From Colonial Days to ISL: The Evolution of Football in India

Recently, ZEE5 released their football-centric web series Bombers. Focussing on a team (Bombers FC) competing in a tournament in order to save a beloved football ground in Chandannagar, West Bengal. The multi-starrer series was a thrilling ride that got you right into the sporting action, while raising some questions on the struggling legacy of India’s past in football among other themes. While football is immensely popular in states like West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and a few other places, the same cannot be said about the state of affairs in Indian football. Though it is improving, there is a long way to go with many lessons to be learnt. Who knows, maybe the pre and post-colonial past of the sport holds the key to future success. 

While football is immensely popular in states like West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and a few other places, the same cannot be said about the state of affairs in Indian football. Though it is improving, there is a long way to go with many lessons to be learnt. Who knows, maybe the pre and post-colonial past of the sport holds the key to future success. 

Hence, we are looking back at the glorious past of Indian football in India, going right back to the origins of the sport. 

The early days of Football in India

Fans of football in India need to thank British soldiers stationed in the 19th century Bengal for introducing the sport in the country. In the early days of football in India, the game was only played among teams in the British army. Soon, the game caught the interest of one man who was going to be a game-changer – Mr Nagendra Prasad Sarbhadikari. So, the story goes like – Nagendra Prasad used to observe the games played by the army officials at the Calcutta Maidan. Impressed by the game after days of observation, he took on the task of taking the game to the masses. 

The rise of the sport

As per the official records, the first game of football in India was played in 1854 between ‘Calcutta Club of Civilians’ and the ‘Gentlemen of Barrackpore’. Following which, the first football club in India ‘Calcutta Football Club’ came into existence in 1872. Soon, the third-oldest football tournament in the world, the ‘Durand Cup’ began in Shimla in 1898. However, one important point to note is the lack of Indian involvement in the Indian football circuit at the same. Most clubs and even the Indian Football Association (IFA) didn’t have Indians on board for at least the first two decades. 

The Golden Phase for Indians

From the 1900s, a new golden era arrived within football in India. The first breakthrough came in from Bengal. In 1911, the English side East Yorkshire regiment was stunned into an astounding defeated by barefooted Mohun Bagan team with a score of 2-1. Proving to be a national symbol of rebellion, the victory etched the names of the team’s 11 players of the team in history as the “The Immortal Eleven”. This event majorly kick started the popularity of the sport in the country, resulting in many tournaments popping up. Even after Independence, the Indian football team continued winning laurels in tournaments like Asian Games and Olympics. 

The Scenario Today

However, the golden era of football in India ended in the early 1960s. The sport began to witness a lull period in the 1970s which lasted right up till the 2000s. However, times are now changing as the I-League and Indian Super League are putting football in front of Indian fans again. As a result, the interest in the sport is increasing and seems to have a bright future. 

From watching Britishers play the sport to playing alongside global football stars in leagues, football in India has come a long way. So, what do you think about football in India? Do you have some more facts to add to this article? Let us know in the comments. 

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