Published By: Ishani Karmakar

The Evolution of Indian Football – Tracing its Roots and Development

Football in India, often overshadowed by the country's overwhelming passion for cricket, has a history that is both rich and complex.

Let’s take a peek at the roots and development of Indian football, tracing its journey from colonial beginnings to its current status as a growing sport in a cricket-dominated landscape.

Colonial Beginnings

The history of football in India dates back to the mid-19th century when the game was introduced by British soldiers and sailors. The first recorded football match in India took place in 1854, but it wasn't until the late 19th century that the sport began to take shape in an organized form. The Durand Cup, established in 1888, is the third oldest football competition in the world, signifying the early adoption and love for the game in India.

Early Indian Football and its Challenges

In the early 20th century, Indian football began to find its feet. Clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, formed in 1889 and 1920 respectively, became the bedrock of Indian football, cultivating a fierce rivalry that endures to this day. However, Indian football faced many challenges, including limited infrastructure, lack of professional training, and a dearth of international exposure.

The Golden Era

The 1950s and 1960s are often referred to as the 'Golden Era' of Indian football. Under the tutelage of legendary coach Syed Abdul Rahim, India achieved significant success. The team's crowning moment came in the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, where they won the gold medal. Players like PK Banerjee, ChuniGoswami, and TulsidasBalaram became household names.

Decline and Struggles

Post the golden era, Indian football witnessed a gradual decline. The lack of proper development plans, infrastructure, and a professional league system hampered growth. The focus on cricket also meant that football did not receive the same level of attention or investment. This period saw India's FIFA ranking plummet, and its presence on the international stage diminished.

Revival and the Indian Super League

The turn of the 21st century saw concerted efforts to revive football in India. The launch of the I-League in 2007 was a significant step, but the real game-changer was the introduction of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014. The ISL brought with it corporate investment, international players, and a level of professionalism previously unseen in Indian football. It helped in popularizing the sport, improving infrastructure, and providing a platform for young talent.

Grassroots Development

Recognizing the importance of grassroots development, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has taken steps to promote football at the youth level. Initiatives like the AIFF's Baby Leagues and Mission XI Million, a part of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 legacy project, aim to engage more children in football and develop a robust talent pipeline.

Indian Football in the Global Arena

In recent years, India has started to make its mark in international football. Hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 was a significant milestone, showcasing India's potential as a footballing nation. While the senior national team's performance has been inconsistent, there are signs of progress, with improved performances in Asian competitions and a gradual climb in FIFA rankings.

Women's Football

Women's football in India, though not as prominent as the men's game, has shown promise. The Indian women's team has performed admirably in regional tournaments like the SAFF Championship. The AIFF has been working to develop women's football through various initiatives, aiming to increase participation and improve performance levels.

The evolution of Indian football is a story of ups and downs, resilience, and gradual progress. From its colonial roots to the current efforts in revitalizing the sport, Indian football has traversed a unique path. The passion for football in regions like West Bengal, Goa, Kerala, and the Northeast is a testament to the sport's deep-rooted presence in the country's cultural fabric.