The saga surrounding the condition of Indian football has been running for years. When I was a child, the only football that we could see through the idiot box was domestic leagues and various tournaments hosted through the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and it’s affiliate organisations like the IFA based in Bengal and so on. So, the reality on quality of Indian football got never checked as people thronged to watch East Bengal, Mohan Bagan and other local clubs dishing out their version of the beautiful game. Everyone was happy and elated when their clubs defeated their bitter rivals in slushy grounds which were more suitable for water polo than soccer.
From 1978 onwards, came the telecast of the world cup – that too probably the final match when the free flowing hair of Mario Kempes led the free flowing yet rough, physical football between Argentina and Netherlands. That’s when the starving Indians lapped up the ecstasy of watching world football for the first time. 1982 world cup was slightly better – as far as I remember, the coverage started only from semi finals onwards. That’s when India witnessed that just quality, entertaining football is not enough to win a match – you can cause the greatest upsets if you have a solid counter strategy and if your team can execute that strategy while they are on the field. Otherwise how come a skeleton-like forward in the name of Paolo Rossi demolish the giants of Brazil, when the latter was destined to win the cup itself. Also that cup showed us one Mr. Diego Maradona for the first time in a big international arena. Had to name that legend because 1986 was his and only his cup, when he almost singlehandedly lifted an ordinary side to lift the world cup. And that’s when Indians saw history in the making as for the first time, all matches were telecast live.
Then came the cable television boon and soon the various leagues that were only read about suddenly jumped into the living rooms of ordinary Indians. English Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, et all, suddenly was in reach of every football loving Indians. And that’s when reality struck hard !! The difference in the quality of Indian football versus world football became apparent and grew larger than the Eiffel tower or even modern Burj Khalifa!! The reality was too shocking and too hard to digest. That’s when the following of Indian domestic football started gradually decreasing at an exponential rate.
Indian football was always popular in pockets and did not catch the imagination of the masses from the early days. Initially it was Bengal, Punjab, Goa and Kerala where football was followed passionately. The various Indian clubs in their amateurish outlooks also survived in these pockets only. There was hardly any club competing in national tournaments that came from other regions. The fabric still remain the same – only the North East states have now come into the picture.
So, it was a double whammy for Indian football. The game never spread across India and the fans were turning away from domestic football after getting regularly vaccinated through daily dosage of international club football through television. The gaps went on increasing, the Indian clubs kept on running through their medieval outlook and more importantly, AIFF failed to provide any road map to either the clubs, nor the fans, nor the other corporate sponsors who started providing some funds in certain tournaments. Many clubs, who used to run from personal money of the owners, went to oblivion as the idiots at the helm of AIFF could not provide any future outlook. Globally, India became a focus economically and sports authorities cannot stay behind. Such a huge market was untapped and hence the organisations of FIFA, AFC started to put their lens on Indian football structure. That was the moment to cash in and galvanise Indian football to the next level with the expertise, funding and promotions from FIFA and AFC.
Yet, instead of putting a team to come up with a blueprint, what AIFF did was absolute treachery to the legacy system that had been pulling Indian domestic football for more than 50 years!! They signed up an agreement with the money power of Reliance. There’s nothing wrong in that – but what was absolutely criminal was that they sold the basic administration to a private organisation. It’s like selling off a public company without informing any of the stakeholders!! And that too to an organisation who was having vested interests in running a private league which was in direct conflict with the rest of the Indian football system.
To make things worse, AIFF leadership started to tell lies in each press conference, whenever they were asked tough questions by the media. Lies after lies after lies after lies ….. If they even had come up publicly with the agreement they signed at the first day, while they would have faced brickbats, at least there would have been transparency and maybe, some redemption. Instead the story on that deadly agreement came only into public light through a leak – otherwise, till date, everything would have gone under the carpet with further lies from the lips of their leader. It’s such a shame that even the government of India remains a silent spectator in this mammoth sham going on through this hopeless AIFF.
Now it looks like FIFA is entering into the strategy for Indian football. This also implies the total failure of AIFF and it’s cronies when the world association is jumping into micro-management of issues for a country which ranks more than 100 in world football !!! Indian football needs a complete overhauling. However that cannot be done with the existing leaders managing AIFF nor it can be implemented by destroying a legacy completely while pushing a private league without any promotion or relegation. The earlier all stakeholders understand that, the better it will be for football in India. Football is a game for the masses – if the masses of legacy clubs stops watching football because of the ill treatment of their clubs by AIFF, how can that be beneficial for football? The legacy clubs provide attendances in larger numbers than the private leagues, in spite of facing hurdles of odd timings, lack of TV coverage, etc. A Kolkata derby still attracts 60000 spectators, largest in all matches. And still AIFF, after selling their bodies and souls, seems determined to destroy that fan following. That way, I don’t feel Indian football can ever improve …
Only if the idiots at AIFF understand that quickly!!