Early morning chai in the university is usually accompanied by a no-so-commercial Daily and a few friends talking about football/economics. A few days back there was news about some changes in the Foreign Direct Investment and its impact on this nation with respect to competitors from overseas. I’m not getting into the details of that but as I turned over the pages, European Football News was seen and heard all over. The brain went into overdrive because of the above.
It’s a clear fact that there are enough people in this nation who love football; enough for the sport to rise up to its potential. Having said all this, there is a major issue which remains unsorted. Checking fan pages statistics on Facebook is a little painful at times. The one with the title – ‘Manchester United Fans India’, has over 1.5 lakh likes while the highest number of likes for the fan page of the Indian National Football Team has a mere 30,000 or so. This figure is not only a little disturbing but also very shameful for the people of this country.
There are many reasons why the majority of football fans in India are obsessed with Europe and not their own homeland. It’s hard to blame ALL of them. The first kind of these football fans are the glory hunters. Yes, the ones who demand a certain comfort zone in their armchairs and after having seen their nation ‘excel’ at a 12 nation global sport-like event, they get sucked into the womb of mother sloth- both mental and physical. They sit in air conditioned rooms or bars and write off the world class athletes at their own peril. The mental gymnastics enable them to believe that they have a real connection with Manchester or a city/club which is not theirs. A few weeks back I saw a few Arsenal supporters singing loudly in front of a famous bar in Delhi and they seemed like they were so proud and had the right to refer to United fans in India as “glory hunters”. I walked pass them and asked if they cared about Indian Football. Most of them didn’t bother. They claimed to support their team through thick and thin but the logic behind “their” team is flawed if they do not care about the local or the national team in cities where local teams don’t exist! It’s hard to find THAT person who knows what Rahim Sahib achieved with the national team while being diagnosed with cancer.
The second kind fans in this category are the quality football purists. Top class European and South American footballers do make the rest of the world look inferior. What this set of fans lack is the proper knowledge of what a footballer goes through in India. If one has actually played the sport, the person will surely know about the concept of peripheral vision where you keep your head up while playing the ball. The synchronization of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi would have never been possible had they been born and brought up on Indian pitches where the ball cannot even glide and wobbles all over and forces a player to look at the ground while playing. The blistering pace on the wings by Ronaldo can never be replicated on pitches which are not firm and levelled! There is hope for the ‘second kind’ to accept Indian football but most importantly there is a need. There are many problems this game faces in the country when it comes to attracting fans. Inconvenient timings for the league games, poor drainage system (recently witnessed in Nehru Cup) and poor marketing skills by the AIFF (Nehru Cup physical advertisements were seen nowhere in Delhi).
A better marketing strategy to sell the game in India by the federation can do wonders but the fans have got to meet them halfway. A proper football system where in the clubs and the national team games have a regular decent attendances all over the nation is always a pre-requisite to have proper avenues for the development of the sport. Fans play a very important role since they are the customers of the modern day football clubs which have a financial side to them and as these entities grow financially, more money is infused into the game which in turn is re-invested by the clubs in infrastructure, player development and a host of other things which improve the overall football scene- hence improving the national team.
The juxtaposition of the FDI and the European football in India caused this overdrive. Competition from abroad can be both good and bad. Turning problems into opportunities should be the guiding principle but then again, what ‘should be’ is just an atrocious question in a country where one can bleed for Europe and not even acknowledge the efforts of a fellow country man who had the unparalleled passion and strength to make a career in a real sport in a nation which tends to stay far away from sporting culture.Published 16 Sep 2012, 00:32 IST