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.
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.