The soul of the recently concluded Zakir Husain Memorial Football Tournament lay in spirited combat
“Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and don’t give a damn which country or team performs it.” Legendary Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s yearning for ‘a pretty move’ is not uncommon to most football fans. Its potential for spiritual uplift is perhaps greater than the joy experienced at scoring a goal.
Over the past week or so, my thirst for that beautiful move was rarely satiated as I sat in a near-empty Dr. Ambedkar Stadium to follow the fortunes of college teams in the 25th edition of the Zakir Husain Memorial Football Tournament.
However, as the competition entered its final stages, I began to derive a different sort of contentment. The experience of watching the game from close quarters brought greater satisfaction as the players became more recognisable and the fight more intense. Therein, I discovered, lay the soul of this tournament. Not in ‘a pretty move’, but in the spirited combat of the young who revelled in the opportunity of playing in a full-sized stadium. Not many could claim to do so.
Barring one year, the competition has been organised annually since 1987 under the watchful eyes of current Delhi Soccer Association secretary Syed Shaheen, who is also an Associate Professor at Zakir Husain Post Graduate Evening College. Shaheen, along with Shivkant Ray, led the charge for the tournament’s inception on the lines of Subroto Cup after joining the college in 1986. Unfortunately, Ray passed away before the beginning of the inaugural edition which featured 12 teams.
This year, an unprecedented 20 sides participated in the competition as it returned to the Ambedkar Stadium after three years. Interestingly, the first edition was also held at the same venue.
Unfortunately, the growth of the tournament has been hampered by a lack of funds. Except two editions which were sponsored, the competition has been run on college funds till now. Though it had featured a few outstation teams in the past, the event has largely featured city-based colleges.
However, as more college football tournaments mushroom in the city, the DSA Secretary envisages a positive future for football in the national capital. Asked about the way forward for his brainchild, a mildly emotional Shaheen responded, “I initially intended to establish this tournament as an all-India competition. With a couple of years left before my retirement, I wish to again invite outstation teams here.”