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Football and purani Dilli

Delhi football woke up from slumber. Last week, the Delhi team proved a determined lot when they held Indian football’s most successful team Bengal to a 1-1 draw in the National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy in Calcutta. I always felt that Delhi has the potential to do well. There are lot of talents in and around the city. Only if the local association put in some effort and do some constructive work.

Santosh Trophy Delhi holds Bengal to 1-1

Santosh Trophy Delhi holds Bengal to 1-1

Interestingly, Delhi finished runners-up behind Bengal in the inaugural Santosh Trophy in Calcutta in 1941. But in the second edition, Delhi avenged their defeat. That remained Delhi’s only triumph in Santosh Trophy.

When I came to Delhi in 1996, I had heard a lot about Delhi football. So, once I was in the city, it became a daily routine for me. I used to hire a rickshaw and roam around in old Delhi. I think it is the best way to feel the pulse of its historical existence. Rickshaw is the best transport available to pierce through its crowded serpentine alleys. Surrounded by crumbling walls and three surviving gates, purani Dilli is still very vibrant. It seemed so as the driver pedalled his rickshaw through the thick crowd.

It is a city within a city. It may not be fascinating for the others but I had enjoyed every bit of my stay in the crowded Idgah Road and Sadar Bazar. So after settling down, I had experienced every bit of those rickshaw rides through its small galis. They are lined with 17th-century havelis whose once ornate facades are now defaced with rusted signs and sprouting satellite dishes. There is this uncanny habit in me. Whenever I am in a new city, I usually drag myself to look for football links.

I was told that the Walled City had encourgaged and patronized the game to a great extent. I wondered if I would be able to reconnect football to Delhi since there was no Mohun Bagan-like tents. Or even a literature about its footballing history. Then someone had informed me that “if you want to search for the football passion, visit the Walled City”.
Where is Mohun Bagan-like tents? Where is Maidan? I used to wonder if there were any football clubs. I had frowned then. But slowly I realized that despite the absence of club tents, football lived in every nook and corner of old Delhi.

So for a football journalist, the visit was worth taking.

In the halcyon days, driven by passion for the game, old Delhi traders and businessmen did not mind diverting their business profits into football, helping the emergence of well-known clubs like City Club, Shastri FC, Youngmen, Mughals, and Indian Nationals. While the clubs flourished, the game attracted the middle-class. Such was the clubs’ appeal that even common folks came forward with contributions as clubs like Indian Nationals or City Club became a part of their lives.

Nationals, for instance, came into existence during an informal chat between some of the die-hard Delhi footballers of the pre-Independence era. There was an urge and interest to create a medium to express their intense love for football. So when YS Yadav, Sheikh Mohammad Shafiq, Mohammad Yasin and Hameed Khan sat under a tree at the historic Sunehri Masjid in old Delhi pre-1947, it had turned out to be a sunehra moment for Delhi football. Views were exchanged and Indian Nationals Football Club came into existence. The decision to form the team was later unanimously passed during a meeting held at the bylanes of historic Turkman Gate at House No. 2383, Kucha Mir Hashim, Chitli Qabar.

Unfortunately, some of these clubs are up against harsh reality. How to carry on their legacy without funds? I found a stark similarity between the old Delhi’s decay and the dwindling fortune of Walled City’s football culture which was once so dominant. Passion alone cannot take them forward. The clubs have ceased to enjoy patronage from the locals as well. And businessmen no longer support them as they used to. In fact, from 1996 till date, there has been a sharp decline in the interest among the locals

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