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A tryst with destiny: The rise of the Indian football team

Fandom in sport is a gradual, lucid process that attains momentum once the particular team or player starts acquiring and reaching heights that one normally wouldn’t have assumed of in the beginning. Sometimes, it takes way too much of time. On other occasions, it is quite instantaneous. However, the latter always tends to stay intact within the fans for time immemorial thereon. This is because, once one stands together with the side during the tougher days, the more strenuous ones where backing a particular set of players to the tilt seem way too dire and tiresome, then is when the real taste of success blends in to stay with them for long. It has happened with every single club’s fan base in any sport’s history. It’s a process in itself, and the completion of an entire cycle is what provides the maximum sigh of relief, of satisfaction, of the immense pleasure of having stuck by them when the going got difficult.

The Indian football team is hence an enigma in itself. There had been the glorious days of yore. Then there was a prolonged period of doom, of despair and disgust, of dissatisfaction, displeasure and eventual withdrawal. It appeared that there wouldn’t be any revival whatsoever at any point in time. The recovery process looked way too onerous. Moreover, there looked to be no figure who could help everyone comeback from those unforgettable days. Eventually, the fans shifted their glare and attention elsewhere. There is only a limited period of time until you can keep them testing. However, like every other process, the most difficult one of this particular cycle was also its commencement. Nothing looks too strenuous once one has proceeded on the path to attain it. And hence, when the fans had given up; it turned out to be the players who didn’t. They worked hard. They tried and tired themselves out, in various situations, in difficult circumstances and in terrible conditions as well.

Is a change for the better looming in the air?

One cannot tend to term Indian football to be at a high right now. However, there is a continuously spreading feeling of positivity undoubtedly. There is hope; there is something to look forward to. And the draw against Qatar, the Asian champions, in their very own backyard only strengthened this notion. India was not tactically very astute that night. They were just resolute; up for a fight, a battle without their commander, and came triumphantly out of it, bruised, battered yet having bettered the best in the continent. And the thing with growing fan culture is, that once these people witness that the players are putting up a fight out there, are putting their body on the line to defend and hold on to their leads, then they don’t spend a second thought over putting their faith behind them. This is what happened after that night at Doha. We didn’t win, yes. But we could have lost very shambolically. And we abandoned that embarrassment, we thwarted the drop of confidence, we came on top of the expectations; not with tactical or qualitative mastery, but with the sheer belief that we could do it.

Success is not achieved overnight. Very clichéd, yes. But efforts can be doubled up, multiplied my manifolds in a very short period of time. And once that happens, the smell of victory would never too far away. The fans would stay intact during the whole journey, only once when they see that the players, the coach care about themselves as much as they do for them. That is because the joy of supporting your team doesn’t lie in watching them lift a particular trophy someday; it lies with watching them lift that trophy after having had their back when there was no chance in the distant future that one could have imagined them putting hold over that cup.

There has been a persistent increase in the following of our national team over the past few years. Sunil Chhetri has been at the forefront of it. The 33-year-old’s infectious commitment towards propelling the team to greater success has attracted followers from all across the country, with people at least becoming much more aware, knowledgeable and fondness towards the XI players who take the field donning the national side’s jersey. They have developed a sense of attachment, have started turning up on the stadiums during the matches and have at least started providing opinions, whether positive, negative or critical regarding their team. Their team.

Football is much more than merely 22 players sweating it out on the park. It’s a lot about developing an emotional tenderness, benevolence amongst the group of fans; so that they feel the wave of happiness, exasperation, anguish and yet the craving for triumph along with the players on the field. Fortunately enough, we are observing somewhat of a similar pattern with the Indian football team these days. Long may it live! But for starters, showcase it to the utmost of our potential when the men in blue face Bangladesh on the 15th of October. The match will hold significance, as it would be our third encounter in the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifiers. It will be played in the hub of football of this country, Kolkata. The turnout, the atmosphere, the surroundings that will encapsulate the Salt Lake Stadium that night will have a huge say on the near future of the footballing narrative of this country.


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