Football is by nature a very passionate game. The sheer madness of the crowd makes one wonder who is playing and who isn’t. Despite having a population more than the entirety of Europe, us Indians have shown no empathy for our non-cricketing sport stars. Football stars are so neglected in our country that an overwhelming majority of our population would not even be able to recognise a player of the Indian Football Team if they crossed paths. Their love for the game cannot be doubted though; Indian fans go all out to support European clubs and their members. Jerseys of Messi and Ronaldo can be seen on the roads of any metro or even tier-one and tier-two cities in India. The football World Cup is watched all throughout India even though India is yet to participate in one. Why then do we Indians choose not to come out to support players who wear the Indian blue jersey? Why is it that the same crowd which spends thousands to watch an IPL match, does not shell out a few hundred bucks to watch our footballers in action?
The image of Indian football and Indian fans changed overnight on 4th of June at the Mumbai Football Arena in Mumbai. India beat Kenya 3-0, as Sunil Chhetri netted twice in the Intercontinental Cup which is being hosted by India. India had earlier beaten Chinese Taipei a couple days earlier, 5-0 at the same venue, with far lesser people cheering for the Indian captain Sunil Chhetri as he netted his first hat-trick in the blue jersey.
It was not the hat-trick which made people flood the stadiums on Monday though, it was a video message shared by Sunil Chhetri himself which sparked off the chain of events. The message shared on Twitter escalated quickly and struck home with Indian sports icons and fans alike. From Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli, to the ardent sports enthusiasts (not just football), the message was shared widely and Sunil Chhetri’s heartfelt plea to the Indian fans to “Come to the stadium, do it in our face, scream at us, shout at us, abuse us” was backed by Indians. The spectacle on the pitch was no different than any other match which Indian football team has played in the recent times. Kenya dominated the first half, but what encouraged the Indian side were the full stands that shouted and cheered on the men in Blue.
This is nothing but a small plea from me to you. Take out a little time and give me a listen. pic.twitter.com/fcOA3qPH8i
— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) June 2, 2018
Sunil Chhetri’s message hit the bull’s eye; it targeted the hearts rather than the minds of his compatriots. The sold out tickets and the full stadium ebbing in flow showed the power of the message shared by Sunil Chhetri. Chhetri and his teammates no doubt deserve praise for winning the match, but they also deserve a standing ovation for bringing people to the stadium by any means necessary. The Indian football team is going to play two more matches in the same stadium in the coming days and they deserve a full house to encourage and motivate them on the pitch.
Stadiums in your cities should not remain empty if the Indian football team is playing in your city, we should remember that stars are made and not born. Of course, cheer for your European clubs and whichever country you support in the soon to be held World Cup in Russia. Just remember if we continue to neglect Indian football as we have in the past, our future generations will keep using the same “Indian football is nothing in comparison to European leagues” excuse. Indian football needs you, Sunil Chhetri needs you and so do our future generations which will otherwise blame us for neglecting the most beautiful game in our beautiful country.