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The legend of BFC is just a start - It's time for a football revolution in India

Football in India can be muffled, but not silenced. The legend of BFC is just a start.

Bengaluru FC
Bleed Blue and may our opponents get the blues!

When he signed up for the role of a marketing trainee, Arun knew that it would be an uphill task for him to battle his penchant for sports and work in a field he never wanted to end up in. But a career in football was just a dream for him, as he knew that it would take him nowhere. It was too late for him to build a career in football, with age and experience standing at odds with his interest for the game.

Bogged down with work, while Arun typed the review report that was already late for submittal, his Manager stormed into his cabin and barraged him with insults. It came as a cropper for Arun, after he had languished himself for hours to finish the work he was assigned for the day.

The outpour of abuse from his Manager was the final push. Frustration was at its boiling point, and failure had wiped out his rationale.  

The words from the Manager got onto his nerves, and without doling out an explanation, Arun rose from his seat and walked out of his cabin. Arun’s issue with the manager was the central part of everyone’s attention in the room, and the fact that he walked out while everyone watched, made it an ego clash for his manager. He screamed at the top of his voice, “Don’t even think about coming back!”

Arun knew that there was no point in returning, as he knew his manager quite well. But he had no regrets. He was not going to return. He would never step into that office again. On his way back home, Arun’s mind wafted like plumes of smoke from a cigarette, unsure about its direction, uncertain about the winds that might force it to vanish all of a sudden.

Perched on his Apache bike, Arun rode like a robot. He was close to tears but didn’t even bother to notice.  

This is when Arun heard a thundering noise from a distance. It was bigger and louder than what a sixty-thousand plus crowd could create at the M Chinnaswamy cricket stadium in Bengaluru.

While Arun listened to it and wondered why, the slow moving traffic, honking to get the line moving somehow, and the animated expressions of people wearing blue jerseys, explained the tale to him.

Arun had completely forgotten that it was BFC’s summit clash at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium against the defending AFC champs Johor Darul Ta’zim. Arun’s heartbeat started to pick up pace, as if it was in a racing circuit.

Reaching the St. Joseph’s School in Vital Mallya road got his adrenaline going. He could feel the energy. The footballer in him picked up the vibes, and he badly wanted to be a part of the crowd that was emitting the energy of a football-centric world in unison.

Arun didn’t realise that he was chanting ‘BFC’ in his mind, but he knew for a fact that he would have been inside that stadium, if football was as important as cricket in his country.

Managing to sneak out of the massive traffic jam, Arun parked his bike when he reached a place far from the gaggle of fans in blue who were trying to get a glimpse of their favourite team playing a historic match.

Watch here: Sunil Chhetri's second goal for Bengaluru FC that helped create Indian football history

Arun walked towards the stadium, and stopped when he was just a stone’s throw away from the battle of Asian giants. He stood there, listening to the intense emotions erupting from the stadium. His eyes welled up, when he heard the human wave explode in euphoria. It was the 76th minute goal from Juanan.

Arun didn’t know the importance of the goal then, but he could feel the blood pulsating in his ears. He was breathing heavily, and he wanted to be inside that stadium. `Drops of tears were about to roll down his cheeks, and he walked away for a second time that day. He couldn’t reason with himself then, but he knew that he was angry.

Arun was still fuming, when he reached his home. His mother asked him why he was early from work, but he didn’t care to answer. He went to his room, and slammed the door behind him. Arun started searching for a pen and paper. He was not a writer, but he had to find a way, to vent his emotions out.

Where am I?

I remember my PT master patting my back, when I netted in a goal for my school team, with a free kick more than twenty-five yards away from the post. I knew that I was good, back from my school days itself.

It was in the same tournament that my friend Nishad scored a goal from a corner kick, inspired by the legendary goals from Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho. I have seen him practice that a hundred times. Luck had no part to play in it. My friends used to call him as Ronaldinho Junior, and they saw me as the next ‘Nedved’ in the making. I was fast, and I was good at firing the ball like a cannon.

But here I am, jobless, working on a career trajectory that I have no interest in. I have won many matches for my teams in school and college levels, but I lost the game in my day to day. Maybe if I had studied in Bengaluru, or any other major city in that case, I would have hit the headlines one day.

My talent would never have gone unnoticed, and my heroics on the field wouldn’t have been forgotten. It’s been ages since I last played football. I don’t even remember when the last time I scored a goal was.

And what am I doing now? Bragging about my talent and cribbing about my misfortune, all alone in my room.

Bengaluru, my adopted city, has made history today. Sadly, I don’t even know the squad, except for a few names. This means, I don’t even qualify as a football enthusiast. I am ashamed to say this, but this is the reality.

This makes me wonder about the difference in cricket and football in India. Anyone who loves cricket, but hasn’t been following it for a long period of time, would still know the squad - at least better than what I know about BFC at this point. Why is that?

I know that there are plenty of followers for football in India, but the sport has never enjoyed the popularity that cricket has in this country. I have seen Virat Kohli own, and pledge his support for a football team. Yet, ISL has never had the spotlight.

But if Kohli hits a ton, then the nation goes bonkers over his innings.

Maybe, people realised that football would never rise to become a dominant sport in India, that it doesn’t have the mileage to rise to prominence. Unlike me, they probably thought that it was not a sport that was worth investing their time in.

But today, when I reached Sree Kanteerava stadium, my opinions changed.

It is not because of their apathy towards the sport. It was only because of the preconceived and collective notion among Indians that football was never a wise option to choose as a career.

Who are the world famous footballers from India that we know about? We have a few names, but if you compare it to the likes of Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, those names are dwarfed. Cricketers are worshipped while footballers are looked upon with sympathy at best.

Well, every Indian loves to get involved in a rat race, and compete for fame, money and power. Maybe that is the reason why budding football talents in India, who live outside major cities, chose willow over a pair of football boots. You can’t blame them. Why would anyone waste years of their life on something that looks like a non-starter?

Despite have billions in population, probably this is the reason why India doesn’t have a strong National football team.

With a population of over eight Crores, Germany is regarded as the best football team in the world. Spain doesn’t even have a population of 5 Crores, but they are the former World Cup Champions. Just over 3 Crores and Kuwait qualified for the World Cup in 1982. Slovenia has over two Crores and they are not even underdogs, with a healthy FIFA ranking of 67. If you think lesser the population, better it is for the Government to pay attention to the sport, then you are wrong. With a population of over 20 Crores, Brazil has a world class team, and a legacy worth poetic applause. The population density in Belgium is high, but they are termed as the ‘dark horses’ in football. Thus, the argument that population is inversely proportional to the quality of the game, is negated.

Once I made a study on all this so that I can console myself, but it has only proved me one thing – football can, and will, rise like a phoenix in India.

The legend of BFC is just a start! The anthems erupting from the West Block Blues is the harbinger of hope.

I understand that the problem here is the stereotyped mindset of people. They love the game, but they are not ready to invest time and energy into it. This has killed the dreams of a lot of talented youngsters in India, and I am only one among them.

Maybe if someone had seen my talent, I would have had a shot at playing for BFC, or maybe some other clubs at least. But where am I now? Nowhere! I am just a dreamer.

Despite having a comparatively lesser population, there are hundreds of clubs in England, both at senior and junior levels. Just imagine - how many people would be making a living out of it? I would have too, but now there is no point in regretting.

When I reached Bengaluru, a few years back, I tried my luck with some local clubs in the city. Here I encountered a new problem – I was good at playing bare footed. But on sporting a boot, I looked just like a naive wannabe footballer. I am sure Nishad would agree to this; he would have experienced it too.

There are major football clubs in foreign countries that recruit children in their early ages, to mould them into future talents. You don’t even have to be ten, to be introduced to a real football pitch. In this way, the football aspirants have stamina and experience from a very young age itself.

There is no dearth of support too. Even for a school level game, there will be a decent crowd to witness it. This is the high-level encouragement that even cricket hasn’t enjoyed in India. This is football!

Football in Brazil, and cricket in India are of the same ilk. They started following it long back, and they have their own style and a fierce reputation as the best in business.

Brazilians have a flair for football, and Indians have a flair for cricket. Here talent is common. However, if you tell me that these are the sports that the two countries are destined for, then I will disagree with you.

It’s not just about cricket in India. When I heard about PV Sindhu’s success at Rio Olympics, I wondered how so many talented badminton players have emerged from Andhra and Telangana alone. One ‘Pullela Gopichand’ churned many badminton prodigies from these two states. So what if there was proper training available for each sport in India? How about churning talented youngsters from all 29 states and 7 union territories?

India would become a superpower in sports.

What if natural football talents are trained at a very young age by world class managers? If this had happened before, then I wouldn’t be wasting my time on writing this to comfort myself. It is hard to break the habit of a stereotyped populace, but it isn’t too late to realise either. Don’t look back and say, history doesn’t support football in India.

When you look back, even if it’s just a week, you should realise that you were weaker then, which would incidentally reflect your growth and improvement. BFC’s story since last 3 years stands as an open testimony to this fact. They are growing, and they are motivated when they look back!

When I stood there listening to those chants by the passionate Bengalurians, I realised that football can be muffled, but not silenced. Football in India is bound to rise, despite the odds stacked against it. Football and cricket are cut from the same cloth – the pool of talent in India.

Legends are not born, they are made. They break the back of the beast to rise as victors. India has fought years for independence and the spirit of a fighter is in every Indian. We have to rise, we will rise!

BFC’s win has created waves. It will lay the foundation for a new generation of youngsters who will have no second thoughts in choosing football as a career. This will inspire millions to follow the game.

True talent and passion can never be shunned for long. BFC has proved it. Now, it is up to us to join the chorus and make a loud statement to the world that INDIA IS ON ITS WAY.

When Bangalore FC will lock horns with Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in the AFC Cup final, the whole nation should back our team - not just as a Bengaluru-based club, but as a club from India, who are paving the way for football revolution in India.

Bleed Blue and may our opponents get the blues!

I can never be at peace with my career, but within a decade, if India qualifies for the FIFA World Cup, I will be happy that at least we are the last Aruns and Nishads of football in India.

(Arun is a fictitious character. But there are thousands of wasted talents in India. Maybe, they don’t have enough time to stage a comeback, but let there be no Aruns and Nishads in India’s football future. It is time to cut them lose.)  

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