Yes. our new territory is India

By Tony Attwood

If you have not read the excellent article about supporting Arsenal from a distance, I would urge you to read it now, before moving on to this, my epilogue to that story.

I was first told that Arsenal were going to target India as a market about five years ago, but at the time I was asked to lay off repeating the story for a while – which is what I have done.

Since then we have heard that Arsenal are setting up 75 training schools in India, working with partners that can help set up the schools in all the major centres.

The partnership involves Arsenal providing training and expertise for coaches who will in turn train interested children in the game. Arsenal players will also be brought to India during the summer to participate in matches with local teams.

So the project is far enough advanced for it to be an open discussion. Indeed even Sepp Blatter seems to realise the potential – he described India as  “a sleeping giant of world football.”  If Blatter knows it, then its an open story.

Certainly the involvement of Robert Pires and Freddie Ljunberg in the Indian Super League was more than coincidence – even if Robert did manage to get himself sent off.

The Super League involved eight teams, and was a highly successful attempt to continue to promote football as a sport that India should be engaged in.  That the teams incorporated European stars who were past their prime was undoubtedly true, but still, it brought European football to India – and everything starts somewhere.

As I understand it, the Indian Super League involves Star India *(the satellite channel owned by Murdoch), IMG and Reliance.  As such it is getting a kick start in a way that was similar to the boost that Sky (owned by Murdoch) gave the Premier League a push back in the days of analogue TV.

For the league season Robert Pires was joined by Alessandro Del Piero, Luis Garcia, Nic Anelka, Freddie Ljungberg, Alessandro Nesta and others of that ilk.  Mumbai City was managed by a very wrinkled looking Peter Reid.  David James was also there as a manager

The result of the tournament, from what I saw, was much more than the kick around by oldies out to make yet more cash as some predicted… certainly the skills were comparable with League One or the Championship, and the crowds averaged 25,000, which is the highest of any Asian domestic league (although of course the season was short).

But most of all the fact is that Atletico de Kolkata v Mumbai FC, got a TV audience of 74.7 million, by far the highest for any match in India.   Atletico de Kolkata are part owned by Atletico Madrid, and they are building an academy in Kolkata. Chennaiyin FC are owned in part by Internazionale who are building an academy.   Marco Materazzi managed one of the ISL teams this season.

And here’s a stat that I find amazing – and really puts everything in perspective: the first week of the Indian Super League was watched by a total audience of 170 million. The first week of the Brazil World Cup got an audience of 87.6 million.

Shall I run that again: the ISL league of ex-players got double the TV audience in week one of the World Cup.

Our Robert playing for Goa FC

And where football is, so are the marketing teams – and they are the guys doing the talking.  They talk of support in India for Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.  Manchester City and Tottenham H are not figuring – from what I am told, but maybe they have additional plans – after all Man C’s owners can buy as many clubs as they want at the drop of a oil rig.

As our report from Arsenal 13 revealed, the top Premier League games from England are broadcast live in India, and reaches an annual audience of over 150 million.

All top-level English games are televised live in India and each week around two million people in the country engage with the Premier League on social media. According to one Indian TV industry report, last year England’s top football competition reached 155 million viewers.

The worldwide TV audience for Premier League games is 4.7bn across over 650 million homes via what is known as the Premier League Content Service.  This provides international broadcasters with round the clock programming of live matches, live studio analysis (yawn yawn for the most part), news, archive and recorded programming across the various time zones.  So India is a huge bit of this market.

Here is another factoid.  The World Bank did a survey (I am not sure why, but they did) which says that 42 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion adult population say they are football fans. The pay-TV audience in the country is around 600 million.

However, the one thing we utterly don’t want India to learn from England is what to do about grass roots football.  Ours is falling apart, the FA are making excuses and putting forward grand schemes without funding, and matters are getting worse day by day (see my many previous articles on the subject for details).  But India on Track promises a lot – and Arsenal are part of that.

I do hope that Arsenal 13 who contributed the previous article (or indeed any other Untold readers in India) can a) correct the misunderstandings I have about football in India at the moment – after all I am writing this in England, not India, and b) update us on any moves they see by Arsenal to become part of the Indian football scene.   If you want to know about Arsenal’s involvement in India thus far it is here.

As for the Arsenal match in India – well, let’s wait and see.  The story is that this summer Arsenal will play FC Goa (where Robert played) and Mumbai City (where Freddie played).

Classic Untold – breaking the stories that others won’t touch.

Corruption is a foreign thing

Something rather strange on the far side of football

Untold Index

31 Replies to “Yes. our new territory is India”

  1. This post only goes to emphasise that the vast majority of Arsenal supporters live outside the UK, will never visit the Emirates Stadium and are unlikely to ever see their heroes in the flesh.
    Fickle, dispirited local Arsenal fans, THINK ON.

  2. I spent three months in Kolkatta working at a school for street children. The kids were cricket mad closely followed by football. They all wore Barca or Argentine shirts, Messi was their Geri. When Argentiba played a friendly in the city it was rumoured 120,000 got into a ground designed to take 80,000. I told them I supported Arsenal and they looked at me in puzzlement. League games regularly get 60,000 crowds for football of lower Championship standard. It is a fertile market but please please don’t see it as a money tree. India deserves better than grasping Blatter.

  3. Nicky , lucky for them that they are not paying top dollar for tickets to watch total dross eh they might become fickle

  4. It’s the money aspect that worries me as football looks for any means to fill it’s coffers . It may be a fledgling at the moment but as soon as the bird is plumped up and ready for the table , just watch the predators swoop for their pounds of flesh.

  5. I believe I forwarded a URL to UA in the last few weeks, that India was going to get referees trained by The FA (and PGMO?). I remarked that I thought that was a horrible idea.

    But, those are surprisingly big numbers.

  6. Tony,

    In his 1849 poem “El Dorado,” writer Edgar Allan Poe offers an eerie and eloquent suggestion: “Over the Mountains of the Moon, down the Valley of the Shadow, ride, boldly ride…if you seek for El Dorado.”

    Perhaps the English Premier League, has found it’s own specie of El Dorado?

  7. O/T

    On the previous Arsenal-Newcastle Ref Review, nicky commented this
    “I’ve often wondered what the duties are for the fourth official”
    I’ve always wondered also.
    Does anybody know if, during a match the “4th Official speaking to the TV floor manager” is one of his duties?

    Howard Webb Interviews on FAtv

    “I was up at Sunderland, they played Manchester United and of course, at the same time, Manchester City were playing Queens Park Rangers, down in Machester….And I was aware what was happening, you know, we’ve got a Radio Communication System, so you are aware of what was happening elsewhere, aswell from the 4th Official speaking to the TV floor manager aswell, so you are aware of what was happening……when i blew the fulltime whistle Machester United won the league for a few seconds…..”

  8. I used to play for Shivajinas in a city called Pune which is 60 miles from Mumbai. Now they are called DSK Shivajinas and the a Liverpool academy. When I asked the manager why not Arsenal, he said that they approached AFC 1st but they responded but when they went to Liverpool they went ahead and now there are coach exchanges etc. I was devastated. Didn’t Lady Nina say that she wanted AFC to invest in India but never got the right response.

  9. The thing about India and its growing sports interests is the corruption and primacy of cricket. The kids and young adults could become as good as any european player with proper training and coaching and they are very avid and quick learners. I spent 5 weeks in Bhopal looking at opening up a school and while it was not practical at that time,I thoroughly enjoyed and was impressed with the Indian mentality and ability to learn.
    I say corruption because I couldn’t speak to anyone in authority or control in Bhopal or Delhi without a bribe or two being expected. However the potential is enormous and more power to the Arsenal if they can establish themselves there. The Asian market is fertile and underdeveloped but it also where the biggest gambling syndicates are so rest assured there will be corruption.

  10. @Jim

    In relation to your comments about paying top dollar to watch dross …

    My ticket for tomorrow’s FA Cup match is costing me £26. Not cheap, but certainly not top dollar.

    I’ve never watched dross at an Arsenal match, and I don’t expect to do so tomorrow.

  11. India is still fixated by cricket..of that there is not much doubt. But football has come up and the BPL is big there. Its primarily United of course and plenty of Chelsea fans all of a sudden. I wonder why :). Possibly even Liverpool… and maybe then its Arsenal.

    It’ll probably take someone from India playing for a big club to really really kick it off. There were 2 as far as I remember: Bhutia for FC Bury and Sunil Chhetri who apparently played in the MLS, after trying for QPR (and a work permit failing).

    Those numbers are interesting though – attendance wise. If they can do something even close to the IPL in cricket, it’ll be great.

  12. @gouresh: That’s awful. I wonder why, specially with a manager as perceptive as AW at the helm who would have seen potential if there was some. When did this incident occur btw?

    @omgarsenal: That’s unfortunately true. Everything in India needs a bribe. People are trying to change things these days, with more awareness to the illiterate people on the street – but its very hard. Maybe some day…

  13. @Arvind. This happened about 3-4 yrs ago. Now its called DSk Shivajians Liverpool Football Academy.

  14. Thanks Gouresh. That’s so strange, 3-4 years ago – surely we knew about the Asian market, considering we were doing pre-season tours there? Oh well. Maybe after the ISL…things will change? Specially coz Freddie and Pires went and played too. How big a hit was the ISL btw? I haven’t watched much football at all for a while.

  15. And i Just looked at the teams…and there was a team called “North East United”. Good grief. I think that says it all… as to which team is dominant here 🙁

  16. Arvind you could always get a team called Chennai Gunners after all that’s where Rotyal Enfield are now based.

  17. I’d like to know why India so quickly took to cricket, but it’s taken them this long to accept the equally English game of football. As far as I know, they still haven’t taken to rugby, unlike such Empire-now-Commonwealth nations as Australia and South Africa; even Canada, whose version of football is 95 percent the same as America’s, likes football/soccer and rugby more.

  18. UncleMike: I think…and this is my very uninformed, non stat backed opinion… is that maybe the British played cricket here when they were ruling us, and the foundations for the game were sort of more deeply entrenched. And over time, as we became bigger financially, it started spreading… and became about – ‘How much can we earn from this?’ .. and accordingly it was backed.

    No other sport is backed as much. When people get fed up of cricket, which should be in some 10 years I think… once T20 cricket has been overdone to its limit…. other sport will get a *real* look in.

    Again, just my opinion and I could be very wrong.

  19. I’m an Indian but was born in Malaysia. My dad always tell me that cricket will always be the heart beat of India. So, I would suggest that don’t try to replace cricket with football, as it will never be allowed to happens. Just try to slot it in as secondary sports and keep it interesting. Such tactics worked in US, now soccer is very popular there.

  20. @Uncle Mike,
    In the pre-WW2 days of the Raj, the “upper class” Briton recruited into the Indian Civil Service, would have regarded cricket as the main sport for the high temperatures in India (or perhaps a gentle round or two of golf).
    Of an evening, billiards or snooker.
    I played football in the Army in various parts of the sub continent and in Ceylon, at various times of the year and found it extremely tiring in the heat, requiring much water at pitch-side!

  21. Let me also add. Back in the days, cricket was played by the British generals and the upper-class. The prince’s who were sent to England to study in oxford or Cambridge picked this and brought this back. Teams were formed which included the local British people, the generals and the princes playing against their principalities. Initially they were friendly, then they would bet which involved money and since prince had plenty it got serious. Ie they formed an association. The common man saw this and wanted to copy the elite, hence it’s popularity. Football was introduced in India and into Calcutta, or now Kolkata, as the garrison was based there and mainly for the fitness. Hence its so popular there. Goa was ruled by the Portuguese till ’64 hence football is the 1st game there. Rugby never picked up as its a contact sport and Indians don’t like it also the body structure is not suitable. Although its gaining ground but very very slowly.

  22. In 1950 England played a friendly with a Kolkata team called Mohan Bagan, one of the most successful teams on India and lost. The players played barefoot and the England coach said that in India continues like this, it will be a dominant the footballing world. I think India was ranked 5th in the world that time. Unfortunately the game went professional and since 1947 building the country was important the game lost as there was no money, no sponsor. Cricket did not face this as by that time there was a hell of a lot money due to the comment above.

  23. Good article mate. I’m a Gooner living in India and a member of the AMSC (Arsenal Mumbai Supporters Club) which is officially recognised by the Arsenal. The root problem in India is that cricket has grown to such an extent that it has affected every other sport. And FYI Hockey is our national sport but I’d bet that almost 90% of our sport following population won’t be able to name the Hockey playing 11. Cricket is privatised here and the money flows thick and fast. Other sports don’t get much coverage only because of cricket and ignorance. Football is slowly growing and I find the ISL to be a good initiative. With Arsenal coming here it would really be a big boost. Setting up an academy will do wonders. Pretty much sure that if football gets adequate coverage here then it will become popular.

  24. @Gouresh,
    I played football against an East Africa Regiment XI who went bare-footed.
    A cringing experience.

  25. India didn’t take to cricket quickly. It took Britain a hundred years to learn the culinary arts while pillaging the wealth, exploiting the bicycle markets & teaching the game of sophisticated fair play called cricket. Goa was ruled by the Portuguese forr over 400 years till 1961 & football was more popular than cricket. There are pockets of India where football is more popular. Cricket is better exploited & rewards are life changing.

    Here the way football is being sold in India ‘let’s football’ is cute. It will catch on with some kids but the robust tackle is not going to give it a fair chance.

    It is why in UK the intelligent Indian kids prefer games that do not injure or the family business. The officiating at grass roots is also pathetic & racist. I state this because I have seen some myself & have lots of friends who have had to play through it. I do not want to go into detail because it shakes too many trees.

  26. Bdw i am from india and i am a arsenal fan from heart as well i follow all arsenal blogs and yours is one of it ..!

  27. To be honest, I am surprised. Some numbers that Tony has presented here about ISL.
    But then, should I be. The pro kabaddi league generated huge interest among the sport loving crowd here.

    But I don’t like what’s happening, the ISL. Its like the IPL of the footballing world. Lots of money thrown around. There is this talk of grassroots development. But therz also another thing to consider. The I-league. Its the top division of the Indian football system. Has 10 teams! And lasts only 3 months!…
    Those 10 teams have top Indian names like, Dempo, Salgaokar, mohan Bagan, east bengal.
    Now why didn’t the prompters of ISL invest in the i-league? Why start a rival holiday league. Why not help i-league grow into 20 teams.

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