The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Even with the kind of popularity that football enjoys in India, information about the game has always been limited to the archives of newspapers, and anecdotes or statistical information in journals like the Durand Annual, available to only a few. Historical changes shaping the game were only recorded in Bengali books, thus depriving many from gaining insights. But in the end, it is a Bengali journalist who has broken the limbo with Stories From Indian Football. Jaydeep Basu has avoided nostalgia and hearsay, basing his research on newspaper archives and available books on football. An additionally useful source of information has been hours of conversation with former footballers and coaches, gaining priceless tidbits in the process.

Basu has used old newspaper reports to embellish his narrative. For instance, he quotes the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug and the Belgrade sports journal Nas Sports to write about the events after Yugoslavia destroyed the bare-footed Indian team, 10-1, in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. India’s deficiencies got highlighted by the Yugoslav media. The debacle that followed aroused the All India Football Federation from its slumber. Boots were made compulsory in all competitions and a 90 minute game was also introduced.

In thirteen lucidly written chapters, Basu narrates the major events in Indian football for over a century. It includes the triumphs of clubs, India’s successes in the Asian Games, Asia Cup, Merdeka tournament and the Olympics. He has also delved into the hidden agendas and histories in all these epochal moments of Indian football. One interesting example is how and why the Hyderabad Police defender S.A. Azizuddin was denied the honour of being captain of India in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Appropriately titled “Immortal Eleven”, the opening chapter is on Mohun Bagan’s triumph in the 1911 IFA Shield. The players’ backgrounds and the rise of Mohun Bagan as a premier football club are well documented. So is the final against the East Yorkshire Regiment as a shadow war against the British Empire. However the most memorable chapters are “The Great Run” on Mohammedan Sporting’s historic triumphs, “Rahim Sahib”, an extensive account of India’s most successful coach and “Darkness at Noon”, dealing with the walk-out from the national camp for the 1982 Asiad by 21 leading players. This was the culmination of a process in the Seventies, when star players were lured by financial rewards and opted for club instead of country.

Rahim’s biographical sketch reflects his eye for talent, how he had selected an unknown 20-year defender, Arun Ghosh, after watching him curb Mohammedan Sporting’s Moosa and Oomer in the 1959 Durand finals. He believed in discipline, but not regimentation. Rahim’s tactical acumen is revealed during the 1962 Asiad. Jarnail Singh got injured in a league match against Thailand and as no substitutions were allowed in those days, India had to play with ten players. Rahim cleverly switched Tulsidas Balaram to midfield and Arun Ghosh to central defender. Both performed splendidly and India won the match 4-1.

The final chapters have profiles of star players and documentation of important results of the national team. Basu’s book will enhance the image of Indian football, much like the East Bengal’s triumph in the ASEAN championships has.

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