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The Decline of Indian Football after 1960s

Ashim Khan

Runners-up in 1964 Asia Cup, fourth in Summer Olympics 1956 and winner of the gold medal twice at Asian games in 1951 and1961. The 'Golden Era' of Indian Football. But what happened after that? What was the reason behind the long dry spell that the Indian National Football Team has had to face? Some people blame Poverty. That's propostrous! Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and many more such names came from the poverty-stricken land of Brazil. The extreme heat in India is to blame then. But what about the African countries? These are just theories without any substantial proof, some may call them excuses. So what were the real reasons behind Football's downhill journey in India?

The Rise of Cricket

The British left behind one good thing when they left India in 1947, Cricket. It's certain that the game of Cricket would have reached India at some point in time, but it happened sooner owing to the 'British Connection' India had. In the 50s, Cricket was only played by people from the affluent sections of India, but slowly, it's popularity grew among the common masses and by the end of the next two decades more people started playing the game. Now in states like Bengal where Football was already the major sport, this wasn't a problem. But for places like Central India, Cricket caught on fairly quickly and hence 'captured' the ground which could have been arguably acquired by Football.

Gupta Catch
Gupta Catch

Another factor was the affinity towards Cricket exhibited by the wealthy and Educated section of the society. Football was mostly seen by such people as a 'boyish' sport and hence they preferred Cricket which is a "Gentleman's Game", and this continued to be the case for a long time.

In the 1980s, the popularity of Cricket grew exponentially and the reason was, you guessed it! The 1983 World Cup that India won! The legendary tales of Kapil Dev and the Indian Cricket team filled the minds of Indian people with enthusiasm for the sport. The amount of fame that the Indian Cricket team received became a new point of attraction towards Cricket, and the heroic status achieved by the likes of Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri further consolidated the position of Cricket as a sport that filled the masses with hope and joy.


The Indian Cricket team had become a phenomenon after their World Cup success, and there wasn't anything to compare to that stardom in Indian Football. No visible incentive to draw out the masses, no big faces to inspire the youth. This imbalance led to a widespread rise of love for Cricket among the Indian population but nothing to fuel the cause of Football in India.

Rapid Development of CounterParts

While the growth of Football had stagnated in India, the Beautiful Game was flourishing in other parts of the world. New tactics, great players, and a rapidly expanding fanbase lead to an exponential growth in the quality of Football around the world. The importance of passing had been discovered in Scotland, players with wonderful technical ability like Pele were coming up. The men from India failed to match the pace with which Football was progressing. How could they compete against new tactics that involved swapping positions, or players who had developed the ability to bamboozle defenders by their skills? 

World Cup 1966: Brazil V Bulgaria
World Cup 1966: Brazil V Bulgaria

The lack of exposure didn't help either. Most of Indian Football was concentrated around Bengal and other North-Eastern regions of India. There was no attempt to look for competition outside the region. It could have been a totally different story had India participated in the 1953 World Cup, or maybe not. But it would have helped the players get some exposure to European Football.

All in all, Nobody in the 1950s could have thought that the journey of Football in India would go downhill so rapidly. From winning the Asian Cup twice to a team that had to wait 27 years to even qualify for the tournament. It's only after the turn of the century that future of Football in India is looking bright again. With recent efforts and developments like the ISL and Iconic players like Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri, the hope that Indian Football will someday put a mark on the World Map has been rekindled.

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