It is that time of the football calendar when fans from Berlin to Bhopal will don the jerseys of their favourite team colours. India has a veritable population of football fanatics, and all of them put club rivalries aside, to back their favourite team for the FIFA World Cup.
Some worship Brazil, having witnessed the magic provided by Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, while others are more recent inductees into the beautiful game, and idolise Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
One thing is common among all the fans—the desire to see India perform on the world stage.
Well, that dream almost came to fruition, in 1950. During that year, India had qualified for the FIFA World Cup, which was scheduled to take place in Brazil. So, what happened?
Well, the team did not set foot on the turf, and there are various reasons why. One popular and ridiculous theory is that the team wanted to play barefoot, and were disallowed.
Well, that isn’t true. Here’s what allegedly happened.
This was the first World Cup after the Second World War. Nations had been through hell, with complete cities razed to the ground, and this led to a lot of teams withdrawing, due to international sanctions. Scotland, France, and Czechoslovakia pulled out, thereby reducing the count of the total number of participating teams to just 13.
Seeing that there wasn’t a single team from Asia participating in the tournament, Brazil’s football federation got in touch with the All India Football Federation and asked them to send their team to take part in the World Cup. The Brazilian authorities reportedly offered to take care of India’s expenses during the World Cup.
India never confirmed nor withdrew, but, when the event kicked off, India’s team wasn’t around.
What happened? Why did they not turn up?
In the 1948 Olympics, India had impressed the world, with a good show. What was more surprising, that most of the players played barefoot, while some wore socks. For a fledgeling nation, this first international tournament since Independence was a big deal!
According to an Indiatimes report, FIFA told India that they would have to wear shoes for the World Cup, and this did not go down too well with the team.
However, according to Sailen Manna, who was widely considered to be one of the best defenders India has ever produced, this was untrue, and the real reason was that AIFF was not taking the World Cup as seriously as the Olympics.
According to the Free Press Journal, Manna, who would have led India in the tournament, said that the barefoot excuse was being used by the AIFF, to cover up real reasons why they decided not to travel to Brazil.
The AIFF also cited other reasons such as travel costs, lack of practice time, inadequate forex reserves, and a long, daunting ship voyage to Brazil that the team was reportedly not prepared for.
Whatever the reason might have been, it has been 68 years, and we are still waiting for India to come close to qualifying for another World Cup. Whether it was the AIFF’s oversight or not, we will never know.
Football has been on the rise in India, in the recent past. The ISL has also seen the popularity of the sport rise among the masses.
With the proper support and infrastructure, and of course, the backing of the fans and the country, India might one day, have a team on the world stage. Till then, Indians will have to be content buying German, Brazilian and Argentinian jerseys, to satiate their football thirst.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)