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Football fanaticism in India

In the wild west of Indian Sports, the two major players, cricket and hockey seem to be trapped in an endless fight to death. As these players ready themselves for one of their countless duels to come, a new player seems to have casually sauntered in. Armed to the feet with nothing more than a round air-filled sphere with weird patterns, he has come to battle it out with those armed with curved sticks, bats and hard leather balls. Hockey, having been taunted for being the not-so-national-sport and cricket the unofficial-national-sport has now another sport to compete with.

In India, it is a common site to see an even number of players getting together in groups in parks and playgrounds to play cricket. Now this same even number of players are getting together to play the game imported from the west. Consisting of simple rules and only one round ball, football has a worldwide appeal. Easy on the pocket, for it requires just one kid to get a football, this ‘man’s game’ is slowly but surely outclassing the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ and quickly revolutionizing India and the World.

In the last decade we have seen football’s popularity in India reach dizzying heights. Children as young as 12 are being divided into ‘camps’ for supporting football clubs of their choice. From Glory Hunters who support clubs winning titles and change allegiances every season to people who are downright silly enough to support only clubs that are losing, football has seen it all. Clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich etc. which probably stood for zilch a few years ago and wouldn’t have rung a bell in any one’s head is now a bone of contention among us.

Every new week brings with it the same old rigmarole of people supporting victorious teams of the last set of fixture trying to shove the taste of defeat into their opponents faces. Hand gestures pointing out score lines and making a mockery of people wearing jerseys of the defeated teams (who often kiss the club crest to show their never ending support) are common sights on an otherwise boring Monday morning  punctuated by trips to Lectures and Practicals. Later followed by pretend sympathy it’s like a soap opera you cannot miss.

Then again there are mainly three kinds of football fanatics in India. One those who play the game, others who are fanatics simply for the reason of not wanting to be left out of this great Shakespearean drama and the third are people like me who call ourselves football analysts. With fancy foreign names of players on our lips we go about are businesses trying to ‘analyze’ as to why a particular team did not win or why a particular team did win.  We often pretend to know much better than the manager of the club and pride ourselves in having a world beating squad in a football management game on our PlayStations and XBoxes.

All this being said it is very rare that you will find a supporter of Indian Football midst all this. There are by far very few who probably even know half of the Eleven Players who make up the Indian National Football Squad. (That’s also partly because we’re ranked from the bottom up). Indian Football was again in the news recently with the famed Bayern Munich side coming to India for Baichung Bhutia’s testimonial match during their winter break. A player who happens to be the very first Indian to have played for a football cub outside of India. Lucky fellow.

After all the criticizing and name calling we must accept one fact that as long as India does not raise its football profile quickly our generation will always sing praises for those of Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and other fancy sounding Stadium names (‘Estadio da Dragao’, anyone?) before we are even able to point out directions to the Cooperage Stadium. It will always remain’ Football Fanaticism in India’ and not ‘Indian Football Fanaticism’.

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