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Kicking On The Ground: Indian Football with its Up's N Down's...

5 July 2023

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The origin of football in India can be traced back to mid-nineteenth century when the game was introduced by British soldiers. Initially, games were played between army teams. However, clubs were soon set up around the country. Calcutta FC was the first club to be established in 1872, though reports suggest that they were initially a rugby club and switched their attentions to football as late as 1894. Other early clubs include Dalhousie Club, Traders Club and Naval Volunteers Club. Several other football clubs like Sovabazar, Mohun Bagan and Aryan Club were established in Calcutta around the 1890s. Calcutta, then capital of British India, soon became the hub of Indian football. Tournaments like Gladstone Cup, Trades Cup and Cooch Behar Cup were also started around this time. The Durand Cup and IFA Shield were both started in late nineteenth century.

The first Indian team to achieve success was Sovabazar Club, which won the Trades Cup in 1892. Mohun Bagan Athletic Club was set up in what is now West Bengal in 1889. The club became famous in 1911 when it became the first Indian team to lift the IFA Shield, a tournament previously won only by British teams based in India. It defeated the East Yorkshire Regiment 2–1 in the final of the tournament in a victory that is still regarded by many as the greatest win by an Indian team before Independence.

The Indian Football Association (IFA) was established in Calcutta in 1893, but did not have a single Indian on its board until the 1930s. The All India Football Federation, which runs the game in India, was formed in 1937, but took more than a decade to get affiliated with FIFA. India also insisted on playing barefoot when other nations were putting their boots on and the game was changing fast. Legendary footballer Jyotish Chandra Guha earned global attention for Indian football when he became first Indian to appear with English Football League club Arsenal in 1930.

India qualified by default for the 1950 FIFA World Cup as a result of the withdrawal of all of their scheduled opponents. But lack of financial assistance to purchase tickets including the prospects of a very long sea journey meant that the team never made it to Brazil . But this theory was debunked by sports journalist Jaydeep Basu, according to him, money generation for Brazil trip was a headache but it was solved, 3 state associatios provided financial help to AIFF and FIFA also promised to provide money. FIFA had imposed a rule banning barefoot play following the 1948 Olympics where India had played barefoot.

India never qualified for the Olympics after 1960. India did qualify for its first Asian Cup in 1964 but failed to capture the title. India's last important performance in an international tournament came in 1970 Asian Games, when it won the bronze medal by defeating Japan 1–0, however the Indian youth team jointly won the Youth Asian Cup with Iran in 1974, the first and only title for India at youth level. For the club football, 24 September 1977 was a golden day as Mohun Bagan managed to hold on for a memorable 2–2 draw at the legendary Eden Gardens stadium in Calcutta, against a Pele led New York Cosmos.

The problem with Indian football is not with those who play the game. It’s with those who govern it. The country’s apex football federation recently earned FIFA’s wrath and a ban; the suspension has since been lifted and may have come as a wake-up call for the federation to get its act together. 

Since then football's popularity in India is rising. It has the potential to rival cricket as the go-to sport for the next generation. A decade ago, if anyone asked you which sport does India play, cricket would be the most obvious answer. Fortunately, that has changed over the past few years. Other sports like badminton, kabaddi, and football have cornered a lot of the new sports enthusiasts.

India holds the 104th spot in the FIFA rankings. Talented players such as Ishan Pandita, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Sahal Abdul Samad, and Liston Colaco have the passion to get better and put the country on the football map. But to realise the World Cup qualification dream, a football culture has to be nurtured.

2017 was a good year for football in India, with the national team going on to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup while the country also successfully hosted the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The Indian Under-17 side also gave a good account of themselves in the tournament.


Sunil Chhetri has started becoming a name more people know and recognize. A lot of local talent has been promoted in the ISL in particular and the marketing teams have made sure that the viewers remember these names. Football has also received a lot of support from Bollywood. A lot of stars either own stakes in teams or have been very vocal about their support for European teams. Ranbir Kapoor's love for Barcelona and Ranveer Singh's love for Arsenal is well documented.

Coverage of football matches and tournaments by the media has increased manifold, particularly, because of the huge demand for information around it. A few years ago, the only time you would see sports journalists write opinion pieces about football was if there was a World Cup coming up. Those also used to be very generic and mostly just used information from foreign articles. Now you can read about all the big matches on a daily basis.

After a couple of years of turmoil and uncertainty that had pushed FIFA to suspend the All India Football Federation (AIFF) earlier this year, normalcy has finally returned to the football's governing body in the country.

The new AIFF executive committee led by former goalkeeper Kalyan Choubey is currently charting a new path for Indian football in the New Year -- a grand roadmap for the development of the sport in the country.

In a free-wheeling chat with IANS, AIFF Secretary General, Shaji Prabhakaran, elaborated on the philosophy and grand plans of AIFF 2.0 for a bright future for the sport in India.

I hope this post has convinced you to try out the footworks of football and experience the benefits for yourself. Not only does it provide an excellent workout, but football can also help you build self-confidence, discipline, and focus.

Written By,
Freelance Content/ Technical,
Writer: Ivan Edwin "MAXIMUS".
(Winner Of National and
 International Literary Awards)...
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