Now that the ISL is over, it is time to think, discuss, as we very often do keep on wasting our time in doing this, popularly known as third half. I am not a footballer and never have any sort of claims that indicate to analyse the game with profound knowledge. Just like most of the Bengalis who spent their good childhood time in kicking the ball in their nearest neighborhood ground, I too have a special place in my heart for football for that reason. Yes! I used to watch Calcutta League, (Super division) , IFA Shield , Rovers Cup , Durand Cup , Federation Cup on a regular basis –once upon a time J .
Thanks to ISL, that it brought back that same euphoria amongst us. Let me put it in this way - I already have gone nostalgic in writing this , so I don’t see any harm in looking back to those days where Derby were being played between the football Giants like Mohonbagan –East Bengal . Hot debates, ticket crunch all were part of those events inside and outside of every Calcuttans home. Turn back and memories begin to step forward to engulf – black & white TV , Late Ajay Bose as a commentator , Bidhesh Bose`s solo run , Shibaji Banerjee`s penalty save, Prasun Banerjee`s game-making, Surojit Sengupta`s dribble. Football was a phenomenon at that time – radio commentary, football galleries, human-roar, gossips, jerseys, banners and festoons of favorite clubs – and fish markets. If it is football, I am sure we all have our photographic memory of the past. The skills of Krishhanu- Bikash, Subrata - Monoranjan, Bhaskar Ganguly, Mihir Bose, Md. Habib-Akbar, hardly have faded from our retrospect.
Although the levels were falling down sharply comparing to the by gone days of Manna, Chuni, PK, Amhed , Sattar - still the game can easily pull large chunk of crowd in galleries . Paper house, News agencies had made their bread out of it, TRP went up high. It was an enthraller all the way, charmed people for sure.
The Quality Level could have been raised or be recuperated, if we were at all keen to do that but no! The glory gradually faded away and as it seems we got to embrace (without much choice) a game that hardly played by major countries of our world. Now, let’s not distract from the key point and ask ourselves why? What had gone wrong? What could be the reasons that potentially pushed football into obscurity? Lack of Sponsorship, viewership, infrastructure? What majorly contributed into it? I couldn’t think off any single reason for this turnaround rather all these factors must have had their roles in decaying Bengal football. Arguably it’s not only about the talents, but about various reasons associated with the game have compounded to form a major clout in soccer scene at Calcutta. Do we miss the nursery where skills are usually honed, clubs like Aryan Sports and Kalighat , Sonali Shibir , those who act as the feeder institutions for bigger clubs through their local tournaments, they are banking on the foreign players now. Yes! We do, but what lies beneath?- let me exemplify – during the eighties, Madhyamgram High School, WB, had won the prestigious Subrata Cup for 7 times. Parimal Dey, Shyam Thapa , Prasanta Banerjee, Shyamal Banerjee, Pratap Senapati they all have played this tournament before they brighten up the IFA League at Calcutta. So it can clearly infer that we are losing both skills and focus from the school level itself.
Now the point I see the offices, banks may have stopped recruiting the star players as it used to do earlier. The professional league doesn’t have enough money for the domestic player by which they can sustain later in their life. Moreover if by any chance he got injured in any session and couldn’t play thereafter, there will be a full stop in their career. Football no longer is a good career option for middle-lower middle class Bengalis as it used to be earlier, when it was told in families,- if you are good you can ensure a public sector job for lifetime. Now it’s different, the self-life of this career has shrunk. Those who shined once with their skills at ground hardly suggest their children to take football as full time career. Think about schools – they don’t have any scholarships for football , think about the foods , in a poor state like Bengal where one day meals are not even a daily assurance , how can parents afford to buy a spike boot – grounds are largely occupied by the land sharks , there are places for real estate ,- football sadly no.
Then, we would nod our heads in disagreement and shout to place our rationale – wasn’t it same at the early days … well of course yes! It was even worse; we won IFA shield in bare legs against a regiment who wore boots. We were proudly beaten by Hungary at the Olympic Semifinal in football. We won Asian Game gold, Mardeka cups against mighty opponents, aren’t we? Adverse situation were there, will always be, and can’t be a mere excuse – point is to overcome them and move on. –right? Wrong! The needs are rolling; we can’t imagine a bowl full of rice in 1 paisa today, can we?
Accept it or not, we need sponsors, scholarships, and infrastructure and above of all patronage from the Government – remember the phrase from the movie ‘Jerry McGuire’ - ‘Show me Money’.
Bengal helped establish many sporting associations and went on to give shape to many national federations. The Indian Football Association (IFA) is one such State body which came into existence much before the national body — the All India Football Federation (AIFF). In football landscape if India to succeed we need Bengal football to survive also. The fanatics, craze is very much here, proves? -Just see the fan following, in week days ‘Yuvabharati’ Stadium has recorded to draw about 67-68000 crowd- almost in every occasion . What else we need?- Let us reiterate the dialogue - ‘Show me Money’ .