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FIFA fever

Friday, June 29, 2018
Photo by Michael Regan - FIFA

Though the Indian team has not qualified for the World Cup, football frenzy has caught on like wildfire in Mumbai, says Tanmaya Vyas

For a nation that follows cricket like religion, football seems to be a blasphemy that sports fanatics and enthusiasts in India are happily committing. Despite the Indian team not qualifying in the World Cup, the frenzy has caught on like wildfire. Social media is buzzing with teenaged boys, working professionals, celebrities, businessmen and even cricketers, posting about football mania. The effects are seen in India on a micro as well as macro level, due to the on-going FIFA World Cup. Jokes around football are circulating; there are memes on social networks and a substantial growth in demand for LED television sets. Some people are actually travelling to Russia to watch it live and the restaurant industryis going all the way as well.

Non-cricketing nations rarely see such a frenzy for cricket, so it’s a question worth pondering—why do Indians enjoy football so much?

Sarang Vyas, a die-hard football fan and a supporter for Argentina and Manchester United in league,  observes, “FIFA World Cup fever is high in India. One of the main reasons is the popularity of the English Premier League (EPL) and Spanish La Liga/UEFA Champions league. The way these have been promoted in Asian markets since the late ’90s and early 2000s have changed how urban Indians perceive football. If you start following a foreign league, you know the players, you like specific players and end up following them in the World Cup too. Timings of the EPL suit Indians as well.”

Akhil Sanjay Paliath, an avid football lover says: “Football is a game with no dull moments. It is engaging and thrilling fare for 90 minutes.” A working professional, Akhil continues, “By now my friends know that the plans they make with me are subject to change around the match schedule.”

There are multiple eateries in and around Mumbai that screen matches and have exciting offers to lure excess footfalls during the World Cup. Similarly, there are venues or, as they like to call it, ‘Sports Bars’ like Smassh and United Bar & Café that screen matches, which are the preferred choice for football fanatics. “I usually watch matches at home. Otherwise I would go to a sports bar where they screen the matches on a large screen. I avoid watching at eateries, as there are many distractions and they mute the commentary, which kills the fun,” adds Akhil, who is rooting for France in FIFA and is a devout Arsenal fan in league matches.

Girls are also clued in to football and as some sexists would like to think, no, it’s not about the good-looking football players. There is genuine love and understanding for the game. Says Delfiya Pereira, who has been playing for the Senior Maharashtra team for the past three years and works for a sports management company: “It started as a hobby and now it’s a full-time passion.” She adds, “The major reason for the current mania for FIFA also goes to the Indian football team and Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri, as he keeps motivating everyone.” Speaking on the gender bias, Delfiya, a Brazil and Chelsea supporter says, “Yes, sometimes I do get comments like, ‘Ladki hai, isko kya samjh mein ayega?’. Eventually, when we are on the field, we prove them wrong.”

Recently Indian Skipper Sunil Chhetri tweeted, appealing to Indians to support the Indian Football team during a recent match held for Intercontinental Cup against Kenya. This appeal garnered immense attention and people did flock to the match, which eventually the Indian team won seamlessly. “I hope to see India playing for the World Cup soon and it’s not an unrealistic dream. All we need is one great generation of players,” says a hopeful Akhil.

Though India is not a part of the World Cup, on a domestic level there are teams, leagues and clubs that keep the game on point. Mohan Bagan A.C, the oldest football club in India, established way back in the 19th century, is still a well-known team. Closer to home, Mumbai Football Club (MFC) and Chetak in Pune are active. The hype and love for this game is greater in urban pockets as rural areas still go for cricket or home-grown sports like kabbadi.

Celebrities like Ranbir Kapoor co-owning Mumbai City FC, which plays in the much hyped Hero Indian Super League, celebrities playing friendly matches, industrialists like Anand Mahindra tweeting about his love for the game, conglomerates like Reliance Industries funding Indian Super League, are adding a  heavy dash of glamour, which is upping the ante.

India awaits the day when we see the country playing in the World Cup, a marvel that hasn’t taken place since the 1950s. Till then, let’s continue showing the sportsman spirit for a sport that offers the ultimate adrenaline rush!

Pic courtesy: Door No.1 - The Retro Bar

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