The diary of an Indian football fan
It’s hard – like a marathon. It’s probably easier to quit but you’ve got to endure. There are many obstacles you come across – when people such as Bob Houghton are shown the wrong side of the park– but you’ve got to step into it, in pursuit of finding a better path ahead. You’ve got to keep going.
It is much like experiencing a ghost – you’ve felt one, but cannot manage to explain it to anyone. It’s painstakingly difficult to get someone to understand why you would support the Indian national football team, let far alone being ‘a fan’ – such a thing, seemingly does not exist.
It is easier to quit. But like Sylvester Stallone says, in Rocky VI, “It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how and you can get hit, and keep moving forward; how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winnin’ is done… but you’ve got to be willing to take the hits.” And that is also how it is for the Indian football fan, one who cannot contain the flair of the blue jersey.
Sometimes the excitement of watching the national team lasts only as long as the national anthem plays and further until the kick-off whistle, because the boys make you feel that the Rahul’s and Sid’s in your neighbourhood play better, even if they don’t.
At other times, it brings your heart out of you when you see a player like Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhettri or Jeje Lalpekhlua fighting off their chests with a persistent gaze in their eye. It sets your skin on fire to see them battling so hard to look for every inch of space, such that you just want to enter the fray.
And simultaneously, you’ve got to learn to do with unfit players, who train in shoddy conditions, and are effortlessly sidelined by averagely strong opponents. And then there are the unpleasant scoreboards of course.
The SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) cup no longer matters since Sri Lanka and Nepal became a part of it. Yet winning the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) challenge cup feels like winning the World Cup qualifiers. Thoughts of India hosting the U-17 World Cup only light you up even in the middle of a sheep-crowded train, while you stand there drenched in sweat – yours and others.
Seeing players, especially the young ones, make their way to well known clubs abroad, feels much like the traditional Indian farmer – waiting for a cloud to rain beautifully. From the other side, finding Manchester United and other clubs set up a base here, feels like primitives being ‘civilised’ by outsiders, in terms of football.
And only when you go back to the historical times of Mohammed Salim and PK Banarjee, and see what they did, do you realise that you are sitting in a wonderful book covered in dust, titled ‘Indian football’.
And what about the I-League? Well, it might seem easier to watch ads – even they’re faster and more accurate than the passing. You might even wish that the ‘I’ stands for a word that does not even exist and isn’t actually ‘India’. Perhaps being an Indian football player is as difficult as being the ‘Indian football fan’. For that maybe, we should open the ‘diary of the Indian football player’.
And if nothing else has been left out, you either spend sleepless nights or sleep with the one thought that Bhaichung Bhutia expressed through the words: ‘Hope I’ll live to see India play in the World Cup’.