New Delhi: Do you remember Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri’s plea to all the fans of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo ― “abuse us, criticise us but please come to watch the Indian national team play”? He had to do so, because when India routed Chinese Taipei 5-0 in the opening game of the four-nation Intercontinental Cup, there were just 2,000 fans watching from the stands.
If you think, India doesn’t like football, then you are wrong. A new book claims, the Indian football had been affected by parochialism over the years but things might have been different had India left the Commonwealth in 1950 to join the soccer world full time.
“Had soccer grabbed its chance, and Jawaharlal Nehru followed popular sentiment and left the Commonwealth, who is to say that today football, not cricket, would be the main sport of India,” UK-based sports commentator Mihir Bose says.
India won the Asian Games football gold in 1951, again in 1962 and came fourth in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
“Had India left the Commonwealth in 1950, making Indian cricket a world outcast, and the Indian football gone to Brazil to play in the World Cup the same year, that by itself would have made India a football nation like Saudi Arabia which does not see playing in the World Cup an impossible dream,” he argues in his book Game Changer.
“Had India gone to the World Cup in 1950, it would have been playing the best of world football. In the 1950s, that was not possible for India in cricket. Matching wits against the best would have been a tremendous boost for the sport,” Bose said.
The book also mentions that Football then was more popular than cricket, had reached more parts of the country, had links with Indian nationalism in the way cricket did not and playing in the World Cup would have boosted the game.
Game Changer, published by Palimpsest, is a critical take on the English Premier League and has a special chapter on Indian football titled “First Words”. The foreword is written by veteran football commentator Novy Kapadia.