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THE HISTORY OF FOOTBALL IN INDIA


JOURNEY SO FAR-

                The game of Football was introduced in India sometime in the mid-nineteenth century , by British soldiers . In its early days, the game used to be a part of recreation for British military. The first recorded football match in India was played between ‘Calcutta Club of Civilians’ and ‘The Gentlemen of Barrackpore’ in 1854. Subsequently, various clubs were formed, most of them based in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Calcutta FC is credited to be the first football club of the nation. Later on the Dalhousie Club, Traders Club and Naval Volunteers Club were formed. The legendary Mohun Bagan AC came into being in 1889 ,and the Indian Football Association (IFA) was formed in 1893. The 3rd oldest surviving tournament in the world, Durand Cup, was started by Sir Mortimer Durand in Shimla in 1898.

The Indian football scenario was dominated by the India- based British teams until the historic day of 29th July, 1911 when Mohun Bagan AC trounced the East Yorkshire in the final of IFA shield, becoming the first ‘Indian’ team to do so. That was the day when the ‘home grown’ boys declared their coming of age in the game. This success paved the way for the rapid growth and spread of club football across the nation.

The All India Football Federation( AIFF) was formed in 1937 and eventually got affiliated to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 1948. India played its first International tie on July 31, 1948 against France. They lost the match by 2-1 due to missing two penalties in the sub-zero temperature condition.

The name of Mohammed Salim is worth mentioning here. Back in 1936, when few would have thought that a profession can be made out of a leather ball, he plied his trade in Celtic FC and mesmerized the crowd and the media alike. He was nicknamed ‘The Indian Juggler’ for his immense skills. Sadly, he returned after a few months due to homesickness.

The period during 1950-60 is considered as the Golden Era of Indian Football. It started when India qualified for the 1950 Brazil WC where India backed out after not being allowed to field the team barefooted. India won the 1951 Asian Games Gold by defeating Iran in the final and finished second in the 1954 Asian Games. The 1956 Olympics in Melbourne mark the biggest achievement by Indian football hitherto. India became the 1st Asian team to reach the semi-finals in Olympics, and, Indian striker Neville D’Souza became the first Asian to score a hat trick in the quadrennial event. However, they finished 4th by losing out to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria in the semi-final and 3rd place playoff respectively. India continued its glorious form by finishing 4th in 1958 Asian Games, winning Gold in 1962 Asian Games, and being runners-up in the 1964 Asian Cup.

The second half of 60s started seeing a sudden downfall in the field of football in India. It started with the first round elimination in 1966 Asian Games. This proved to be a major setback for the game in the country and no significant achievements were made further, apart from a Bronze medal in 1970 Asian Games where India beat Japan 1-0.

In the mid-70s, Indian youth team jointly won the Youth Asian Cup with Iran. Indian football went through a barren phase in 70s, 80s and 90s, gradually losing its foothold as a top Asian team.

In August 2007, the Indian national team won the Nehru Cup, for the first time in its history, beating Syria 1–0. In August the following year, India defeated Tajikistan 4–1 to lift the AFC Challenge Cup ,and ,in turn qualified for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. In August 2009, India again won the Nehru Cup beating Syria in penalty (6–5).

In January 2011 India played in the 2011 Asian Cup for the first time in 24 years. India were knocked out at the group stage which contained South Korea, Australia, and Bahrain.

The India national under-23 football team won the first round of the 2012 Olympics qualifiers against Myanmar but were knocked out by Qatar. India played their next official matches against United Arab Emirates in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers which India lost on aggregate 5–2.

It was announced in December 2013 that India will be hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2017. India won the hosting rights for the tournament ahead of Ireland, Uzbekistan and 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts South Africa. By virtue of being the host of the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, India has an automatic place in the tournament proper. It is believed that the U-17 World Cup, by virtue of India participating as hosts, will be a landmark event for the country thereby redefining the sport.

This is the first time ever that a football tournament of this magnitude will be held in India, and this has the potential of elevating the status of football in the country. Cricket and hockey have always been the two most popular sports in India, but recent developments provides a glimmer of hope to football fans across the country.

It would be fantastic if Indian football could restore the glory days by tasting the kind of success it achieved in the 1950s and 60s. One fervently hopes that India hosting the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup is just the beginning of the long overdue revival of football in this country.

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