Who doesn’t love fairy tales? The good, the underdog overcoming the odds against the powerful. Fairy tales give you hope, belief that when odds are stacked against you, victory is not too far either. But the problem with fairy tales is, that they are fairy tales. You want to believe that David will beat Goliath, but the power of money, especially in sports like Football is hard to overcome. Year after year, season after season you see the rich and the powerful steamroll over clubs with lesser money but with a whole lot of grit. The essence of this beautiful game is in the love, the romance of the game. You can’t but fall in love with this game, feel for the clubs you support, and root for the underdogs.
The world witnessed a fairy tale in Leicester City winning the 2015-16 season of English Premier League. From almost relegated to champions of England in a year was no mean feat, and we all celebrated with them, we all popped the bottle along with Ranieri and co. This year they defended their title, how good or bad their campaign was, is a different question. The thing to note here is, that they got a fair shot at defending their title, you know, how things usually work in a normal functioning system? India has starved for footballing greatness. It’s baffling how a 1.2 billion people strong country can’t regularly produce a world-class team consistently, surely lack of talent isn’t the reason. The top-division of Indian football, the Hero I-League has been a mishmash of a tournament in its history. The rules of promotion and relegation haven’t been concrete, and AIFF’s mission to dissolve I-League into ISL (Indian Super League) with some warped rules has become a thorn in the eyes of football purists.
ISL is without a doubt the money-minting option for footballers in India, being backed by some of the wealthiest people in the country, and run by one of the richest companies in the country. Coming back to I-League, we saw a Leicester City spin-off this year as Aizawl FC became champions of India. From relegation last season to champions this year, Aizawl FC gave us one more reason to fall in love with the beautiful game.
One of the fundamentals of the sport is the integrity with which players, teams and associations conduct themselves. By no means am I saying that football is the cleanest sport in the world (*cough* Sepp Blatter *cough*). But to tolerate bullying in the name of “development” is unacceptable. As it stands, Aizawl FC may never get a fair shot at defending their title of ‘Champions of India’, forget that, they may not play in the premier division of Indian Football in the years to come. A club with a history and fans like Aizawl FC, deserve to be treated like champions, not just another club who isn’t backed by money.
I write this, not as a fan of Aizawl FC, because honestly, I’ve never seen them live, but as a fan of the greatest sport there is. To read about AFC fans cleaning the stadium after championship celebration fills my heart with pride and privilege to be a fan of this game, where people supporting a club make it a part of their lives. They eat, breathe and live their club. But it’s high time someone calls spade a spade in this industry, and do something about the blatant bullying that is being carried out by AIFF and Reliance. Someone needs to tell the authorities, that if only money drove this sport, the world wouldn’t have witnessed a Leicester City or Aizawl FC triumph. What drives this sport, is the emotion, the grit and the desire to be great, not rich, but great! As we talk about the bullies of Indian football, their main agenda is to have money-filled teams playing in the top division, with no relegation/promotion for the next ten years. TEN YEARS! How ridiculously inclined toward money can you be?
To shield behind “development”, and not do anything about it, in a nutshell, is a cowardly move. Mr Patel needs to realise that the fans won’t fall for the jargon, that hides the fact that his main concern is to pander to the money pumping stakeholders. He needs to know that the biggest stakeholders of any sport, are the fans. Without the fans, the money you invest won’t yield a penny.
I surely can’t be the only one affected by this, right? I have never done something like this, and I am only doing this because of my love for the beautiful game, and the passion I share for the club I love and adore. I’m writing this because I feel angry, angry because of the way football is being treated in our country. We need to get a conversation started and make everyone, irrespective of whether they like or play or watch the sport, angry about what’s happening. AIFF needs to know that they can’t get away with letting a private entity decide who is our champion and who isn’t. Don’t let trigger-happy authorities of this country get away with a blasphemous decision that will ruin many a great club with a history so rich that puts money pumped ISL clubs to shame. Stand up for what is right, voice your anger and let us treat the champs with respect! #AizawlFC #AIFFGrowASpine #BackTheChamps #ForTheloveOfTheGame #IStandWithAizawl