Sunday, May 1, 2011

FOOTBALL IN INDIA ??





Football in India is quite a popular game I would assume it to be next to Cricket. It has huge fan following across the entire cricket crazy country. Though it has great fan following for international football, Indian interest in national version of the game is fast dwindling (though many Kolkata and Goans guys would disagree with me).  It is a very popular sport in states like West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and the entire North-East especially in states like Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Mizoram. In fact in some of these places you can find people having miniscule interest in cricket compared to football. And in other states if I ask anybody they know who play football in India then they get befuddled with the exception of knowing names of  Bhaichung Bhutia or Sunil Chettri .But of course they all know who is Christiano Ronaldo(especially Girls know him), Rooney , Torres etc .Current status of Indian football is sad but it is going to improve as it shows that Indian youth is interested and love to play this game a lot even if they know only foreign club, player’s names. All it will take is awareness and encouragement to the sport.

While in other sports Indian sport is making presence in global stage; the Indian football team continues to be in bottom of world football ranking. But despite all these I feel this game of Football which is played in over 200 countries is a sunrise sport in India. It has huge potential both as entertainment and business standpoint; it’s the most opportune time to be here.

I personally was introduced to this beautiful game during my school days. At that time out of my own confession I was big fan of cricket and always looked at this game as second fiddle with little or no respect for footballer but as I said I was kid back then J . I got majorly involved with this heavenly game during my college days. One of my friends one day asked me to play football with them, during the game I saw some guys from northeast and Bengal were showing off some football juggling skills and I looked upon them with contempt that “kya hero ban rahe hain yeh to koi bhi kar lega” and I started trying that but I couldn’t, even today I can’t do those stunts. Then I started watching the game of football and footballer and their videos on YouTube and ESPN etc to learn more about this game. I remember in hostel we use to wake up till late night to watch one of those El Classico’s or Super Sunday clashes and the feeling use to be awesome. There is always used to be clashes of opinion amongst supporter of individual teams with lot of swearing against opposite playing team players family members. If one of the players of your opposite team uses some pressure tactics on referee or do some blunders or resort to playacting he was treated as Ashish Nehra (cricketer) in terms of respects. J

 I realized that it is because of overshadowing of cricket in Indian sports arena we Indian know nothing of this beautiful game and I still feel the situation is very similar. Football popularity is taking baby steps in India. It is mostly popular amongst youth (college students, software professionals etc).With more awareness and encouragement in this game, this game have bright future in our young country. On can ask steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, telecom czar Sunil Bharti Mittal and liquor baron Vijay Mallya; they all see a great business proposition in Indian football. While Mallya's United Breweries sponsors East Bengal FC, LN Mittal and Sunil Mittal have drawn up big plans to support the world's favourite game at the grassroots level in India. Hindustan Unilever (HUL) for example was one of the top advertisers during EPL matches in 2008. In India cricket has grown into an Rs 5,000-crore business only because private business took interest in the game. We all know that Indian Premier League (IPL) is all about the moolah .While business of football is pegged at around Rs 200 cr. Of course, this can grow manifold if the renewed corporate interest is backed by the AIFF's commitment to develop the sport. Indian football needs more stadiums to move to the next level. If desired infrastructure is in place, football can threaten cricket over the next five years.

Maradona visited in Kolkata 2008 to start of Indian football school and the whole of Kolkata (football capital of India) was rejoicing with stadium packed to the brim. On Sept 2 Lionel Messi along with the Argentinean side is slated to come to Kolkata at salt lake stadium. The Argentina team are scheduled to play an exhibition match either against Spain or Portugal. The visit of the Argentine team will be a latest addition to a host of football celebrities and side which have visited the soccer-loving city of a cricket-crazy India in recent years. FIFA chairman Sepp Blatter - who also called India the "sleeping giant of world football" - while on his tour.  Last year Uruguayan star footballer Diego Forlan - the golden ball winner of the 2010 FIFA World Cup - spent two days in the city for a promotional program of a channel. All these stars were welcome by thousands of supporters and fans. This mammoth fan following shows that even if today we organise a match here in India in two parallel stadiums where in one IPL match is happening and in other we have match between likes of teams Barcelona, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid etc, I’m sure the football stadium will be fully jam packed and they won’t require cheerleader for them to attract crowd. Another evidence of football popularity is Football world cup; it had very high TRP ratings here in India almost comparable to cricket. We all must be remembering Paul Octopus he satiated Indian hunger for Masala content.

Popularity of EPL (English premier league) is so huge that these days, Indian media gives more importance to EPL than domestic football .How can football in India grow when the people of India themselves devote their great Football-passion to the other leagues rather than their own league? Huh!! This is why some also call EPL as Necessary Evil for Indian Football. This is because there was a time when Football was enclosed within the lower and middle class societies in India only. Now there is absolute no denying the fact that EPL has played a major role in triggering the Interest of Football among the rich and the urban people of India.Football is no longer considered a game for the STREET-BOYS!! More and More Kids want take up Football as a profession!! They harness the desire to play for their beloved clubs like Chelsea, ManU, Arsenal, Liverpool etc!! They DREAM Big!!

 Football in India, a nation of 1.1 billion, where viewership has grown by hundred of percentage basis point over 5 years represent a huge consumer base. The fervour can be felt in Mumbai, Kolkata and all metro cities with viewership late on any Saturday or Sunday night, local time, verged on the surreal as large numbers of Indian Manchester United jersey wearing fans packed into caf├ęs to watch clashes of titans (Of course Manu fans always outnumber any other club supporters Grr…!!) .The respected media tracking agency faqs says football viewership has been growing continuously in India. In 2007, it says, the English Premier League reached 42.8 million viewers in India, almost 50 per cent of the cable TV-wired homes. This is also echoed by one of the TAM reports saying football viewership in 2010 was around 83 million. The target audience is mostly male, in the age group 15-plus, in the top four socio-economic categories. That is the exact target audience of your potential Twenty20 fan.

All above is evidence what we call in football parlance it's just minutes after kick off for the sport in India. Thus far the beginning has been steady rather than spectacular and there is no telling which way the game is going to go. However, with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo, Gerard and Fabregas on the ground there is perhaps more than a chance that the coming metaphorical 90 minutes will not be short of excitement. Ultimately, India's economy is booming because it is aspirational; can there be anything more aspirational for the Indian fan than a slice of the world's biggest sport?



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