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5 moments in Indian football that you probably don't know of!

Lionel Messi during a training session in Kolkata
Lionel Messi during a training session in Kolkata
Sabyasachi Roy

Even though it might seem like a sport struggling to find its pedal, football has been here in India for over 100 years now. First introduced by the British regime in the late 1800s football has had some momentous occasions in its history in India. Even though so less of it has been documented, Indian football has survived over the years with moments that have been etched to its history.

A number of great players have graced the Indian field and a number of them have gone out to make their mark overseas. Here are five moments that happened in Indian Football that you probably have not heard of.

#1 Bayern Munich in India for Bhaichung's farewell match

Bayern Munich played India at the JLN Stadium, New Delhi
Bayern Munich played India at the JLN Stadium, New Delhi

Back in 2012, after playing for 16 glorious years for India, Bhaichung Bhutia received the perfect farewell as he played in the Indian colours for the last time on the home soil. This will be the second time that Bayern toured India and incidentally for Bhaichung’s farewell match in the pre-season almost with their entire first team with the likes of Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, Mario Gomez, Philipp Lahm, and Manuel Neuer, all gracing the Indian soil.

The game was played under floodlights at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi with Bayern toying with the Indian team for almost the entire duration of the match. Even though Bayern finished the game with a generous scoreline of 4-0, the game was well and over before the second half began as all four goals were scored by the end of the first half.

On the score sheet for Bayern was Mario Gomez (14’), Thomas Muller (29’ and 37’) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (43’).

The game managed to pack in 35,000 in attendance who cheered to see the European giants play, irrespective of the thrashing for the home side.

The match ended with the Bayern team felicitating Bhaichung Bhutia with an Audi Car. The proceedings collected from the match were donated for the victims affected in the earthquake in Sikkim.

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#2 Sunil Chhetri playing for Sporting Lisbon

Sunil Chhetri signed a one-year contract with Sporting CP
Sunil Chhetri signed a one-year contract with Sporting CP

Even though some percentage of the title is click bait, Sunil Chhetri, however, did play in the Sporting Lisbon side but in the reserve team (Sporting Lisbon B) which competed in the second division- Liga de Honra.

Sporting Lisbon which has witnessed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo playing for them, signed Chhetri in 2012 on a reported 1-year-contract giving him the chance to train with the Portuguese side. It was the time when India was ranked 163 in the FIFA rankings and there was a vast difference in the quality of play between India and Portugal who were ranked 5th back then. At 28, Sunil failed to prove his mettle and could manage only 3 appearances for the team before ending his contract a year later.

However, this wasn’t Sunil’s first stint outside of India as he had also played for Major League Soccer side Kansas City. Sunil also became the first player from India and the third from the subcontinent to make a move overseas at that point in time.

He also featured in a friendly against Premier League side Manchester United where he was subbed on at the 69th minute of the game. Unfortunately, even there Sunil was handed disappointment as he couldn’t manage to play even a single game for the team in the league and had left the club a few months later.

In his illustrious career, Sunil has also had interests from sides like Celtic, Leeds United and QPR but none could be converted for some reason or the other.

To break into this level of football at that point in time was a next-to-impossible task and it only goes to show what a legend of the game he has been for India. Sunil had recently quoted in one of his interviews that he could have made a mark overseas if he had age by his side.

#3 Pele playing at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata

Pele played at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 1977
Pele played at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 1977

Making it to top of the list of legends who have played in India, Brazilian legend Pele’s visit to India is marked as one of the momentous occasions in the history of the sport in the country.

Pele visited India in 1977 with his side New York Cosmos on his farewell tour to play against Kolkata club Mohun Bagan.

In the 1977 campaign, the Mohun Bagan went through a rough patch with back to back defeats in the hands of arch-rivals East Bengal in the IFA shield. After facing the slack, the onus came to the club authorities to compensate on the damage done and the then club secretary Dhiren Dey came up with the idea of inviting Pele and New York Cosmos for a friendly match against his side.

Even though negotiations took a while to agree on the finances it is believed it was Pele who convinced the Cosmos management to add India to the list as the request came from “the country where Mahatma Gandhi was born”.

Upon his arrival, Pele was greeted with gatherings outside the airport and outside the team hotel. However, on the match-day rain played a spoilsport as Eden gardens hosted the match with a dampened pitch and conditions not suitable for play. On the request of the authorities, Pele did take the field and ended the match with a 2-2 draw against Mohun Bagan.

This would be the first of the two times that the legend greeted the Indian soil as he would come back again after 38 years as a guest of honour.

#4 Bhaichung Bhutia scored in the English League

Baichung signed for Bury FC in 1999
Baichung signed for Bury FC in 1999

Regarded as one of the finest football players India ever produced, Bhaichung Bhutia was the first Indian footballer to sign for a European Club.

Bhaichung’s stint overseas came in England where he signed for League Two side Bury FC on a three-year contract with the club. He was also only the second Indian footballer to play professionally in Europe after Mohammed Salem. Bhaichung made a total of 37 appearances for the Manchester club and netted 3 goals for the side between 1994 and 2004. Baichung’s debut English league goal came against league side Chesterfield when he thundered a left-footed half-volley past the Chesterfield goalkeeper to give his side the lead which was later equalised, and the match ending in a draw.

In the final season, Bhaichung suffered a knee injury which had kept him out for a majority part of the season and ended up playing only 3 games for the team. His final match ended in a 3-0 loss against Swindon Town in 2001.

#5 Lionel Messi playing at the Salt Lake stadium, Kolkata

Argentina played Venezuela at the Salt Lake stadium
Argentina played Venezuela at the Salt Lake stadium

Kolkata has witnessed legends like Diego Maradona, Oliver Kahn, and Pele play in the city and in 2011 the football lovers in the city received the ultimate spectacle as Lionel Messi and Argentina travelled to India for an International friendly match against Venezuela.

The match was played as a dress rehearsal for both the teams before the 2014 world cup qualifiers when they would again face each other in October 2011. Apart from Messi stars like Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Nicolas Otamendi had also travelled with the team to play in the friendly.

As expected from Kolkata, Messi and the entire Argentine team received thunderous support in the city with thousands gathering at the airport and in the Salt Lake stadium. Several Bollywood celebrities, former player and politicians had also flown in to witness the legend play.

Messi was again at his brilliant best as he gave Kolkata a number of occasions to witness his moments of brilliance. Argentina won the game 1-0 credits to a goal from Nicolas Otamendi with Messi assisting him from the corner spot.

Even though the match was a spectacle on offer, the intense humid conditions of Kolkata made it very difficult for the players on the pitch and they had to take a drink’s break in between.

Even though the game was highly criticized for a number of goof-ups from the organisers, it surely marked as one of the historic moments in Indian football history.

Edited by Kingshuk Kusari

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