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Goooaaal! It's football

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COUNTDOWN TO THE KICK-OFF It is the fans that make football so special and marketable
COUNTDOWN TO THE KICK-OFF It is the fans that make football so special and marketable

Long before 24/7 cricket, football was always a favourite game in certain pockets of the country. But this year, thanks to cable TV and celeb icons, the fever has gripped the entire city

We are no doubt obsessed with cricket. But once every four years, we wake up to the beautiful game. Yes, this is the World Cup year and the country is gripped by footie fever. And it sure is helping matters that the Indian cricket team is far away, on a tour in the West Indies. Interestingly, the most popular game in the world was, in fact, quite big in India during the pre-Independence times. One of the biggest names in Indian club football, Mohun Bagan, is considered the oldest football club in Asia and predates FIFA, the international football governing body. The club, in fact, was the first Indian team to lift the 1911 IFA shield by defeating the Eastern Yorkshire Regiment 2-1. The national team, in the meanwhile, was quite successful, qualifying for the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil but did not appear because they still played barefoot. Then it was gold medals in the 1951 and 1962 Asian games and fourth in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Post 1970, the national team petered out and with the interest, in areas other than the football hotspots of West Bengal and Goa. But the 2006 World Cup looks like will give football that much needed push, though we have nothing to do with it.

Role of TV

Cable television and celeb icons are perhaps the biggest factors in getting youngsters to take football seriously. European football, the Brazilian and Argentinean championships and Asian football are all available at the press of a button. Add to that brilliant broadcast and commentary and your have a potent combination.The thing with European football is that it starts bang at primetime, which one could think is a deterrent. No way. Anush Gopinath, an engineering student stays up late to catch the matches. "I initially started watching European football when I was in school because of all the Beckham mania. But soon I was hooked. I just love the quality of the game they play and their passion, players and fans alike."The passion of the fans is more important than the players, argues Arjun Subramaniam, marketing manager, and he adds that it's the fans who make the game "marketable". "You look at the football matches played around Europe. The stadiums are always full. And the fans are always making noise. That makes it more attractive for TV and it helps sell the game. In fact, in Britain, they are now concerned about rising ticket prices that is reducing stadium attendances for the smaller teams. In India, for the game to grow we need to find new talent as well as try to encourage a stadium culture where people go and watch the games."That doesn't sound too unrealistic, because like gali cricket, there's a lot of gali football happening. Coming back to the World Cup, Anush, thanks to his allegiance to European football, plumps for England with Italy being his second choice. While his friend and classmate Narendra prefers the flair of Brazil. "I think it is going to be Brazil even this time around. I just love their style play, which is all about making it look good. But I want one of the dark horses to reach the latter stages of the tournament like South Korea and Turkey did in 2002. I am tipping an African team, Ivory Coast, this time."It's not merely the game that gets heady. In fact, beer is part of the football culture. But Hyderabadis have to hold their horses, as the restrictions on pub timings means you will be watching most of the big matches on the telly at home. Most of the matches will go on well past midnight. On the plus side, offices will not see any attendance shortages as matches begin well after closing time. Parties at homeSo, this time around BYB (bring your own bottle) parties are in. Neighbours brace yourselves for noisy footie fans, who will go "goooooooaaaaaalllll" in the dead of the night. "This is the worst city to be in during the World Cup. If you get a chance, head to Mumbai or Delhi. My friends and I are planning parties at our houses," says Dinesh Kumar, advertising professional. Though there is a sense of revival in football, it is still restricted to the urban young. For the beautiful game to truly grow, it needs support from the not-so-shining India as well.ANAND SANKAR

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