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The rise and fall of Indian Football

The idea of Indian Football began as soccer was introduced to India much before it was introduced in Brazil by Britain. The game was played by the military men stationed in this country. Indians took well enough to the sport to start playing on their own. At the time of the British rule, Calcutta was the first place where the game established its roots. By the 1880s, football clubs like Town Club (1884), Kumartuli Institute (1885), Aryan Club (1886) and Mohun Bagan Athletic Club (1889) had been founded.

The local population soon embraced this sport almost overnight. Along with city-based clubs, more football teams came into being in the suburbs. Although, they weren’t a match to the brawns of the military men, the Indian players concentrated more on the skills and made desperate efforts to get the better of their opposition. Beating the Brits at their own game became a focal point for those who were itching to play a vital role in the struggle for India’s political freedom.

For a sport that was so well embraced, what really happened? Why didn’t we go beyond what we are now? India’s top footballer is considered to be just good enough to play lower division soccer in England. Today, India is ranked beneath 150 in the world. Even at the Asian level, India is one among the bottom-rankers. If nations like Nigeria and Costa Rica, among others, can become world-cuppers, why can we not make it?

The reason being that back in Bombay, the Parsis wanted to play cricket against the British expatriates for the sole reason of developing contacts for their business interests. While Calcutta, on the other hand, was keen to play the Brits on the soccer field to show their political stand. While the former won matches against the British, Calcutta’s Bengali’s waited till the year 1911 to taste their victory. This soon led to soccer portrayed in a negative light. Bengalis never saw the need to perform on an international scale and remained stuck to their comfort zone. The sport’s horizon ended with the IFA shield tournament, played in Calcutta.

As most of us know that cricket is played officially in 90 nations, under the International Cricket Council. After a process of participation and elimination, only the best 10 play Tests. Similarly, just only 32 nations play in the football World Cup, even though there are more than 200 nations in the FIFA list.

Although India can take a breath knowing that there are still 50 nations behind, the question still arises why we can’t make it with the ones among the top in Asian and European football? Why are we behind Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Honduras, Columbia, and others — teams that are economically weaker than India and can offer little assistance to their own players? Why, despite the existence of the likes AIFF, ISL and I League, we still remain dwindling at the bottom?

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