When the 6th I-League commences later this year, there will be no team from either North or South India participating. Both teams from Southern India, Chirag Kerala and HAL Bangalore, were relegated in the 5thI-League. With JCT Phagwara having closed down last year, there is no North Indian team either. The promoted teams are United Sikkim and Mumbai based ONGC.
Two vast geographical regions of India going unrepresented, in the country’s premier football tournament, is an indication that the game’s development has been lop-sided. In regions like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjab, areas of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan (Bikaner and Jaipur) where the game was once very popular, football is fading away as the work by local associations is inadequate. This is not helping the cause of Indian football as the catchment area for talent is rapidly diminishing. Also, except for Kolkata, the clubs in metro cities are not doing well, so football rarely gets nation-wide publicity.
Recently retired national skipper Baichung Bhutia’s efforts in setting up a professional football club in his home-state Sikkim are commendable. Similarly, Shillong Lajong FC club owner Larsing Ming Sawian has galvanized football in Meghalaya, by providing an English Premier League-like atmosphere in their I-league home matches, with songs, banners and cheering crowds. Another new club Pune FC is also run very professionally and is popularizing the game in the city. But since most of these clubs are from smaller states, coverage in the national media is restricted. There is also limited sponsorship support for the North-east clubs, despite massive crowd following.
The flip side to this is that more established clubs Mahindra United, JCT, FC Kochin, Viva Kerala and ITI Bangalore have closed down. Former National Football League participants like Indian Bank, Chennai, SBT Kerala, Border Security Force (BSF) – the seven times Durand champions from 1968—1988, and Punjab Police are almost non-existent. These institutional clubs failed to adapt to a professional league’s demands and find themselves irrelevant. Better guidance by AIFF would have smoothened the transition of these teams to club football which would have been beneficial as they had a history and a fan base.
The contribution of Southern Indian states during Indian football’s golden period (1956—1964) is immense. As Indian football has limited archives, I have provided the massive contribution of Hyderabad (where organized football now is limited due to factionalism in the local association) and Karnataka, formerly Mysore to Indian football.
Overall the twin cities of Hyderabad—Secunderabad have produced 14 Olympians and 21 internationals who represented the country in the Asian Games, in which India twice won the gold medal in 1951(Delhi) and 1962 (Jakarta). The trio from Hyderabad in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics was defender S.K. Azizuddin, midfielder Noor Mohammed and right winger S.K. Moinuddin. The Indian team, which finished fourth in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, had eight players originally from Hyderabad -goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj, defenders S.K. Azizuddin, S.A. Latif, Ahmed Hussain and S.A. Salaam, midfielder Noor Mohammed and forwards Tulsidas Balaram and Mohammed Zulfiqaruddin.
Again in the 1960 Rome Olympics there were seven players from Hyderabad, Thangaraj, Latif, midfielders Yusuf Khan and S.S. Hakeem and forwards T. Balaram, D. Kannan and Habibul Hasan Hamid. Five of these players – Thangaraj, Aziz, Latif, Noor Mohammed and Balaram each played in two Olympics.
There have been nine national coaches from Hyderabad, S.A. Rahim, G.M. Pentiah (Dec. 1963 pre-Olympics), S.A. Salaam (1983 Nehru Cup and 1974 Asian Youth Championships), Ahmed Hussain (1982 Asian Games), S.S. Hakeem (1982 Asian Games), Mohammed Afzal (1991 Pre-Olympics), Syed Nayeemuddin (1987 SAF Games, 1988 Asia Cup qualifiers, 1998 Bangkok Asian Games, 1997 SAAF Cup and Nehru Cup, 2005 SAFF Cup), Shabbir Ali (1996 World Cup qualifiers, 1995 Nehru Cup and 1995 SAF Games) and Mohammed Habib(1991 Nehru Cup). Ahmed Hussain, Hakeem, Afzal and Habib were assistant national coaches. Shabbir was the Technical Director of the Indian team in 1995-96 when Uzbekistan’s Rustam Akhramov was chief coach.
Three Hyderabad referees have been in the FIFA panel from India, G.M. Pentiah, M. Azam and S.S. Hakeem, the son of Rahim. Azam supervised the 1974 Asian Games final in Tehran between Iran and Israel. Hakeem has supervised 33 international matches, an unbroken record and the finals of every major domestic tournament, including three Nehru Cup finals. Hakeem has also thrice been a referee in the Asia Cup final rounds, Asian Games (1982 and 1986), pre-Olympics and World Cup qualifiers.
Prior to the 1948 London Olympics, Mysore was dominant. India’s team in the 1948 Olympics had five players from Mysore – goalkeeper K.V. Varadaraj, midfielder S.A. Basheer and forwards M. Ahmed Khan, S. Raman(scored the solitary goal in the 1-2 loss to France) and K.P. Dhanraj. Similarly in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Varadaraj, midfielder T. Shanmugham and forwards M.A. Sattar and P.B.A Saleh were from Bangalore.
There were several players from both Mysore and Hyderabad and Loganathan from Madras in the Indian squad which won the 1951 Asian Games gold medal in Delhi. Winger Simon Sunderaraj from Madras is the last Indian to score a goal in the Olympic final rounds, a blistering 25 yard shot in the 1-3 defeat to Peru in the 1960 Rome Olympics.
From 1974-1988 several internationals emerged from JCT – goalkeeper Surjit Singh (1978 Bangkok Asian Games), sturdy defender G.S. Parmar, dynamic midfielder Parminder Singh and skilful Harjinder Singh (1982 Delhi Asian Games), former national coach Sukhwinder Singh and defender Jagir Singh. Parmar was India’s vice captain in the 1982 Asiad.
Left back Deepak Kumar played regularly for India in 1987-88. Four JCT players, Deepak, midfielder Parminder Singh (Jr.), and forwards Kuljit Singh and Narender Kumar represented India in the 1988 Siliguri Nehru Cup.
Goalkeeper Virender Singh, strikers Hardeep Gill and Surjit Singh, midfielders Hardip Sangha, Hardip Saini, Sukhjinder Singh and Sukhwinder Singh, defenders Prabhjot Singh, Daljit Singh, Harpreet Singh, Narender Singh and Anwar Ali were some of the prominent internationals from JCT in the new millennium. JCT provided an outlet for talented and sturdily built players of Punjab and Haryana to showcase their talent. Now that window of opportunity has closed down. Also, sadly, there is no team for North Indians fans to identity with any longer.