When some stupid IBN columnists wonder how India's cricket tour of WI can be overshadowed by Football, I can only laugh. Who would bother to watch fifteen days of useless cricket amidst a football extravaganza and Federer at Wimbledon? As the football world cup reaches the crescendo, its time to ask why India aren’t there in Germany. I guess we deserve a better answer than 'dude, we are ranked 100+' or 'in India cricket is religion'.
All the traditional answers for India's pathetic state in sports barring Cricket don't apply to Football. (ok alright we will use this Cricket exception until we lose a test series to Nepal!) If media spotlight is any criteria, Football can give Cricket a good run for its money. It’s probable that there are more Football days in Indian TV than Cricket. Indian Industry is already entrenched in Football. The national league is Tata NFL, Mallaya owns East Bengal and Mohan Bagan, Mahindra United are the current NFL champions and there are JCTs, Salgaonkars and more. As for crowd support, it’s true that Manchester United is more familiar than a Mahindra United, but people have died when fans celebrate in the Kolkata city leagues!
Indian football has had only foreign coaches for decades and the current one took China to World cup in 2002. We even got a freak qualification to 1950 world cup only to be barred for playing barefoot! Even Priyaranjan Das Munshi who runs AIFF is not entirely stupid. Given all this why do we cut such a sorry figure? How many of us are even aware that India does play world cup qualifiers and that Japan thrashed India 6-1 on their way to Germany. How many of us can name any Indian footballer other than Bhutia and Vijayan? How long will we be rejoicing others football?
I can guess two reasons for this pathetic state. Football in India is patronized mostly in Bengal and Kerala (the states least known for entrepreneurship) and by the likes of Goa, Sikkim and other NE states (who are in perpetual political/economic paralysis). We don't have a Gujarat or Maharashtra or Tamilnadu/Karnataka/Punjab getting involved. These states have the wherewithal to support the clubs, academies and schools, but aren't very keen yet. Remember Cricket in India might not have been what it is without the Gujarathis and the Mumbaikars. The other reason could be the profile of the players. Muslims and the Sikhs, who are physically the strongest aren't very much into Football yet. (They make up more than half of our cricket team). Besides the average football fan in India's metros is still the one whose only sport is to play chucking cricket with Tennis balls! It will be a while before guys in the gully-mohallahs of Vadodara and UP start kicking football for fun. We shall have to wait.