These are some of the ground realities facing the average football fan in India.
Traditionally, the term ‘Third World Country’ was used during the cold war to refer to the countries that were not aligned to either the First World (capitalist) Countries or the Second World (communist) Countries. However the term evolved over the times and took up various connotations but you can read more about that somewhere else. In footballing terms, I’d like to take the liberty to define a Third World Country as one in which neither International Football, nor Club Football gains growing prominence. India, in that sense, has been a Third World Country.
The life of a football fan in a Third World Country is not easy. Those of you who belong to the same category as I do will completely agree to the tortures we have to endure. I’ll go on enlisting issues and you will either smile sadly (because you know what I’m talking about) ,or you will be shocked at the blasphemy.
I grew up as a cricket lover. The school playground was only big enough to accommodate two practice nets and I had no option but to play cricket in my early formative years. Then in the year 1998 something happened and we were all playing football. In any cramped up space there were children, there were makeshift goals, and there was football. You may be tempted to ask the reason of such a late arrival of the sport. There are several.
Any sport is propelled forward and accepted by the masses only when they can regularly follow it, play it and venerate its heroes. Colour Television became ubiquitous in India in true sense only around 1995. Prior to that, there were fewer TV sets and the number of channels was around 20-40. Hence, when the World Cup of 1998 was telecast, India was mesmerised by the game. The people saw the brilliance of Zidane, the clinical finishing of Ronaldo, to name just a few and they suddenly had new sporting heroes to revere. The then Barclaycard’s Premier League was gathering audience. An entire generation of Indians was hooking on to Football.
Around the same time, more and more people started buying the Personal Computer and the EA Sports FIFA series of games started gaining popularity. People could now gain football knowledge even through the game and then show it off to their friends. In short, with new media and technology being ushered in, Football finally started taking a firm root in Indian soil.
However, there was no easy way for this new-found love to manifest itself. The problems started right from the lack of quality playing space. Generations of Indians had been playing cricket on playgrounds riddled with stones, and narrow lanes, and small corridors. And why should the new generation need anything else to grow up ? And that too a game like football! A sport that India has never mastered. A sport in which no Indian sporting great had ever been produced. What was the point?
Children were not really encouraged to play football. It was thought that there was no career you could make in football. There was no sparkling future for sportsmen playing football. No greatness like that of Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev or Sachin Tendulkar. This mentality exists even today. A friend of mine who was picked up by LFC’s youth academy and was called to England for further training didn’t pursue his dream because his parents wanted him to pursue an MBA.
Also the lack of quality surfaces, ensures that one tumble you take and you will return home bleeding somewhere. Uneven surfaces made sure that at least one fellow in the group gets his knee injured and is out for the next six months. Ask anyone who regularly plays football out here and they will tell of numerous such incidents and the fact that these incidents are recurring, makes it even worse. Playing football, even just for the sheer high that it gives you, is not easy.
But despite all of this we still go out and play, because that’s the way football is. Once it gets you, there is nothing that can stop you from playing, watching, talking and everything that is football. And so began the torrid affair of the Indian youth and football. But like I’ve said before, it’s a tough job being a football fan out here. Especially when the game you want to watch is being telecast at prime time on ESPN Star Sports. A prior announcement needs to be made to book the best TV set in the house. Parents and grandparents, who cannot fathom your burning desire to watch a game in which “India is not even involved”, must be kept out of the room.
Worse are the times when simultaneously there is a cricket match going on and the TV channel decides to telecast that instead. YES! That happens a lot. Sometimes for FA Cup matches, sometimes the Premier league games get lower priority and stupid Sri Lanka Premier League T20 matches are given precedence. Of course, you then go and find a good stream and start watching a low quality broadcast that at times is disrupted due to the lack of lightning fast internet. But apart from the fury of not being able to watch a high quality telecast, there is always the immense frustration of “HOW CAN YOU EVEN DARE TO NOT TELECAST IT!!!”
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.