Dear football fans, it’s time to throng to the stadiums to watch the Indian team play

Sunil Chhetri, the captain of the Indian football team, took to Twitter on Saturday to appeal to Indians to go watch the team play in the stadiums.

In his heartfelt plea, Chhetri thanked the fans who had gone to watch them play and pleaded with the rest to visit the stadiums and encourage the team with their presence. Chhetri admitted that the level of football is not anywhere close to that in European leagues, however, he assured that the determination and desire of the players will make the visit worth it. He even said that it was perfectly acceptable if the fans abused the players in the ground, he only wanted them to come.

That Sunil Chhetri, one of the most decorated football players in Indian history, has to plead to fans to attend football matches says a lot about the footballing culture in India. It’s not that India doesn’t have passionate football fans, there are in large numbers, especially in cities, however, most wouldn’t consider visiting stadiums to watch India play football merely because it’s not an essential feature in their lives. In Europe and South America and all other footballing nations, football is an integral feature of the culture of the country. The football clubs have an intimate relationship with the people in the city or locality. Football fans travel miles every matchday to watch their teams play and scream their hearts out. For many many of those fans, it is the highlight of their week. Travelling to watch their teams play is as natural as drinking water and having food. That is simply not the case in India, where people have different priorities and interests.

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Such a footballing culture where football fans share an intimate relationship with the team they support is not built during the course of a day. It takes decades and decades to develop a culture where football is much more than just a sport, it is their entire life for some fans. But developing such a culture has to begin from somewhere. And that will begin with a massive investment in creating an adequate infrastructure where a football club is firmly associated with the culture of the city.

Let’s take a look at Kolkata for example. It can be safely concluded that Kolkata is the footballing capital of India. The derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan is one of the most fiercely fought derbies in the entire world. And the atmosphere in the stadiums during the matches is absolutely breathtaking. East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are deeply rooted in the history of the city. And such an intimate relationship was not built in a day, it took years and years for such a relationship to emerge. Such connections inspire even people who are not fans of the sport to throng to the stadiums to watch the spectacle at display.

One could argue that the reason why football fans don’t throng to stadiums to watch the national team play is that the team hasn’t been able to build an intimate relationship with the fans over the years. With Sunil Chhetri’s appeal, however, things could be headed for a change. More football players need to come forward to establish a relationship with the fans, it could play a pivotal role in increasing the attendance at stadiums. It’s true that many people are not interested in football because the team is very weak, however, before the team can perform at the highest level, there are certain things that need to fall in place. And a massive display of support from fans is crucial towards achieving those goals.

To those who love the sport but haven’t been inspired enough to mark their presence in the ground, I implore them to visit the stadiums to watch the teams play. I still remember my first trip to the ground, it was the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan derby. And it was one of the experiences that I could never forget. Hordes of fans in the colours of the team they support, flags flying high, deafening roars of the crowd accompanied by the loud beating of drums, it was one of the experiences that stay fresh in your memory forever. And believe me when I say, if you do not experience that once in your life, you are missing out on a lot.

Of course, the level of football is nowhere close to that in European leagues. But there’s a certain joy in watching the Indian national team or the clubs play because at the end of the day it’s your team or one based in your city or country. For Indian football to truly emerge on the global scene, the participation of the fans is absolutely essential. European football leagues are vastly popular in India. However, to ensure that Indian football starts improving consistently on the international scene, it is absolutely imperative that we start demanding more from our players and from the establishment. And how can we, as fans, expect to be taken seriously if we aren’t even motivated enough to go to the stadiums to watch our team play?

Many of us go to movies with our friends on weekends to have a good time. We could easily make it a point to instead go watch the local team play at least once a month. If we are fans of football, we could surely do that, couldn’t we? The movies may not always be good but in football, you are always guaranteed entertainment. Moreover, I have seen many football fans complain about the lack of investment in Indian football and the lack of infrastructure. To them I say, if you are not serious enough about the sport to go watch your team play on a regular basis, how can you expect others to be serious enough about it to actually invest their money on it?

One of my friends who has played football professionally in Kolkata in the 2nd division says it’s essential for fans to be present at the ground. “It’s the job of the fans to keep their players motivated and to do that they have to be present at the stadium and cheering for the team,” he says. He went on to add, “A team is not complete without their fans and the players must feel valued and feel that they belong there. And it’s the fans who create this sense of belonging. Even winning in an empty stadium reflects poorly on the team as a unit.”

Dear football fans, it’s time to go to the stadiums to support our national team and the clubs so that a culture can be developed which ensures that India rises to become a footballing powerhouse in the decades to come.

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