The Magic of '17': Football in India is on the rise again
The stadium is full. The atmosphere is electric. The location of the stadium is India.
Strangely, there is no Indian team playing here. Even then, the stadium appears to be full.
But wait, there are no stumps or shouts of '4!' or '6!'. Instead, there is a roar in unison among the audience who seem to be chanting together, as a collective swell of oohs and aahs and then the almighty roars of triumphs are heard.
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata.
Football has always been the sport that had rabid followers amongst the youth of India. We've had followers of players of legendary stature, like Pele and Maradona, who single-handedly inspired many in the nation to follow and cheer for their respective nations.
Then in the 90s, EPL happened. Televised encounters between teams such as Arsenal and Manchester United were passionately followed, loyalties developed in the backyards of Kerala followed by the pin-up posters of players like Thierry Henry and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
However, there always was this refrain: why no Indian team in the World Cup?
That refrain and many prayers finally got answered as FIFA graciously accepted the efforts of AIFF and accepted India's bid to host the U-17 World Cup.
For the very first time, football was vying for eyeballs as much as cricket, its bigger brother if I may say so. Personally, I have seen many children cheering for their favourite U-17 teams on the TV. And what a sight it was when the Indian team played!!
And the first International U-17 Indian goal? Bliss! To have contained the tournament favourites to three goals was an achievement that the Indian star player and custodian Dheeraj would cherish his entire life.
The take-back from this tournament is simple: Football in India has seen its resurrection.
I sincerely hope that this resurrection is meaningfully furthered, with the Indian football team getting its due assistance and support from the Government of India. Plus, the players from the Indian U17 team must be trained, honed and persevered for the future.
Let us work towards making an Indian senior team winning the Football World Cup a dream that can can actually be fulfilled.