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Book Review

For India’s Football, The Best Way Forward: Pertinent questions, few answers

Jaydeep Basu

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Indian football

New Delhi: Like all other disciplines, football activities, too, came to a screeching halt once the Covid-19 related lockdown was announced in March. For Indian soccer lovers, it was a futile summer season – innumerable local leagues across the country remained suspended; even the district leagues and tournaments were severely affected.

Strangely, it hardly made news. While the last-minute completion of ISL and cancellation of I-League midway through hit headlines, few cared to enquire how badly hit was the game at the state and grassroots level.

Back in their Delhi headquarters, the only time the All India Football Federation (AIFF) made a mention of states was when they sat down to distribute FIFA grant on Covid-19.

Truth to tell, few nowadays stand surprised by this dismissive attitude towards football in states. Because, this arrogance is considered the neo-normal of Indian football. Nothing matters in Indian football currently, except one private competition. Important is the eye-catching decoration on the top of the pyramid, not the structure that holds it up.

Under the circumstances, the recently published book on football, “For India’s Football, The Best Way Forward,” has come as a pleasant surprise. Written by veteran journalist SS Shreekumar and published by HSRA Publications, Bengaluru, the book is like a treasure hunt in Indian football.

For India's Football Book Review

The front cover of the book.

In 21 chapters, Shreekumar has given a highly readable account of how football has developed in different states over the years and how the decline of the game in certain states has loosened the soil on which Indian football once thrived.

Shreekumar’s description of football in states is not all about his viewpoints only. It is backed with solid facts. After every chapter, there is a list of footballers, who have so far represented the national team from that particular state. It is a painstaking compilation, which will go a long way in making the task of future researchers much easier.

The Chapter Five, which also happens to be one of the longest in the book, is a fascinating one. It talks about the past and present days of football in Mysore/Karnataka. Shreekumar’s in-depth knowledge of Karnataka football and the legendary players it has produced over the years will enrich the modern day readers to a great extent.

According to the writer, the near abolition of institutional teams at the top tier in the name of AFC Club Licensing policy is like a nail on the coffin of Indian club football. He is not far from the truth.

While community club culture took a deep root in Bengal, places like Hyderabad, Bengaluru or Mumbai thrived mostly because of institutional teams, especially after the 1960s. To send them packing without bothering to find out an alternate route was suicidal. Football in these areas has suffered a severe jolt.

Shreekumar has questioned the very purpose of this club licensing rule. His pointed question – if army units in places like Iraq, Thailand or Singapore could be allowed to run teams at the top level and easily accepted, then why teams like Kerala Police, Air India or HAL are given step-motherly treatment in India – is something that remain unanswered till date.

The best thing about this book is the writer believes in attacking football and is not afraid to say (and rightly so) what he feels right. Though some of his remarks could be attributed as sweeping and definitely debatable, Shreekumar has reserved his best for the last.

To quote from the book: “The lethal Coronavirus struck the world after December 2019 killing millions. But a likely more “lethal” and yet unidentified “affliction” had struck Indian football long, long ago. Many inevitably perished and only some are typically surviving.”

There is definitely enough food for thought in this book.

For India’s Football, The Best Way Forward: by SS Shreekumar. Published by HSRA Publications, Bengaluru. Pages 233. Price: Rs. 400/-

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