‘Football, it wouldn’t be wrong to say, is in my blood. Both my parents played football with my father having played for the Indian army. Football occupies the place closest to my heart and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say nothing else comes as close’, writes Sunil Chhetri in the Foreword to this book.
Cricket may have overtaken football in India, but the sport was extremely popular back in the 50s and 60s when the teams used to compete with the best in the continent. Indian team’s strength came sliding down due to lack of success and other sports got added recognition. Yet, Football was always followed fervently with people staying up late in the night to watch their favorite European club teams playing or the best nations competing at the World Cup.
With a bit of luck, India is now geared up for football’s strongest comeback. We have entered the top 100 in the world rankings and India continues to break one barrier after another. With 1.28 million spectators, FIFA U – 17 World Cup 2017, held in India was the most attended World Cup in the history of the tournament. The advent of the Indian Super League followed by India’s rise in the FIFA rankings is a testimony to the fact that football is progressing exactly as one wish it to be.
The rise has been meteoric in the past couple of years and it isn’t just the football on the ground that has triggered it. The fans themselves have taken up the task to make India great in the world of football. When India’s record goal scorer, Chhetri, issued a rallying cry after India’s match against Chinese Taipei in the first match of the Intercontinental Cup last year as the stadium was mostly empty, the stadiums were filled to the last seat with fan support overflowing. The support reaped dividends as the Blue Tigers went on to win their first ever intercontinental title.
‘India’s Football Dream’ by Shantanu Gupta and Nikhil Paramjit Sharma is a timely book simply for the reason that one needed a treatise to put the game on its development trajectory once more. While Gupta is a TEDx speaker, author, and political analyst Sharma is the founder –CEO of Zlait Sports Management and has a lot of experience in India’s football ecosystem.
The book is like a quick reference guide to India’s football history, institution building, and the league systems. It puts football into the social and colonial context, showing it to be one of the languages of protest and dignity of the emerging new republic. It has details of the geographical spread and concentration of football in India over the past six decades. This along with a whole lot of events of the Indian football is captured in a slick book and that makes it of more than normal interest.
What makes the paperback engaging is the writers’ sharing of the difficulties associated with the game, the experiments that team owners and football administrators have tried. With about a dozen chapters, both Gupta and Sharma take us on a detour. The book starts with commentator Stuart Hall who in 1958 called football ‘The Beautiful Game’. If footballers like Pele and Diego Maradona were worshipped like demi-gods and Lioner Messi and Christiano Ronaldo are the next-gen representatives of the older order, football continues to charm people here and everywhere else.
If there is a lofty precedent of football in India, that has been captured in great details. For Example: football was first played in Kolkata by Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikary and his friends at Wellington Club in 1884 and rightly he is called the ‘Father of Indian football.’ Other chapters in the book set out discover regional growth of football, football clubs in India, Leagues, and Tournaments, Indian Super League and Indian National Team, AIFF and other federations, Initiatives to boost the game and last but not the least FIFA Under- 17 World Cup. In a sense, all these go to make the book a versatile one.
For Indian sports enthusiasts who want to catch up with the latest developments in Indian football, this is a brilliant book. It is at once inspiring and approving. From an all-embracing coverage of the game to the minuscule details, the book is a welcome contribution to sports literature in India. It says so many things about Indian football and yet feels so little.
With endorsements from Praful Patel, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Daniel Tanveer Batth, Subrata Paul and Larsing Ming Sawyan, the volume has a few color and B&W plates to illustrate the times gone by. A must-read for football lovers and players alike.
India’s Football Dream
Shantanu Gupta & Nikhil Paramjit Sharma
SAGE Publications India
BI/1-1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area