No 'Gur' at Gurgaon for Indian Football

They say that laughter is the best medicine but I beg to differ. That accolade should be given to one and only one thing – FOOTBALL! After the shock and disappointment following the unexpected deferral of the West Bengal Post Graduate Medical Admission Test counselling session (which means a significant blockade of seats for AIPGME candidates like us), I was in dire need of something to prevent me from sinking under the billows of depression.

Fortunately, my friend's team Pune FC were playing against Indian Arrows in an I-League match at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Gurgaon and I decided to renew my acquaintance with Indian football after a protracted self-imposed exile. It did not matter that the journey from my residence to the stadium would take almost two hours. Even though the Delhi Metro service is quite outstanding, two hours can be quite nerve-wracking when you have to spend the time listening to an obnoxious concoction of the products emanating from other people's iPods! However, the attraction to experience first-hand competitive football was such that by the time I boarded the Metro, I could already sense an uncanny improvement in my mood.

An old friend was to join me midway and when we reached the stadium, the match had already kicked off thanks to the extensive geographical knowledge of a localite who advised us to alight at the wrong Metro station. Our natural instincts at any sporting event took over as we spent some time searching for the ticket counter. Failing to find anything remotely resembling a counter, we decided to try our luck and step through the gates.

My first reaction was that there was just too much space around. The pitch looked perfect for a game of football and the players were already in action but the number of spectators present really stretched (or rather contracted) the definition of a crowd. Of the handful of biped creatures present in the complex (and there were quite a few quadruped ones as well, especially of the canine variety), some were busy with their evening-walks while a few others, obviously inspired by the recent Cricket World Cup victory and the remote but lucrative possibility of bagging an IPL 5 spot, were enjoying a game of cricket behind one of the goals. And all these things were happening when a football match of the nation's top division was underway! As if to emphasise the total disregard the new generation has for any form of sport other than cricket in India, a kid ran onto the field of play while the match was actually in progress.

The match was a closely contested one with good chances falling either way but it was a day for the defenders as the match remained goalless at the end of ninety minutes. Pune FC looked like a team struggling to get their co-ordination right and some of their players ran out of steam trying to cope with the high tempo of the Indian Arrows players who obviously had age on their side. Indian Arrows, on the other hand, looked more like an uncut diamond with some potential stars in their ranks but they are still quite far from being a finished product. Although their youth helped them to outpace their opponents in most areas of the field, the coherence and flow required for creative attacking moves seemed to be in short supply. However, it's still early days and the time spent playing together for Indian Arrows should certainly help these players to form the backbone of the national team in the upcoming years.

As I left the ground rejuvenated by an adequate if not actually abundant dose of the magic medicine 'Football' coursing through my veins, I realised that Indian football was still in need of a panoptic overhaul to come even remotely close to the popularity that cricket enjoys in the country. It requires perseverance in the efforts to make Indian football attractive to the general public and then expect investments and support instead of begging for the investments and support and then trying to make it attractive. It's high time the football associations around the country learnt how to make maximum utilisation of the resources at hand rather than try and emulate the top European Leagues with a minuscule fraction of their budget which always results in innumerable pages of bumf and not an iota of actual improvement. Till then, even top division football matches will resemble 'gully' football in all aspects with the sole exception being the bunch of official paperwork involved for staging them!


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