Football on a high in cricket-mad India

Football on a high in cricket-mad India

There are no second thoughts when we call ourselves a nation of cricket-crazy people. A billion people put everything on hold to catch the game’s icons in action and the same people don’t even blink before publicly flaying the team when it loses a crucial match.

Interestingly,  these love/hate reactions leave little room for anything else – soccer, hockey, chess, tennis, badminton, etc.

Mercifully though, times they are a changing! 

And over the past few years, India has witnessed a gradual shift in the loyalty and following of the public for sports other than cricket, even though this is restricted mainly to urban areas.

Soccer, or football, has found its way into television schedules and the sports section of newspapers in a big way.

Now, posters of famous footballers adorn hostel room walls and varied football merchandise and T-shirts of well-known football clubs, are the ideal birthday gifts to make a friend happy! 

At last, and even though it has been late coming, there is another sport to fire the imagination of a people till now sold out on cricket, cricket and more cricket.  

And even though the pitch for soccer has been raised, it will be a while before we can call it our ‘own’.

India is ranked 145 in the The Fédération Internationale de Football Association(FIFA) rankings and the search for the perfect ‘11-people-in-a-billion-people’ is still going on.

But, for now Indian youngsters are keenly following their favourite clubs in action in the English Premier League to satiate their appetite for the game. 

Adding to the sheen of the game are Bollywood stars Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, John Abraham, retired cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly and Spanish club Atletico Madrid, who have bought franchises, announced for the Indian Super League (ISL) soccer tournament, the inaugural season of which will kick off in September.
Shrey Chaturvedi, an avid soccer lover and part of Liverpool Fanclub Support  group, says, “This step will definitely help the game because celebrities are capable of getting ads and a lot of attention. In India, football needs money and infrastructure, so this step might help us in the future. I was once a cricket-lover too, but now I don’t even watch a cricket match as I don’t have time. To watch an ODI, you need a whole day, whereas soccer is a 90-minute game!”

Football’s ISL is modelled on the flourishing Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament where teams are owned by a mix of Bollywood stars and big business houses. 

Soccer is popular in some of the regions in India but in the rest, the glimpse of Bollywood or cricket superstar could be an attraction.

Adnan Rahimtula, who had the opportunity of playing in London with various clubs when he was studying there, shared his thought. According to him, “Playing soccer in 
India and playing in UK...there is a huge difference. 

It is almost like playing a different game altogether.”  

“In India, boys start playing professionally when they are 15-16-years old, but in UK, children by the time they are five or six, start playing soccer.

So, by the time they reach the age of 15, they almost acquire all the skills and in India they are just starters. But now, things are changing gradually and people are taking interest in soccer too,” he added.

Another soccer enthusiast, Stanzin Soram, who plays for Spiritual Gangsters (SPG), strong supporters of Arsenal team, said, “Soccer fanclub is definitely growing in India and overtaking cricket. 

But, in India we need enough grounds to practise, latest equipments, coaches and foreign investment to further popularise this game.”

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