Indian football – a perspective

Disclaimer: This post is in response to the following post on goal.com. The author has written a passionate piece but I do not agree with certain aspects. I look at an understanding of the broader picture to better appreciate the situation.
“Don’t blame cricket, blame yourself!”

When I first read this, I was thinking, ‘wait a minute! I don’t actually blame cricket. I’m a football fan. So does that mean that I should blame myself for India’s lack of quality in football?’ Well, most certainly not. I am not to blame, and neither are you. Hell! No one is to blame and all of us are to blame.

While Yash Modi has written a passionate plea replete with facts about small nations and even a social experiment, what he fails to do is essentially capture the essence of why what is what it is. He asks us not to blame cricket. Spot on. He says that we love football but not INDIAN football. Once again, bulls eye! Yet there are a couple of points he makes that I don’t quite agree with, simply because of the context, or the lack of it.

“Slovenia. A tiny mountain-laden nation nestled in between Austria and Croatia spreading over 20,000 sq km with a population of 2 million. Now here’s why these statistics are important. Their FIFA World Rank is 25 and they are participants in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.” Yes. A small nation indeed and indeed a very small population. Yet, look at 2 very important words in that statement: Austria and Croatia. Two countries, who have been good footballing nations in their own right. Also, Slovenia is not that far away, and in fact shares borders with Italy and Hungary – footballing powerhouses; one still, and another historically.

“Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean nation, have 1.2 million citizens living on an island that’s 5000 sq km in size. They lie 95th in the FIFA World Rankings and had participated in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.” Again, look at it in the broader perspective. Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from the British only in 1962. Surely, the effect of their culture was not lost on them. Cricket is a testament to this fact.

It’s great to read such a passionate article and be moved about the bad state of Indian football and why who is to blame. Yet, looking at it in the broader context, all is not doom and gloom, really. I appreciate the article and the passion in it, I really do but what I don’t quite concur with is that there is anyone to blame.

First, look at it historically. If you want to blame anyone really for the under-development of football in India, blame the British. Yes, the British. I’ve gone crazy, you might say but just spare a thought. Cricket, football, tennis, badminton, polo – all brought to India by the British. They might have existed in different forms in India previously but not as organized sport. It was the British who truly brought organized sport into India. If you’ve read ‘A corner of a foreign field’ by Ramachandra Guha, you’ll come to appreciate the history of cricket in India; how it was and how it grew. If you haven’t read it, you really should. There he examines not only the sporting factors but also the socio political factors that governed cricket and helped in its spread.

Cricket was simply more accessible (though you may ask how cricket, where obviously more equipment is needed than just a football is more accessible, it just was.) The British in India did not play football, or at least not nearly as much as cricket. Cricket is what people saw the ‘firangs’ playing and this is what captured their imagination. Also, football was not an elitist sport. It was played by the lower classes in England and the primary audience was the throngs of working class who flocked for their Saturday afternoon fun in the sun after a long week’s labor. The British ruling classes in India were obviously from the upper classes and hence preferred the more ‘civilized’, if you like, cricket, tennis and polo. The traditional stronghold of Indian football, Goa, was ruled by the Portuguese, who were much more into football because of the vast number of traders who came and went frequently, imbibing their culture into the local culture.

As they say, the rest is history and well, the results are for all to see. Cricket captured the public imagination and has gone on from strength to strength. We could argue that, had football been given equal status and importance as cricket, we might well be playing at a world cup now. Yes, maybe we could but the fact of the matter is that we aren’t. Again, to look at why this is, we must look at the Indian psyche. We, as a race, are a far more peaceful people. We enjoy competition and the spirit of the game but are far more reluctant to watch people getting battered and bruised. Innately, we enjoy beauty and elegance rather than brawn. For this reason, cricket and tennis offers more to an Indian than does a football or rugby. Hockey is the notable exception but even that can be made an excuse of because of its elitist status that it held in the times of old. It was more artistry and skill, and still is.

In spite of all the hoopla about the world cup, it still remains a minority of the public’s imagination. ‘The 2010 edition is the most widely watched football event in India with viewership up by more than 35%’ said a report. Yet, the TRP was 1.2. Compare that to a TRP of 7 odd for IPL3 and you get an idea. Yes, football is growing exponentially. There is no doubt about it but we must accept that there is a fair way to go yet. There is no point in bemoaning the lack of success. Apologies for being blunt but, there is a distinct lack of it. Deal with it.

Whether we accept it or not, there is nothing like success to capture the imagination of a nation. I don’t know if people will agree but the 1983 Cricket World Cup win did something for cricket that no amount of advertising or money could do; it brought success. It showed us that we could compete with the world; not just compete but beat the best and be the best. This truly captured the imagination. Cricket has gone on from strength to strength and it is where it is today.

Having stated all that, I do agree with the author that more must be done. We must support our local clubs as well but look at the situation: You see a Messi, a Rooney, a Ronaldo and then you see an I-League match. The dip in quality can be quite disturbing and that essentially is the reason that puts off people.

Strides are being made, and will continue to be made. Patience is a virtue. Football is blossoming and will blossom in years to come. We have Indians plying their trade in foreign lands now. We have academies being set up and scouts coming to witness football at the grassroots level. With more exposure to the world class talent on show in the foreign leagues, more youngsters are inclined to take up the sport.

There is no point in saying that we care about football and not Indian football. There is no point in holding grudges against people for appreciating the European leagues and not the Indian league. Honestly, there is no comparison. People who like to watch good football will watch it and there is nothing wrong with it.

Suddenly, being a striker is fashionable just like being an all-rounder is. Being able to do a step-over is as good as being able to play an elegant flick shot. Indian football is growing. Indian football is slowly but surely coming of age. Let it; and once is has grown, we will know. Until that day comes, wait and watch. After all, even the mighty Rome was not built in a day.

Cheers

  • Harry

    A good read amrit, there are certain points to look at though. When we talk of us watching or following football, we relate to a club or country. More often than not we stick to what we hear. Most people know the names of the superstars messi, ronaldo and the like without knowing which team they play and the hype and hoopla surrounding the game adds to the aura. Nice write up regarding the evolution of cricket as our game-of-the-masses. Isn't it ironic that we are still caught up with the colonial hangover? Atleast the fifa wc can be a good advert for the game in india, it might not increase the no. of players who are already playing football at club and league levels, but it will wake up the sponsors. I tell you we need better facilities to play. The Indian national team practices on school pitches. Bottomline : Let us promote sports , even cricket for that matter of fact gets disowned at the cost of careers. I am very much sure that our short-sighted policies in cricket will bring us down from the world power that we are to minnows some day similar to the fall from grace we've suffered in hockey.

  • Harry

    A good read amrit, there are certain points to look at though. When we talk of us watching or following football, we relate to a club or country. More often than not we stick to what we hear. Most people know the names of the superstars messi, ronaldo and the like without knowing which team they play and the hype and hoopla surrounding the game adds to the aura. Nice write up regarding the evolution of cricket as our game-of-the-masses. Isn't it ironic that we are still caught up with the colonial hangover? Atleast the fifa wc can be a good advert for the game in india, it might not increase the no. of players who are already playing football at club and league levels, but it will wake up the sponsors. I tell you we need better facilities to play. The Indian national team practices on school pitches. Bottomline : Let us promote sports , even cricket for that matter of fact gets disowned at the cost of careers. I am very much sure that our short-sighted policies in cricket will bring us down from the world power that we are to minnows some day similar to the fall from grace we've suffered in hockey.

  • Anonymous

    Like what you saying. i am a Bengali and from kolkata so i am more attached to football than cricket. In here there some people still say that in India 11 Bengali shows that we can stand against the Britisher (1911 shield won by mohonbagan).And in my part of India Football is being played for more than 100 years but i don't blame any one for its lack of improvement. we are a strong team in 1940's to 1960's if we see the quality of those teams and 2010's team if they played against 1950's team, they would have beaten current team 5-0. but there is hope, that what we can hold on to that football will rise.

  • Anonymous

    Like what you saying. i am a Bengali and from kolkata so i am more attached to football than cricket. In here there some people still say that in India 11 Bengali shows that we can stand against the Britisher (1911 shield won by mohonbagan).And in my part of India Football is being played for more than 100 years but i don't blame any one for its lack of improvement. we are a strong team in 1940's to 1960's if we see the quality of those teams and 2010's team if they played against 1950's team, they would have beaten current team 5-0. but there is hope, that what we can hold on to that football will rise.