come along unhappily, kicking and screaming all the way.
Indian football is undergoing a sea of change right now.
It is turbulence, and has been, since it was announced that the Indian Super League (ISL) will become the premier league of the country, relegating the I-League (rechristened from the National Football League in 2007) and its rich history and many legacy clubs to second spot.
Numerous rumours are flying around, some saying that these old, legacy clubs will be merged with the modern ISL clubs to benefit both, but there are passionate and intelligent voices on both sides of the divide; either in support of the decision, or decrying it as a move to market these new clubs at the expense of heritage clubs and their grand history. Some are even going as far as to call it a conspiracy to put Indian football in the pocket of IMG Reliance, who have spearheaded the Indian Super League, and there are many who believe it, after all, football has long been a sleeping giant in India. A dormant market with the potential to have effects on a global level if given the right amount of attention, care and nourishment. Indeed, despite what the naysayers say, no one can deny that Reliance will bring huge amounts of money into this sector with their hopefully long term investment. After all, without copious amounts of investment, the footballing scenario will continue to stagnate as it continuous to live in the past, far from the reaches of modern developments in the sport.
Of course, fans of clubs such as Mohun Bagan FC, East Bengal FC, among others will surely feel hard done if they are merged with ISL clubs or relegated to the second tier in Indian football, their rich history and tradition being disregarded as they are thrown away just because of financial reasons. The recently created Bengaluru FC, the current I League champions will also be glowering at the insult of being shoved into the second division, if they are not allowed to participate in the highest echelon of football in the country. The lack of relegation for ISL clubs adds insult to injury of these traditional clubs, not giving them an avenue for promotion up either. It is easy to sympathize with these clubs, and hard decisions wait in the future. However, stagnation is not an option, Indian football needs to come out of the shadows, and this change could well be the catalyst that propels it forward.
At the end of the day, compromise is necessary to go forth in a mutually beneficial way, and perhaps the best solution would be to follow the traditional European model and have a league of 18-20 teams, even if some of them struggle financially, and create a proper league setup which includes all the teams of the ISL as well as the I League, with I League 2 staying on as the second division, with the caveat of promotion for the top 3 teams.
After all, the more the competition, the more the teams and players, the greater the visibility and chances of success and development of the beautiful game.