Although football began in 1863 in England, due to its popularity, it quickly spread to other parts of the world and was followed worldwide. It was introduced in India in the nineteenth century by the British soldiers. Many football clubs were created during this time. Mohun Bagan Athletic club was set up in West Bengal (now called Kolkata) and is considered the oldest football club in Asia. Football is said to rank second only behind cricket in popularity and is celebrated in many parts of the country especially Kolkata, Goa, Kerala and the north-eastern states.
However, Kolkata’s obsession with football has never been a matter of secret. You’ll rarely spot any Bengali, who isn’t a football fan. The love for Mohun Bagan or East Bengal is evident and the passion with which the Bengalis portray their love for either side is heart-warming. But what is the reason behind the love affair for a sport for which India is yet to participate at the highest levels?
Football, just like cricket, lawn tennis and table-tennis is a sport handed down to the Indians by the British rulers who started playing this sport in the nineteenth century and used the football field to display their superiority especially to the Bengalis whom they considered unmanly and weak. However, by the turn of the century the sport became a means through which the Bengalis expressed their nationalistic vehemence.
The Calcutta Football Club (CFC) was founded in 1872. In 1878, the Dalhousie Club was started by the members of the Indian Civil Service. Traders Club, Calcutta Rangers, the Armenian Club were also formed and various competitions were organised for these teams, for example, the Durand Cup and the Trades cup. The Indian Football Association (IFA) was established soon after, to act as a governing body that set rules and regulations to be followed by football players in India.
The British considered it to be their imperial duty to improve the Bengali physique and encourage them to play football for their own benefits. Football teams started emerging in institutions like Presidency college, St. Xavier’s college and La Martiniere college and their alumni established reputed clubs in Kolkata (Bengal). The chief among these was Mohun Bagan established in 1889 by Bhupendra Nath Bose. Mohun Bagan became the Bengali pride in football and rest is history.
The city of Kolkata today lives and breathes football and teams all over the world are supported ardently. In today’s tech-savvy world, where everyone is busy spending their time on online activities, the people of Kolkata still continue to be the country’s most enthusiastic football base. The city’s community football network has trained many famous footballers at a young age who further went on to play for the Indian team. The people are huge football fanatics to the extent that the walls of the cities are mostly painted with the famous football legends like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Sunil Chhetri, Bhaichung Bhutia, Neymar, Paul Pogba etc. It encourages the youngsters to pursue football and make it big. Donate a wall was one initiative started by Asian Paints to paint the city in colours of their favourite sport. There is a crescendo of noise of noise can always be heard from the famous stadium of Kolkata, the Salt Lake Stadium. The youngsters and elders, everyone unites here to cheer for their respective teams.
Despite over 70 years of independence, football has continued to determine Bengali pride. Perhaps it is their way of life where football fills their heart with love and the love affair seems to be an unending affair.
Cheers to the city of joy!
Cheers to the city of football!