What makes Indians follow European football so passionately, while ignoring the Indian domestic season and even International matches featuring India?
Though cricket is by far the most popular sport in the country, football has also begun to make inroads across the country, outside its traditional strongholds of Kerala, West Bengal and the North East. Every weekend and mid week, online forums are choc-a-bloc with Indians discussing the fortunes of the numerous European football teams and analysing the performances of their favourite teams and players. Transfer day (the last day of the football club transfer window in Europe) is followed with much excitement in urban India.
These massive interest levels have bought in broadcasters providing commentary for these matches in Hindi. On the sidelines of all this excitement, the Indian I-league and international matches featuring Indian teams hardly merits discussion among fanboys outside Kerala and Bengal. What makes Indians follow European football so passionately, even as they ignore the Indian domestic season and even international matches featuring India? Is it the superstars in the European circuit with its multi million dollar deals and celebrity status?
Rajesh Pai, an IT professional is a self-confessed football nut. He supports Argentina in international tournaments and Arsenal in European club football. He is also following the fortunes of the newly-formed Bengaluru FC team in the I league. “I love and watch all football. I feel that one of the major problems that ails Indian football is the lack of coverage. While the matches featuring some of the Bengali sides are telecast on local TV, the other matches hardly see any coverage.”
He adds, “Apart from this, the lack of actual star power and reduced calibre, vis-à-vis European leagues also hampers the popularity of Indian football. Many people are attached to teams as a brand and support them.”
It is a view that Jayanarayanan, a software engineer and football geek concurs with. “I have been following Manchester United for more than a decade, but have no idea about what happens in the I-league, apart from what I read in newspapers. To make it more popular, better commentators must be bought in. It helps more people to follow the game, when they hear it from someone who understands it. Most Indian commentators do not follow the game and are unable to provide good commentary.”
Apart from the issues faced due to the broadcasters, he feels that any league needs superstars to become popular. “You need to have superstars playing in the league. That helps draws crowds and makes sponsors interested in the format.”
Mashood Abdullah also blames the bad telecast to be one of the main issues pinning back the Indian domestic leagues. “The European leagues use multiple camera angles, have good commentary and are fun to watch. The domestic telecast of most matches is very tedious. I feel that the Indian I league also offers high quality football, but it has not been marketed well and lacks superstars that helps bring in the eyeballs.”
Roswell Da Cunha, a footballer at Bengaluru FC blames a host of factors for the lack of interest in domestic football. “Cricket and Bollywood rule the roost in most areas, where satellite television is yet to make inroads. Any sport needs superstars to garner interest. When Baichung Bhutia, and Brunco Colaco were playing, domestic football did bring in good crowds. Indian football needs such stalwarts to take the game forward.”