The popularity of a sport depends on its ability to produce heroes who inspire the fans. India’s most widely followed sport, cricket — almost a religion in the country — saw a major upward push when Kapil Dev’s team rode on the ‘underdogs’ tag to lift the 1983 World Cup. The fans found heroes and many modern Indian cricketing greats found inspiration from the World Cup win and took up the sport.
Indian football hasn’t had its ‘World Cup’ moment yet, but it has given us many such heroes to look up to and authors Shantanu Gupta and Nikhil Sharma have made a genuine effort to introduce readers to the contributions of these heroes through India’s football dream.
Ardent followers of clubs, teams or players have often come to become so after finding a deep connection with the history of that team, and the book, India’s Football Dream, has used history as a tool to take football to the masses. Indian football has a rich history, and it enjoyed its golden period in the 1950s and 1960s, winning two gold medals at the Asian Games and a fourth-place finish at the 1956 Olympic Games. The authors have given a fair account of that period and a lot more on the country’s footballing legacy. A foreword by the nation’s favourite footballing son, Sunil Chhetri, is the perfect way to set the tone.
The book then navigates through the history of the sport itself, and the unsung contribution that India has made to it. Football might not have reached its full potential in India yet, but it has given the nation some eternally memorable moments.
One such moment, the iconic Mohun Bagan’s famous win over the East Yorkshire Regiment to win the 1911 IFA Shield, has been mentioned repeatedly. In a country that was then at the receiving end of suppression by the British rulers, Bagan’s win was the flame that re-ignited the freedom movement as people all around the nation united to celebrate, regardless of caste, creed or religion.
The book travels through 10 chapters, largely talking about the growth of football in the country, the change brought about by the advent of clubs, leagues and tournaments to the sport across the world and in India, the national football team and its torchbearers, and finally the historic 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup hosted by us that has turned many heads towards the ‘sleeping giant’ that is India, in the world of football.
The Indian senior men’s team captain Sunil Chhetri saying, Sometimes I wish I was still an U-17 player and was eligible to play in the World Cup. Anyway, it was a wonderful event and the kind of football passion we saw all across India bodes well for the future of the game, is a testament to the impact created by a FIFA event held in the country.
A lot of love for football and a determination to educate readers about the past of Indian football, giving the players and laypersons enough reasons to be connected to its present and future, is what comes strongly out of Gupta and Sharma’s India’s Football Dream.