10 most memorable years of Indian Football

“the blues go marching in”

10. 2027 — FIFA World Cup, Amsterdam.

Sporting a proud blue jersey, an old pair of blue jeans and blue paint over every brown inch, here I am, witnessing the biggest moment in Indian football. While the Indian flag is rolled out in front of ten thousand of my clones, each chanting in but one voice “the blues go marching in”, I get the Archimedes feeling of running out in the streets, roaring out my sheer joy. This is the moment, the dream of which had accompanied me on those long journeys all these years, and it is perfect.

What a game, that first Indian game in the world cup would be. And frankly no matter the result, the emotional high would drive me to an asylum either in ecstasy or in misery.

It was a Sunday morning, I was piling on excuses of not getting out of bed. I had already munched on all the Copa America highlights and its increasing list of missing players, took a peak into the transfer rumours and then shut them down as quite honestly they make football feel like a soap saga. Instead I found an interesting piece on the legends of Indian football on a never before seen (by me) football webloid ‘The Hard Tackle’. This was refreshing stuff and it tickled my curiosity. So I fed myself one astounding story after another, drawing up a timeline of events in Indian football till I was out of sunlight. And judging by the frequency of howls I belayed on my 14-inch screen, my friends would tell you that there were many. But, luckily for you I have handpicked 10 of the most memorable stories across the years that you have to know about Indian football.

1. 1877 — Hare school compound, Calcutta.

Indian football was first played at this 200 years old institution.

For a guy in absolute love with the sport, I surprisingly have no recollection of the first football game I played or watched. But lo, the first time football was played in India, and not by the English, was when a 9 year old school kid from then Calcutta convinced his friends to get the ball kicking after he saw it being played by a bunch of English officers. The young lad Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari went on to be known as the father of Indian football. Now that is a cool thing to be on your Wikipedia page.

2. 1888 — Durand Cup, Shimla.

The first trophy in Indian Football History.

So what do you do when you are not feeling good and cannot get out of bed to play a fun game of football? Well you can spend your day watching the shocking compilation of the 50 most shocking world cup moments by BBC or in the case YouTube is yet to be invented, you can start the first football competition in India. That is exactly what Sir Montimer Durand did while he was on a sick leave in Shimla. And what is great about the Durand cup apart from having 126 years of legacy is that it was the first club competition of football outside of the United Kingdom and third in line after the FA cup and the Scottish cup.

3. 1889 — Mohun Bagan AC, Calcutta.

Estd. 15th August 1889, the lesser known celebration for the fans of green and red.

No football club can be called a great club if it does not boast of insane fans who can kill or die for their club (no seriously). I personally came face-to-face with a battalion of Mohun Bagan fans at the last game of this season’s I-League and man-oh-man they went completely berserk when their team won after 13 years. And why shouldn’t they, Mohun Bagan is arguably one of the most successful Indian clubs and not just that, it’s also the oldest Indian club. At the age of 125, Mohun Bagan AC is older than both the Spanish mammoths Barca and Madrid, the devastating Bayern Munchen and even the red devils Manchester United (it came to be known as that in 1902).

4. 1911 — IFA Shield, Calcutta.

Hiralal Mukherjee; Bhuti Sukul, Sudhir Chatterjee, Manmohan Mukherjee, Rajen Sengupta, Nilmadhav Bhattacharya, Kanu Roy, Habul Sarkar, Abhilash Ghosh, Bijoydas Bhaduri, Shibdas Bhaduri (CAPTAIN).

A lot of Indian happenings found their way to the headlines in the homeland of the Queen, but sports was not one of them. Not until the 30th of July 1911. The previous day, a team of civilian bare-footed Indians had beaten one of the top British Army clubs in a top competition of the game that the British themselves had made. Now that is the kind of motivation that can start revolutions and none other than Mohun Bagan had clinched their first title defeating the East Yorkshire Regiment club by 2 goals to 1 after going down in the twentieth minute. It was a monumental upset for the English side and an even larger victory for Indian football.

5. 1934 — Mohammedan Sporting, Calcutta League.

Better by the season — Calcutta league points of the reigning Mohammedan SC in the 1930s.

Every league in the world has at least once, seen a team that is so dominant and unbeatable that they are conferred with titles such as the invincibles. So goes the story of the first Indian club to dominate the biggest football league in India then. They had just been promoted to the top tier of the Calcutta League and were running in due admiration from everyone who saw them play. But this team from western Calcutta was much more than that. They not only won the league the same year, they went on to win it 7 times in the next 8 years. And they kept getting better towards the end of this streak winning the IFA Shield twice and becoming the first Indian club to lift the Durand trophy. Yes they were the first invincibles of Indian football.

6. 1948 — Summer Olympics, London.

The first Indian International Squad that played in the Olympics of 1948.

The World War II had taken its toll on the world, so much so that even Olympics saw a 12 year drought. So 2 years after new boundaries were drawn over the world and a year after India had come to be a free republic, the 1948 summer Olympics happened. And what a feeling that would be for the Indian contingent to march the Indian flag for the first time in a world event in none other than London (history is full of such ironies). The Indian team played their first international football match against the French, and if not for 2 missed spot kicks, the Indians might have seen themselves on the other side of a 2–1 defeat. It makes your heart ache knowing we lost our first match, but for 28 year old Sarangapani Raman, he got his tryst with destiny, scoring the first ever Indian goal in which would be his only ever appearance for India.

7. 1950 — FIFA World Cup, Brazil.

This snippet from a Calcutta Daily breaks hearts 60 years on.

We all know how India was offered a place in the fourth edition of the cup-that-matters and how Team India could not participate because our players knew only how to play without their studs. Err, no we don’t. AIFF skipped the Brazilian affair not because Adidas and Nike refused to boot us up but apparently because of financial constraints that we needed to prepare for the Olympics as a first and their misplaced belief that an Olympic football gold meant more. The bare foot story now somehow seems less frustrating. Had it been Brazil in 2014, I am sure the millions of football fanatics in this south Asian country of over a billion would have coughed up their coffers for the Blues to make that trip, I know I would have.

8. 1951 — Asian Games, Delhi.

A packed Delhi stadium backing their heroes.

Those were the days to be for Indian football fans. The 50’s may have been a rough time for us as a nation, but the bright spot for people with football syndrome was Indian football which was ranked top in Asia and in the top 20 of the world. The blues tasted first blood in 1951, winning gold in the Asian games, a feat they repeated 11 years later in Indonesia. This was all made possible by our very own chosen one, coach Rahim Saab. He was just so awesome that he made football the top sport of the country then. Even his successor Alberto Fernando was so in awe of him that while in Brazil in 1964 he was quoted as saying “What I learnt from Rahim in 1956 is being taught now in Brazil. Verily, he is a football prophet”. Now that is a big statement to make in the Mecca of football.

9. 1956 — Summer Olympics, Australia.

Neville D’Souza — The only Asian to win the Golden Boot at a major world football event.

Another Olympics moment? Yes, because if you do know about the first Asian team to reach the football semi-finals in the Olympic extravaganza, you know what I am talking about. It is incomplete not to mention the drama that year, that led to 5 teams of 16 withdrawing from the event, but the Indian team was unperturbed by such shenanigans and went on to beat the hosts 4–2 to reach the semis. However, unlike Milkha Singh, the Indian footballers could not improve on their performance at the next games in Rome and not ever since.

As much exciting and promising the first 50 years of football have been in our country, the next 50 have been rather anti-climactic. At this point I cannot help but compare Indian Football to Jon Snow. All this build up for what? Yes, I do agree there have been a few crests in the latter 50 such as the good showings of East Bengal FC at the AFC cups, but this story needs a fantastic ending. And so till then I will save ink for the tenth and most amazing thing yet to happen in Indian Football.

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