By 11 Gunners
When David Beckham curled one of his trademark free kicks at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, little he would have known that a nation was awakening into a sporting renaissance of sorts.
The day was 18th August and the year was 2001, when Premier League games were being aired Live for the first time in the Indian Sub-Continent. It triggered a paradigm shift in the way Sports and Football in particular was followed in these lands.
Cricket had always been the mainstay for the Indian audience, and you cannot argue with that considering the heritage we have inherited. Football’s domain, till then had been restricted to its showcase event, The World Cup. When the Premier League flooded the Indian market, its colors, vibrancy, fervor and passion caught the eye of one and all including a bunch of enthusiastic teenagers in the city of Patna.
Yes, I am referring to Us, the founders of 11Gunners. Mere students, (to-be-engineers precisely), the impact the Premier League had on us grew meteorically and soon our lives became synonymous with the League and to be more exact, Arsenal. Their fluid and pacy style of attacking football had caught our rapt attention and we knew of nothing else that could entertain us for 90 minutes the way Arsenal could.
And since then, following Arsenal has transformed from being a hobby, to a passion to a ritual. Even today, no matter where we are or what we are doing, we always strive to make arrangements to follow the game either on text or tube, through the internet, television or even a cell phone for that matter.
Simply put, when Arsenal take the field, everything else in life takes a backseat. The journey of being an Arsenal fan has indeed been a gratifying experience right from the glory days of the ‘Henry- Bergkamp’ era to this current crop of ‘Cesc-led’ world beating youngsters.
People ask for reasons which make us so passionate about a foreign club from a foreign land. They ask for our reasons. Well the reasons may vary for starters.
For a Premiership viewer who watches every game from another Continent, it may be the finesse with which the boys pass the ball, and for the Old Granny who lives alone in a one-room dingy in Holloway, it may be the fervour created in the ‘Herbert Chapman Era’ which still refuses to die. The ‘Invincible’ team, Michael Thomas’ last gasp goal at Anfield ‘89, the touch of class by the ‘Iceman’, or Cliff Bastin’s screamer, they may all be reasons.
On a personal note, we worship the ground where Arsene Wenger walks, we rejoiced when Thierry Henry ran through the defences in Santiago Bernabeau, our eyes went moist in unison when Belleti ended the hopes of ruling Europe. Oh, and we were talking reasons, were we not?
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We cannot reason for why we are worshippers of the sacred crest of Arsenal, why we exulted with joy when Van Persie dances past defences in the blink of an eye, why we feel a serene satisfaction when Cesc Fabregas opens up an entire array of defenders with a silken pass, or why we feel a sense of pride when Andrei Arshavin thunders one past the goalkeeper.
These are feelings that transcend words. They are our reasons. Passion knows no boundaries and for us the image of Arsenal Football Club symbolizes exactly that.
There is no cogent explanation for the anxiety we felt when Juan Roman Riquleme has stepped up for the penalty or the sumptuous celebrations that followed Jens Lehmann’s save of that one. We cannot explain why our heartbeats rose when Arsenal trailed Leicester at half time on the final day of that memorable season or why we felt so proud when Patrick Vieira waved the trophy around Highbury and the commentator said:- “The Title and a place in History belongs to Arsenal”!
The history drives us on, the smell of air in Ashburton Grove is magical – almost to mythical dimensions, the Emirates stands like the colosseum of North London, and we know how to play football – the ‘Beautiful Game’. Pass and pass and pass – ‘We Pass Life‘ into Football!
And it is not just us; the other big guns of the Premier League namely Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have a huge and dedicated fan base of their own that follow their club with an undying passion and loyalty. In fact this conflict of interest regularly ignites heated arguments and debates as to who is the best amongst equals. A debate which, we are sure shall continue till the end of time. In general, The Premier League has made massive inroads into the Indian market and a sight of enthusiasts donning their respective club colours in the form of Jerseys, Caps and other accessories, is very common these days. Several kids now prefer playing football over cricket, much to the surprise of the older generation.
The one’s who have chewed on Cricket all their lives. It’s true that the faithful support is constrained to the big four of the Premier League but one believes that clubs like Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa need to prove themselves on the bigger platform before they can make their way into the hearts of the Indian masses.
Coming to the Domestic front, the progress of our own League has been tardy to say the least. Yes, we do have one! The National Football League, which was recently restructured and is now called the I-League. This seems to be an initiative in the right direction with aims to induce more Professionalism. And with one eye on the future, each team is required to maintain an Under-19 development squad.
Yet in all regards, be in terms of Quality, Infrastructure or Investment, we are light-years behind European Football. People are passionate about the regional clubs like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers but it is majorly restricted to the locales these clubs hail from. Primarily West Bengal, Goa and pockets of Kerela, have been dominant but the rest of the country prefers to remain ignorant. One cannot blame them.
The dearth of proper Training Academies, World Class Infrastructure, Sponsorship and Government backing, has affected the progress at large. Our National Team has failed to impress at the bigger stage and lies 138th in the Fifa rankings. Imagine, a Billion people and a rank that poor. The reason is simple:- We haven’t given the sport the attention it deserved and hence have suffered, both in terms of Technical Quality and Physical Prowess, which happen to be a minimum pre-requisite in today’s competitive game.
The only instance we qualified for the World Cup finals was way back in 1950, and had to pull out of it because our players could not comply with FIFA’s demand that all players should be wearing football boots! That event is now History and rationally speaking, it seems unlikely that we will ever get to see the Indian National team earn a place in the biggest extravaganza of the ‘Beautiful Game’.
Not in the near future atleast. Although we did finish 4th in the Melbourne Olympics in ’56 and also won Gold in the ’51 and ’62 Asian Games, the scene now is far from picture perfect.
The change required to overhaul the system needs to transpire at the very grass root level. The initiative needs to be a collaborative one, both from the Indian Football Federation and the top notch European clubs who need to look beyond the potential market that we offer. Training academies set up with the mentorship of personnel from these big clubs can go a long way in changing the current scenario. We have produced quality players in the past, and no doubts why we can’t do that again. The talent is very much there, waiting to get nurtured and be in headed the right direction to produce the goods at the biggest stage, time after another.
There is hope, hope that someday an Indian will wear the hallowed No.14@the Emirates or someday the Indian National Anthem will electrify and reverberate the atmosphere of the World Cup Finals. Hope, that what we live on. For now, being a Gooner is good enough! Keep Gunning everyone..
For details of MAKING THE ARSENAL – the novel about Arsenal in 1910 please visit www.emiratesstadium.info We are now shipping world-wide, and postage prices for across the world are given on our web site. Subscribers to the Arsenal Independent Supporters Assn newsletter should have received further details in this week’s email.
21 November 2009