Sports

Indian Super League: Will this create a football wave across the country?

The butterfly effect is a word most of you must have heard about. Many of you know what it means; some may even have gone on to do some research on the subject. Still, for those few, who don’t know what it means, simply put, it means that when a butterfly flaps its wings in one corner of the planet, it creates tiny ripples which can consequently go on to create a tsunami or a flood in the other corner of the planet.  More simply put, a minor action can lead to catastrophic events, sometimes for better or sometimes for the worse.

A strong example of the effect is Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, a former President of the All India Football Federation for nearly 20 years and seen by many as a revolutionary figure in terms of football administration in India. Mr. Dasmunshi had a dream of seeing football being a pan-Indian sport. To fulfill his dream, he started the National Football League in 1996, connecting the few dots or pockets of football to play a unified top division league. After its initial success, the league saw a good turnout, and the popularity of the sport grew in those pocket regions where football was treated as more than just another game.

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As every wave has a peak and trough, the NFL also had its peak and finally reached its trough at around 2007, from where another burst of the wave was born, the I League. It, too, like its predecessor, started on a very positive note with all parties involved getting accredited professionally from the AFC and reaching parts of the country where even the NFL couldn’t.

It didn’t take long for the I-league to run into troubled waters, with short-sighted planning and an amateur approach made the league somewhat of non-performing assets. Empty stadiums, poor TV viewership ratings, and pathetic pitch conditions all made the I-League a distasteful dish for the urban football-loving youth who have grown up worshiping teams like Barcelona, Madrid, and Manchester United.

At times, it looked like that the only reason the league was surviving was due to the Kolkata legacy clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and their millions of fans. Still, a league surviving on just two clubs from the same city is never good for the holistic development of the sport.

Those who have observed any water body closely will know that a bigger and stronger wave seems to emerge from its shadows even before a continuing wave dies out. We had witnessed a similar phenomenon in Indian football; when the I-League looked like reaching its trough, a bigger and stronger league happened in the form of the Indian Super League.

So, going back to the Butterfly effect, MrDasmunshi’s idea of a pan-India league was the butterfly’s flap of the wings, the NFL and I-League were the ripples, and the ISL is the tsunami.

What the NFL and I-League failed to do, ISL has done it. The ISL has managed to amass a better average attendance than the I-League or the NFL, and its average attendance is on par with some big European leagues. It is the third most-watched league on television globally, which means nearly every Indian village with a TV connection can now afford to watch football, something which wasn’t possible with the I-League.

Football critics blame the ISL for wasting a bulk of money on celebrities and say that people come to the stadiums to watch those pretty faces and not the players. Still, my point is if by providing a pretty face, you can make a person watch and make him fall in love with football, then the money spent is worth it. The ISL has also helped football reach cities like Chennai, where previously cricket was the only team sport that the city or rather the whole state followed.

People of Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and from Ahmedabad to Arunachal, all know that a league called ISL is present and being played in India, which was the I-League and NFL’s aim, but it failed to achieve.

After the inception of the ISL, we have seen a huge rise in football’s popularity among the youth. It’s not like football was not popular before, but then after the ISL, we now literally have people debating if Robin Singh is better or Balwant Singh, that too in local transport. The ISL has transformed the point of discussion from a certain Wayne Rooney to Robin Singh.

With talks of both the Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan joining the ISL next season, and every street corner of the country now talking about football, India is time to fasten your seat belts as a football Tsunami is about to hit you.

Why do I think a football Tsunami is about to hit the nation? Well, I see the signs — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are the two most followed clubs in Asia. If they join the ISL bandwagon like Bengaluru FC, then we will have a league with heritage and modern clubs, both of which are significant for football’s holistic growth. And the way we are seeing young kids talk and emulate a Chhetri type flick in a street corner or the way young kids smile and tell you the names of all the ISL teams but don’t even know more than four or five I-League clubs shows that the ISL has reached nearly every household in India and parents are no longer pessimistic in allowing their kids to take up football as a profession.

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