Monday, 2 June 2014

The ailing legacy

Football, the world’s most popular sport, has been synonymous with Kolkata at least for a century. Kolkata is regarded as the football capital of India and the father of Indian football Nagendranath Sarbadhikary was indeed a Bengali. So, from the very beginning football is in the blood of Bengalis all over the world. In the year 1911, ten bare footed Bengalis (one man was out there with shoes) defeated the British side East Yorkshire regiment to win the IFA shield. But there was something more important than the win. That is an Indian side defeated a British team first time ever under the British colonial regime and it sparkled the India’s independent movement in many fold. People started believing after this defeat British would leave India soon. So, Bengal’s relationship with football and its importance in larger national context is beyond any doubt. Time has come to retrospect the age old passion of Kolkata from a different perspective and try to find out the status in current socioeconomic context. 

If we consider football as a sport in Indian perspective, we can see almost 90% of it has been covered by this eastern region of the country. From one of the biggest football stadiums of the world to the national club of India, all happened in this city. The famous age old rivalry between two city based clubs Mohun Bagan and East Bengal has become a myth. Bengalis divide on the match day between these two sides. Sometime India witnessed more than one lack odd people to watch this match at the stadium and count less in front of television sets. Yes, you heard right. More than one lack people to attend a single match. This match has also seen the death of sixteen fans on 16th August, 1980 after a clash between the supporters of these two clubs. Umakanta Palodhi, an ardent mohun bagan fan decided to kill himself after the club’s 5-0 defeat by the arch rival. At the same time an unknown east bengal fan can jump from the upper tiers of the stadium after the club conceded five goals against mohun bagan. So, it is clearly evident the passion to this great game from various fold of the societies. It is well blended with the culture and tradition of Bengali people. World cup football is round the corner and the country is out of this. But it never stops the people to celebrate the football world cup. During this one month time people of Bengal suddenly become the citizen of the world. Someone becomes the fan of Brazil, someone else becomes flag bearer of Argentina and someone does not take food without watching the game of Germany. These statistics are countless. They live football, eat football and dream football. This one month people of this city forget everything, even cricket.

With all these efforts and passion India is still at 147 in current FIFA ranking. In 1996 India’s FIFA ranking was 94. Kolkata’s club won last Indian football league more than ten years ago. It’s shocking, really shocking. A country with more than one billion people can’t produce eleven good footballers who can bring the nation to the world cup. Yes, after considering the fact that football world cup is not like other world cups like cricket where India is one of the big players. Football world cup are played among more than two hundred countries in four years span through different qualifiers in different continents. It’s a huge program. Still India can not justify its inability under the cover of these facts. 

But the situation was not like this always. Once upon a time India used to be the number one team in Asia. India won the Asian Games gold medal twice, in 1951 and 1962, participated in Olympic football as well. But never played world cup football, India got chance twice to go world cup, but could not take the opportunity due to unprofessional approach of apex body of football. So, now the question is how a country’s football strength has gone down so drastically that even a microscope can not find it in world football. We can move in this discussion in different ways. Is it true that the situation has been fallen from this side only? No, not at all. The other countries that were way behind India have moved in rapid speed. They have nurtured themselves, tried hard to find out the actual problems and started finding out the perfect solutions. Take the example of Japan. Before 1991 there was no football league in the country. They hardly could compete with other Asian giants. Now they are one of the powers in Asia who has been playing world cup consistently for few years. One thing we must clear that we would stick this discussion in respect to other Asian counties, because the countries in Latin America and Europe are light year ahead of India and there is no point to compare that. But we can certainly take reference of those countries. Let’s come back to point where we were. So, India’s problem not only to raise the standard, it is also because of the pace in which other countries moved. If we go part by part, the first and foremost problem is the unprofessional attitude of the highest body of Indian football. It took almost fifty years to start a national level football league with all the clubs. With the nineteenth edition is just going to start in this year, the league is still not professional. From this year they have started the process to make the league as a professional one. Nobody knows when the process will be completed. If we look at the situation of the clubs, more horrifying figures will be coming out. Most of the clubs are suffering from acute financial problems. Every year they face tremendous difficulties to build the team. In some situations, it was heard that some managing members sold their personal properties to raise money. So, it is very natural that a club can not make the team properly, how can they arrange money for other infrastructural developments like stadium, gymnasium, youth etc. Its direct effect is that India does not have a proper supply line of young talented footballers which is a very essential aspect of the football development of a country. The story is same for the clubs which have large supporter base like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. From last year, football federation invited corporate groups to create football teams and play in national league. But it will not solve the problem as overall there is a huge financial crunch. If we look at the scenario of the players, it does not show us any brighter picture. Most of them come from middle and extreme lower middle class background. So, naturally everyday they just fight to survive, to become a great footballer is far away from their dreams. They just get involved to get a decent job and certainly they can not be blamed for this. Football is a body contact game and one needs tremendous amount of physical strength and stamina. So, this obvious reason one needs a proper diet chart to achieve that. Indian footballers from the beginning lack these basic necessities. If a footballer comes from a financially stable background, they normally do not continue. Most the cases they prefer to go for jobs and watch europian or latin american football on television sets. They think, rather their parents think that it is always safer to get a secured job to spend rest of the life. But still, the match between mohun bagan and east bengal draws near about one lack spectators at the stadium and countless in front of TV sets. So, India does not have problem about the love of the game, it does not have any problem on skills, it has problems regarding infrastructure and money which is needed to build that. Here lies the actual problem. Some people blame cricket mania in this country and they claim cricket alone draws most of the corporate attentions. But this is not true completely. The failure of the highest authority can not be transferred to other game. We have to admit that we could not excel ourselves in the pace where other counties moved. It includes everything from corporate involvement to campaigning about the football.  

Now comes to the football in Kolkata, the Mecca of Indian football. Once upon a time one can not think Indian football without the players from Kolkata. 90% slot of Indian football team was occupied by the footballers from this region. But the situation is not same now a day. It is heavily declining. Once three major clubs from Kolkata ruled Indian football. All other clubs used to be frightened to face any Kolkata side. Now they defeat these teams easily. Kolkata have not seen national football league for last ten years. So, where is the problem? All the difficulties and problems which where discussed earlier are very well applicable for Kolkata football as well along with some specific diseases which are unique to this end.

If we consider the Kolkata football in seventies or eighties, most of the footballers were from Kolkata suburbs. Everyday they used to come at Kolkata maidan by morning trains and after practicing they used to go back at the evening. Those areas were the actual supply lines of Kolkata football from sub junior to senior levels. That trend has fallen down heavily. Still Kolkata gets the lion share of the footballers from those regions, but the trend has certainly gone down. As most of them come from a financially weaker background, after a certain time they can not cope up with this daily financial burden. Most of such talented footballers eventually moved to other profession for earning. If a footballer can place himself in a big clubs, then only he can continue. But it never happens for those who start their career with smaller clubs. Because most of these small clubs do not have a constant financial support that can feed a footballer for a long time. Only two options are open for them, either you get yourself in a big clubs early, or get lost. So, day after day, Kolkata football lost tremendous amount of talented footballers. Now the big clubs are facing heat. In each year it has been heard that some of the clubs have stopped building team. One can hardly find good local footballers who can regularly be in the first eleven in those clubs. Youth development and academy structure were never been so prominent in Kolkata football, but they survived because of those footballers. But with the advancement of modern football that scenario is not even feasible any more. Now they are loosing in two fronts. Though mohun bagan has an academy, but that is not at the standard which is desirable. East Bengal and Mohammedan sporting is yet to come up with any such plans. If we consider the infrastructure of the small clubs, it shows us a horrific picture. Most of the clubs do not have own practice ground or club arena which is called tent here in Kolkata. They borrow other clubs tent and ground. So, one can easily understand the situation when a football club does not have the minimal basic needs to play the game. Others I guess beyond any discussion.

All India Football Federation has started taking corporate teams from last year national football league and the team won the title as well. They are also going to start an Indian Football League like cricket to bring money to football. India is also going to be the host of 2017 youth football world cup. Definitely these are some honest try. But the question is “Are these enough to revive the football in this county?” The answer is a big no. In the past we have seen lot of money have been flown to the big clubs in Kolkata. But they mostly spent that on the recruitment of below standard foreign players. East Bengal partly spent some money for infrastructure development to build modern gymnasium and players corner, but the situation of the other clubs are not satisfactory. So, everything comes in a circle and going to a dead end. Football development of a country can not be dependent upon a single big match. One lack odd so called football fans watch that match with great enthusiasm and forget everything after that. Again we become football fan when FIFA world cup comes. We do not care how many talented footballers simply disappeared just because of lack of support within this period of time.