The history of football in India has seen almost as many ups and downs as our country itself. From being a part of India's freedom struggle to the formation of the Indian Super League (ISL) in recent years, our footballing heritage may not be that illustrious in terms of glory, but it makes up for that through the personalities and their amazing stories that have shaped the sport in the country. That is the reason why a stray football still evokes a sense of nostalgia in us. In keeping up with the same sentiment, here are five facts that will put a smile on your face on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The legacy of the Durand Cup
Started in 1888, the Durand Cup is the oldest tournament in India and the third-oldest in the world after the English FA Cup and the Scottish Cup. Along with the IFA Shield, it used to be one of the most prestigious competitions in the country till around the late twentieth century but has recently made a comeback of sorts. The latest edition of the Durand in 2019 saw Gokulam Kerala emerge as first-time champions after they beat Mohun Bagan 2-1 in the final held at Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata. The level of competition meant that the tournament, after a long time, gathered a lot of eyeballs.
Historic performance at the Olympics
The 1956 Melbourne Olympics will always be remembered as the greatest landmark for Indian football. On the 1st of December that year, the Indian side rode on an incredible hat-trick from Neville D'Souza to beat hosts Australia 4-2 and secure their place in the semi-finals. Till date, this remains India's best performance on the global footballing stage.
The 'Golden Era' of Indian Football
The period between 1950 and 1962 is often considered to be the 'Golden Era' of Indian football, so much so that India was often referred to as the 'Brazil of Asia'. This period featured names like Sailen Manna, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Tulsidas Balaram and others who, under the tutelage of the legendary Syed Abdul Rahim, developed a playing style that was attractive and efficient at the same time. India won two Asian Games gold medals during this period (1951 and 1962) and finished fourth in 1958.
When Pele visited the Mecca of Indian football
During the 50s and 60s, the semi-finals and finals of all major tournaments used to be broadcast on All India Radio. Arguably the most historic such coverage was in 1977 when Brazilian legend Pele and his New York Cosmos team visited Kolkata and played a friendly game against Mohun Bagan at the Eden Gardens. It is said that lakhs of people gathered outside his hotel in central Kolkata to get a glimpse of him. Thereafter, the entire country was brought to a standstill as the magician entertained a packed Eden Gardens crowd with the match ending as a 2-2 draw.
Andhra Pradesh and its footballing heroes
The twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad have produced 14 Olympians and as many as 21 international footballers of great repute. This includes the likes of Yousuf Khan, Peter Thangaraj, Syed Nayeemuddin, Mohammad Habib as well as the aforementioned Tulsidas Balaram and Syed Rahim, who is credited with revolutionizing how India played at that time apart from his man-management and ability to motivate players.
(With inputs from Novy Kapadia's fascinating book, 'Barefoot To Boots')