Football was never ever considered to be among the top most sports in India till last few months. As a matter of fact cricket always and still is No.1 sport in India and it occupies the rest of the 9 spots in the Top 10 sports of the country as well. Craziness about football in India was limited to some parts of North Eastern India and in the states of West Bengal, Goa and Kerala. But then came the Indian Super League just three months back and it caught the imagination of the country and today it is considered to be the 4th largest football league of the world after its debut year, which has just finished last week. Now only English, German and Spanish football leagues are ahead of Indian Super League!
Will football ever match the madness of cricket in India? Well only time will tell but according to an article published in the Guardian, during its debut year, the ISL was watched by not less than 74.7 million people, not only in India but across the world. If we take a note of few of the worth mentioning reasons about why the ISL became so big with just one season in the pocket, we have to consider the forces which made it possible. The first comes to mind is the format. Prior to the competition started, the ISL promoters and organizers did not shy away from admitting that the format of ISL is based on the most popular and cash rich cricket league of the world, the IPL (Indian Premier League). This bold acceptance has made a major impact on the mindsets of the Indians as they have found a new love for the city-based sports teams since IPL has become a major hit in the country during late last decade.
Secondly, some of the great and most famous names of India have not only bid but later also won the rights to own the different franchises of ISL. Among them are two of the greatest cricketers India has ever produced, Sachin Tendulkar (Kerala Blasters) and Sourav Ganguly (Atletico de Kolkata). Befittingly these two teams only faced each other in a thrilling final where Kolkata defeated Kerala via a last-minute goal by Mohammed Rafique. The Bollywood too was not left far behind as popular actors like Ranbir Kapoor (Mumbai City FC), Abhishek Bachchan (Chennaiyin FC) and John Abraham (NorthEast United FC) too acquired three major franchises of ISL. If this was not enough the current Indian cricket and IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni too bought some shares in the Chennaiyin FC.
This was the base on which the ISL had to perform and with the very first match people with loads of curiosity glued to their television sets and even went on to fill the football stadiums across India. Some of those stadiums were dying to see only hundreds to fill the empty seats for years till the middle of the year 2014, started getting filled by thousands and became jammed packed! The average attendance during the first season of ISL inside the stadiums are officially told as 24, 357 which is still far behind for a normal One Day International cricket game played in India in any season, but if you match it with international football leagues it is not that far from a Bundesliga or a La Liga game. Does this mean that it has become even bigger football league than they got in France, Italy or even bigger than Brazil, Argentina, and China? The straightforward answer is “Yes it has.” These countries are traditional football playing and celebrating countries and yet ISL has overtaken them in terms of the number of people watching the tournaments.
As far as attendance is concerned 65, 000 Kolkattans came out of their homes, to watch the opening game of the Indian Super League, played between the home team Atletico de Kolkata and Mumbai City FC at their very own Salt Lake Stadium. The Salt Lake Stadium is also considered to be one of the largest capacity football stadiums in the world. That game was also watched by 74.7 million television viewers. The TRP for the entire first week of ISL touched 170.6 million marks and gave a very healthy competition to the first phase of this year’s IPL viewing number of 184 million viewers. Twitter was filled with hashtags like #letsfootball, #ISLfie, and #fatafatifootball.
As a sports-loving person I was always seeing this madness for football games coming, as the young generation of India used to glue to their television sets even for the past midnight games of English Premier League or La Liga and there are often war of words on Facebook and Twitter between fans of different English and Spanish football club teams fans, but what was lacking till now, was the professional set up. The Indian Football Federation till now was not doing enough for the football and the official football league of the country ‘i-league’ was having a very poor infrastructure and thus poor following as well. It is great that Football Federation of India took a right decision at a very right time to join hands with the promoters of the ISL and not using those silly banning and boycotting those who go against their wishes or their powers. This small step of theirs will now help them to market the ‘i-league’ better and that league too may get bigger fan following than it has today.
It is heartening to see those youngsters who were busy discussing Manchester United or Real Madrid have discussed Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters with similar interest and zeal. India is and will still remain a cricket crazy country, but then to become a sport loving nation officially, other sports too needed to be encouraged, played, watched and followed as well. Indian Super League is probably just the beginning of that and also a much-awaited beginning of India finally becoming a football powerhouse which will be playing in the FIFA World Cup in few years to come!
Yes!! football has finally arrived in India!
Author of this article, Siddharth Chhaya is an avid sports lover and also the editor at Sportycious.com.