The History of Indian Football

Indian national team’s meager international ranking does not quite reflect the sport’s popularity in the country. The game of Football is extensively played and viewed here. European club-level football matches, as well as the international matches are a big hit among the younger generation in India. The football scenario is vastly different at the Indian national and domestic level though, where only a handful of old faithful can be seen in the empty stands. Also due to the lack of quality television coverage, even interested football lovers tend to give the national and domestic club league matches a skip. The quality of football being played in the country is another important reason for this lack of viewership; which, in turn, also results in ill-fed sponsorship for the game in this country. Off-late I do see a slight change of attitude towards Indian football from a fan’s perspective. Even the corporate houses have left aside their step motherly treatment of the Indian football team and have opted to sponsor a number of domestic major tournaments after the national team’s triumph in international tournaments like the AFC Challenge Cup and Nehru Gold Cup. This is certainly a refreshing change as far as Indian domestic football is concerned.

Origin and Evolution

The game of football has a rich tradition in India and the history of the game in this country is significant and something which is worth discussing. The beginning of the journey of football in India can be traced back to the mid 19th century when British rulers introduced the game in our country. As per the records and data available, the first ever game on Indian soil was played between ‘Calcutta Club of Civilians’ and the ‘Gentlemen of Barrackpore’ in 1854. The first official football club of India, ‘Calcutta Football Club’, was established in 1872.  Many of us might be unaware of the fact that Asia’s oldest football tournament, which is also the world’s third oldest football competition, has its roots in India. Branded as the “Durand Cup”, named after the then Foreign Secretary of India, Sir Mortimer Durand, this prestigious football tournament started its journey in Shimla in the year 1898.

The Sweet Taste of Victory

The very first notable achievement for Indians in football was Mohun Bagan winning the IFA Shield Trophy on 29th July, 1911, defeating East York Regiment by 2-1 victory margin. Mohun Bagan’s victory over the British sovereign had then become an issue of political nationalist upsurge; football had turned out to be an outlet of aggression for the young generation.

As a result of that victory, new football tournaments and football clubs grew rapidly in the country, mostly in Calcutta (present day Kolkata). With an increasing number of activities in the football arena, the need for a regulatory body arose and thus the “All India Football Federation” (AIFF) came to existence in 1937. AIFF got recognized by FIFA in the year 1948 and it was one of the founder members of Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which was established in 1954. All these chronological events are a few unforgettable landmarks in the history of Indian football.

The Golden Period

Then saw the “Golden Period” of Indian football, which deserves special mention. India qualified for the World Cup – 1950, but later withdrew its participation because FIFA would not allow them to play bare foot. The year 1951 through 1962 will be remembered forever for the decade long commendable achievements in the international arena. The Indian footballers brought glory to the country by winning the Gold medal in the 1951 Asian Games held in New Delhi. Then in 1956, India became the first Asian nation to register a semi-final appearance in Melbourne Olympic Games. India further established itself as the most dominating force to reckon with in the Asian sector with another Gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games held in Jakarta.

Current Scenario

The Indian national football team has shown reasonable performances in recent years, though the sport at the domestic level still needs upgradation in terms of infrastructure and a professional approach. Some of the great performances in the last couple of years have proved to be morale boasters in terms of gaining international exposure and attracting corporate houses to sponsor different domestic clubs and tournaments. Indian national football team came out victorious in 2007 and 2009 Nehru Cup Football Tournament. The team also bagged the honors of winning AFC Challenge Cup in 2008 and qualified for 2011 AFC Asia Cup to be held in Qatar.

Although much has been achieved in the recent past, still the Indian national football team needs to make it a convention to compete with top Asian countries in the important international tournaments. We have stepped in the right direction and let’s hope all these efforts by the footballers, administrators, sponsors as well as the viewers propel Indian football to greater heights.

- Debapriya

  • I am up for anything that keeps the Indian football flag flying!

  • Rakesh

    “..The quality of football being played in the country is another important reason for this lack of viewership..” – This is something that has always baffled me. Why is the quality of Indian football poor? I am no football follower, but would like to know.

    PS: Sanish, where are you these days? Long time, no news!

  • RB

    Nice intro to football in India …
    Neville D’Souza’s hattrick at the Olympics could find a mention.
    Nehru Cup was popular in the 1980s but lost its sheen in the 1990s.
    In the recent past, FC Kochin as the first professional football club merits a note.

  • biplab

    Wow!!! Informative and an excellent read.
    Keep up the good work to help Indian football to attain its past glory.

  • Prasanna

    Wonderful article! An eye opener for the Indian fans!

  • sruthi

    nice article

  • pavithra

    food ball games should become more popular

  • Madhu

    Good one.
    Chak De Indian Football.

  • Diwakar

    a very well written article… but i expected atleast a mention of indian gr8s like Shailen Manna, Chuni Goswami, Samar Bannarjee et al… I know there is more to come from ur side and I will be hooked to this space for more.

    here’s wishing ur team very best for providing a wonderful platform to discuss about indian football…

  • @Diwakar: There’s of course more to come! How can we complete talkin’ abt Indian football without Sailen, Chuni, Goshto Pal and the likes? Watch out for this space! :-)

  • Biplab

    Deb, please update about current I-League race as well…

  • Howard Roark

    Biplab, Deb has heard you.

    Check out the latest article posted on THT.

  • @Biplab, please check out

    We will have more updates on I-League soon.

  • Somnath

    Good article.

    Two things I would like to add.

    The credit of spreading the game among “natives” goes to Nagendraprasad Sarbadhichari. He saw the british soldiers play the game one day & fell in love with it. Initially there were some resistance from the ruling class too. But his enthusiasm remained unmoved.

    In that historic game of 1911, East York took the lead through Jackson. Legendary Shibdas Bhaduri scored the equaliser, Abhilash Ghosh scored the improbable winner. And contrary to popular belief it was not 11 barefooted players against 11 booted Britishers. Sudhir Chatterjee wore boots. The rest of the Bagan team were barefooted.

  • IndianFootball

    Wow… dint knw that our history was so rich… feeling proud… but at the same time a bit sad too… becoz of the current situation…

    Plz write something about the greats of the game from India… I hardly knw anyone else other than Baichung and Vijayan… :(

  • IndianFootball

    @Somnath, excellent info man… u ppl knw so much abt indian football!!!

    TTake a bow!!!

  • Amit

    Really good and informative ….