Football is the second most loved sport in India after cricket. A rich game like football has an equally rich history. It was quite shocking to know that the game, that was and is still a favorite pastime of mine, wasn’t discovered by Indians but brought to India by British soldiers in the mid-19th century. It was introduced properly as a modern day sport in the country by Nagendra Prasad Sarbhadhikari (NPS), a passionate Indian sportsperson now known as the ‘Father of Indian Football’ in India in the year 1887.
NPS started playing the game in school with his friends in the Hare School situated in Calcutta presidency. His passion and dedication to the sport eventually led to the formation of the Boy’s Club (BC), India’s first football club.
However, NPS was not satisfied with BC and wished to make football synonymous with Bengali culture. This led to the creation of more clubs. Out of these, the Wellington Club & Sowbazar Club became famous institutions. Sadly, due to strict caste regulations during those times and the fact the NPS tried to induct a man from a lower caste into Wellington, he became subject to intense criticism by upper caste Indians who condemned his efforts to promote inter-mixing of castes. The situation became so dire that the Wellington Club had to eventually close down.
The Sowbazar club too would have faced eventual closure but due to the dynamic character and devil-may care attitude of NPS, it didn’t close down. The club achieved fame & earned respect both from the British as well as Indian spectators. Sowbazar can arguably be called the precursor to the now wildly popular Mohun Bagan Athletic Club (MBAC), one of India’s finest institutions imparting and shaping India’s best footballers.
Legendary Indian footballers Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chettri too have been associated with MBAC during their careers. Even today, if one were to speak of football, Kolkata will inevitably be a strong contender for producing some of India’s best footballers. From Brazilian legend Pele to Argentina’s ‘Hand of God’ Diego Maradona, Kolkata has been witness to all. It’s no wonder then that with the upcoming Under-17 FIFA Football World Cup, Kolkata’s got the most matches.
It’s the first time that India’s got the chance to host a football tournament of such epic proportions and I sincerely hope that our side smashes all sides to emerge as the winner. But then again is it a realistic judgment to make?
Sadly, India’s FIFA men’s ranking is 107 out of 211. We’ve also never made it to any FIFA quarter-finals or semis that we can boast of. But fate has ultimately put India’s football fate in the feet of the 11 young players who’ll be playing their first match against USA. Their preparation for the upcoming tournament too hasn’t been easy. When their coach Nicolai Adam was removed in February 2015 after 21 players complained against him, India appointed Portuguese coach Luis Norton De Matos to oversee the coaching of the young guns. In the limited time, Matos pitched them against other youth international and club sides to test their physical and mental setup and also to figure out the combinations that would best suit his bunch. His and the team’s efforts are laudable.
Though critics would and presently are not seeing India anywhere close to even qualifying for the quarter-finals, hope cannot be lost. Hope must never be lost. It’s time India showed its metal in a sport that has traditionally been won by European and South American nations. It’s time that India showed that it can and will dominate the sport of Football.