I was crestfallen to hear that Dempo conceded a last minute goal against Al Muharraq of Bahrain in an AFC Cup Group E match. This would have given it a chance to set one foot onto the quarter-finals. To add insult to injury, my room-mate taunted that 0-1 was a much respected score and had it played against ManU (I don't know whether he was referring to some character from Ramayana or some Hollywood star), the score would have been 0-90, a goal every minute. I was as red as Guntur chillies. I have always thought of India as a great football team and Mohun Bagan & East Bengal as the best in the world. My team had already lost, I did not want to lose to my friend. I wanted to substantiate my points. Thus I searched everywhere on the net about football in India, its history, the clubs here and the overall standing among the other nations.
To be very frank, it was sheer disappointment and complete shame. It ranks 149 in the world!! (The highest being 94 in February 1996.) Shame, shame. A country of over a billion people can not produce a football team. Trinidad & Tobago, a country of a little over a million people, had qualified for the last world cup and India lost out in the 1st stage of the qualifiers this time.
Dempo was not competing in the Club World Cup, instead it was just an Asia-level competition for second-rung clubs. One good point is that Dempo was a semi-finalist in the last year tournament and this year too it is doing well.
Although football in India is in a very poor state, it has quite an interesting history. Mohun Bagan was founded way back in 1889. It is in fact the oldest football club in Asia. In 1911, it caused a stir by becoming the first Indian team to lift the IFA Shield, a tournament previously won only by British teams based in India. The Government of India has also issued a postage stamp to commemorate this victory and given it the title of the "National Club of India". The Durand Cup football tournament, the world's third oldest tournament, was started in Shimla in 1898.
Gradually a number of clubs like East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, Dempo, Churchill Brothers, Salgaocar proliferated all over the country leading to the formation of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in 1937. AIFF is interestingly one of the founder members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 1954. League football was being played in Calcutta long before Real Madrid or the world governing body Fifa even existed.
The 1951 to 1962 decade was the golden age for Indian football as the country put up a commendable show in a number of international competitions. India won the gold medals in the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games at New Delhi and Jakarta respectively. It also won the bronze medal title in the 1970 Bangkok Asiad. In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics India became the first Asian nation to reach the semifinals of an Olympic football event defeating Australia 4-2 in the quarterfinal. Much to my astonishment, India also qualified for the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil when all of their opponents withdrew from the competition. However India refused to participate in the event as FIFA required all the players to wear football boots whereas the Indian players were used to play barefoot. India has also hosted the 2001 Millennium Super Cup, but were knocked out in the group stage following defeats by Iceland and Uruguay.
Recently, in August 2007, the Indian team won the Nehru Cup for the first time in its history beating Syria 1-0. In August 2008, India defeated Tajikistan 4-1 to lift the AFC Challenge Cup and in turn qualified for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. Other recent successes have been limited to the South Asian Football Federation Cup and the LG Cup in Vietnam in 2002.
Football is very popular in the states of Goa, Kerala, Manipur, West Bengal, Mizoram and Sikkim. Most of the popular football clubs of India are based among these states. Bengal leads the states in the Santosh Trophy, a state-level tournament, with 29 wins. Although football is second only behind cricket in popularity in India, it is marred by lack of grass-roots infrastructure, negligible training & sheer neglect. The sport is in the doldrums in both standards and patronage. Recently many programs have been started to boost football in India.
I-League is one such initiative. It is the top tier league in the Indian football league system. It was started by AIFF in 2007-08. Following a AFC review of the I-League's progress, the champions of the I-League would be awarded a spot in the prestigious AFC Champions League club championships in 2009.
Bharti Enterprises will start a world-class football academy, to be named 'Bharti-AIFF Academy' with an investment of more than 100 crores, to be set-up either in Haryana or Goa. It will initially take around 100 youngsters in four age group categories of 8-11, 11-13, 13-15 and 15-18, will have all the western club style facilities including multiple grounds, basic training, coaching and medical facilities. The youngsters will be selected under a massive talent hunt programme throughout the country to find out budding talent via scientific means.
Recently, Brazil has signed an agreement with India that would formalise a scheme to train Indian footballers and coaches.
We see kids playing football in the street with no shoes everywhere in this country but there's no development at youth level. That, and coach education, are reasons why we are not as advanced as we should be. We have 28 states but only a few are doing anything with any success to develop youth. If only they could catch players at a young age because India definitely has a lot of talent. India's youth coaching set-up is haphazard. Today football is nominally under the control of the All India Football Federation, and its president Priya Ranjan DasMunshi, a committee-based body funded by FIFA. But national youth football is traditionally controlled by a different body - the Sports Authority of India - which gets no money from FIFA. It is difficult to implement a successful youth development programme here because the people who run football are politicians, not professionals. There are people in Indian football who are secretary or treasurer of different state associations who have been there for 40 years. So for them holding onto power is the main issue. Improving the game is never the issue. So we need a set up for professionalism. Indian football never had a set up of that kind. Football should be managed by the chief executives of marketing or training. This is professionalism.
Presently, India in football is like Brazil in cricket. Lets hope it turns around.