Nagendra Prasad Sarbahdhikri is a name India will never forget. He is the reason India still has football close to heart. Football though was introduced in India by the British soldiers who played it during the British era in the Country. However, Nagendra Prasad Sarbahdhikri who was a teenager then, was the reason the game stayed back. He is thus, also known as the father of Indian football.
Nagendra Prasad Sarbahdhikri – Father of the Indian Football
In September 1877, when Nagendra Prasad was returning home with his mother on a horse-drawn carriage, he stepped down with amusement watching the British soldiers play a different game. Just then; the ball hit him and what followed was the voice of the soldiers asking him to hit the ball back, by kicking it.
This was the definitive moment when the football was played by, kicked by to be specific, by an Indian. Once back to his school – Hare school, in Kolkata, Sarbahdhikri convinced his friends to play the game with him. The boys gathered loads of curious crowd that would travel kms to just watch the boys play. Among the crowd gathered; there was a Presidency College Professor, G.A Stack who realized that the ball boys were playing with was a rugby ball instead of the football. This is when he decided to gift the boys a football and seeing their curiosity; started teaching them the basics of football. This was the beginning of the football era in India.
At a young age of 10 years, Nagendra Prasad became the shining light in Indian football. He started representing his school team as center-forward and actively participated in matches against different school and college teams. Ever since then; it has been all about football – Clubs, leagues, teams, players so much so that various academies have been set up across the Country for football. During the 50s and 60s Indian football team was considered one of the best teams in Asia. And before you wonder if this is true; in 1950 FIFA world cup, Indian team qualified after a commendable game.
Interested in reading more? Let’s move forward to tell you about the three Hidden gems of the game – Players.
The 3 Hidden Gems in Indian Football
Most of you are aware of international footballers – David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and others; but do you know the name of hidden gems in Indian football? Not many isn’t it? Let us have the privilege of introducing them to you.
- Sunil Chhetri – The Goal Machine
- He is known as Indian Messi
- He is the Current captain of the Indian football team
- The 34-year-old player was born in Hyderabad
- Sunil represents India on the International level
- He plays as Striker center-forward
- He played his debut match in 2002
- He plays for Bengaluru FC and has previously played for Mumbai CityHe is the most expensive Indian player at ISL Auctions with Rs. 1.2 Cr bid value.
- In 2010, Chettri was signed for the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer
- Chettri has also played for Clube de Portugal of the Primeira Liga (B side)
- He recently broke David Villa’s record of 59 goals He is the most capped player
- He is also the all time top goal scorer for the Indian national team (56 goals in 97 games)
- He helped India win the Nehru Cup in 2007,2009 and 2012 respectively
- He won the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Player of the Year award in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2014 respectively
- He is Arjuna award winner
- He ranks 5th in Scoring highest goals
- He ranks 97th in the FIFA world ranking
- He ranks 15th in the Asia ranking
- As per Forbes Indian Celebrity ranking, Sunil ranks 100
- Bhaichung Bhutia – God’s gift to Indian football
- He is the former captain of Indian football team
- The 41-year-old player was born in Sikkim
- Bhaichung is popularly called the Sikkim Snipper due to his amazing shooting skills
- He has had a 16 year long international career
- He played for Bury F.C. in 1999
- He played for Malaysian Club – Perak FC in 2003
- The Sikkim govt has built a stadium on his name in Namchi
- He won the best player in 1992 Subroto Cup
- He was the youngest goal scorer for India in 1995
- He was also the top scorer of the Calcutta Super division in 1995
- He was named Indian player of the year in 1996
- He was the top scorer of the first National football league 1996-97
- He was the top scorer of the First Asian Championship 2003
- He was awarded the Sikkim State Award (1999) and Arjuna Award, in the same year
- Gurpreet Singh Sandhu – The Trailblazer
- This 6ft 3inch tall Indian is a professional footballer
- He plays as the goalkeeper for the Indian team
- Sandhu began is career in 2010 with East Bengal
- He was named the Captain of the India national team for the friendly match against Puerto Rico
- He currently plays for Bengaluru F.C in Indian Superleague
- He has played at various cups including the Federation cup, and the AFC Cup.
- He signed for Norwegian top division club Stabaek in 2014
- Won gold at the 2011 SAFF Championship
- Won gold at the 2015 SAFF Championship
- He became the first Indian footballer to play in a European top division league by debuting in the Norwegian Tippeligaen in 2016
- Once again in 2016, he played for Stabaek in a UEFA Europa League, first qualifying match, to become the first Indian footballer to play in a European continental competition.
Major Leagues in India
Indian Super League
First season played in: 2014
This one probably Is known to most. Abbreviated as ISL, the league was founded on 21st October 2013 under the partnership of IMG, Reliance Industries, and Star India; with support from All India Football Federation (AIFF) The founders launched the league with the vision of making India a global football power. They also want the football to gain popularity in the Country so much so that the Indian football team qualifies for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
As per the official website, the mission of the founders was to provide an entertaining and high-quality football league that engages hundreds of millions of fans, drives improvement in playing standards and delivers value for all partners.
The ISL like any other football league is a competition between various clubs and ISL is played by the most renowned clubs in the Country.
Renowned Clubs which play ISL
The various clubs playing the league ever since its commencement are:
- ATK (formerly known as Atletico de Kolkata)
Based in: Kolkata
Owners: Kolkata Games and Sports Pvt. Ltd (Sourav Ganguly, Harshvardhan Neotia, Sanjiv Goenka, Utsav Parekh)
The team was initially co-owned by Spain league club – Atletico Madrid. Later Atletico Madrid’s stake was taken over by Sanjiv Goenka and the team was thus christened from Atletico de Kolkata to ATK.
Home Stadium: Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata
Club Achievements: ATK won the first season of ISL against Mumbai city with 3-0.
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Striker Iain Hume, Winger Sameehg Doutie, Defender Tiri, Former East Bengal captain Lalrindika Ralte.
Did you know? With a purchase value of Rs.18 crores; ATK is the most expensive ISL franchisee
- Bengaluru FC
Based in: Bengaluru
Owners: JSW Group
Home Stadium: Sree Kanteerava Stadium
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Current national football team captain Sunil Chhetri, Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Defender Subhasish.
- Chennaiyin FC
Based in: Chennai
Owners: Abhishek Bachchan, MS Dhoni, Vita Dani
Home Stadium: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Club Achievements: The Club won ISL Seasons twice with their first win in 2015 and next in 2017-18.
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Jayesh Rane, Dhanachandra Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Harmanjot Khabra.
Did you know? Chennaiyin FC enjoys healthy rivalries with its neighboring state clubs – Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters. Due to this; any match between the trio is referred as “The Southern Derby”
- Delhi Dynamos FC
Based in: Delhi
Owners: GMS Shipping
Home Stadium: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Ruben Gonzalez, Romeo Fernandes, Roberto Carlos, Marcelinho, and Robin Singh.
Did you know? Delhi Dynamos home stadium name is same as that of Chennaiyin FC even though the location is different? Same implies for Kerala Blasters FC. All three teams have stadiums named Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in their respective cities.
- FC Goa
Based in: Goa
Founded by: Dattaraj Salgaocar and Shrinivas Dempo
Owners: Goan Football Club Pvt. Ltd
Home Stadium: Fatorda Stadium
Club Achievements: The Club has been capable but somewhat destiny has never favoured them. During the debut ISL Season, they finished the league state in 2nd position after losing via a penalty shootout against ATK in the semi-finals. In the second season of ISL, the club came up to the league stage but lost the final to Chennaiyin FC.
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: French winger Robert Pires, defender Lucio, Ruben Gonzalez, Romeo Fernandes, and Roberto Carlos.
Did you know? Goa is the only state/UT in the Country to declare football as its official sport.
- FC Pune City
Based in: Pune
Owners: Rajesh Wadhawan Group (Mr. Kapil Wadhawan and Mr. Dheeraj Wadhawan) and Indian Actor Arjun Kapoor
Home Stadium: Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Emiliano Alfaro, Iceland legend Eidur Gudjohnsen, Former Liverpool midfielder Momo Sissoko, and goal-keeper Vishal Kaith.
Did you know? FC Pune City became the only professional football club in India to have teams which participated at all levels of professional football.
- Jamshedpur FC
Based in: Jamshedpur
Owners: Tata Steel
Home Stadium: JRD Tata Sports Complex
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Emerson Moura, Trinade Goncalves, Wellington Priori, and Souvik Chakrabarti.
- Kerala Blasters FC
Owners: Sachin Tendulkar
Home Stadium: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Kervens Belfort, Aaron Hughes, Sandesh Jhingan, Josué Prieto Currias, and Iain Hume.
- Mumbai City FC
Owners: Ranbir Kapoor, Bimal Parekh
Home Stadium: Mumbai Football Arena
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Fredrik Ljungberg, Diego Forlan, Frantz Bertin, and Haitian Sony Norde.
- NorthEast United FC
Based in: Guwahati
Owners: John Abraham
Home Stadium: Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium
Popular Players who have played for the Club previously: Koke, Simao Sabrosa, Bruno Arias, James Keene, and Sanju Pradhan.
Did you know? NorthEast United FC is the first club to represent a region and not a city. It represents 8 north eastern states including Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Mizoram.
In addition to ISL, another popular league held in the Country is I – League.
Also called the National Football League, I- League is has existed since 1996 with its first inaugural edition being held in 1996-97. Just like ISL, I – league is played by various clubs. These are:
- Aizwal Fc
- East Bengal
- Mohun Bagan
- Shillong Lajong
- Chennai City FC
- Churchill brothers FC
- Minerva Punjab FC
- Neroca FC
- Gokulam Kerala FC
- Indian Arrows
Aren’t the team names quit interesting? You will be surprised to know that there are quite a few interesting facts associated with the league too.
- East Bengal has recorded the maximum of 194 wins.
- East Bengal also holds the record of being unbeaten in 22 consecutive matches from 2002 to 2003
- Mohun Bagan recorded the maximum of 10 consecutive wins in 2008-09
- Churchill Brothers have scored the maximum of 623 goals.
Indian Academies for Football Across Country
Even though India has always been in love with Cricket when it comes to football, the craze is same if not more than cricket. Several football academies and training camps are being organized in the Country to help Football frenzy teens and younger kids pursue their passion for the game. A few popular ones in this Category are:
- Premier Indian Football Academy (PIFA)
Located in: Mumbai
Started by the duo Nirvan Shah (Sportsperson) and Anjali Shah (Chairperson of the women’s football committee for Maharashtra) in 2002, PIFA is one the most eminent football coaching academies in the Country.
With a Vision to expose Indian kids to the latest training methods and helping them understand the game technically, PIFA has tied up various school across the globe to get a better knowledge of the game. This partnership lets the academy and its students exchange ideas with other schools.
The academy is affiliated with Mumbai District Football Association, western India Football Association, and Ministry of State for Sports & Youth Development among others. What makes the academy as a top choice for budding footballers is its recognition by FIFA,UEFA, Asian Football Confederation and various other international bodies.
Currently, the academy is only training kids (boys & Girls) aged between 3 to 18 years, residing only in Mumbai.
Centres in Mumbai: Colaba (Youth Team), Churchgate (Men’s team), Worli, Bandra (Toddler), Milan Subway (Advance), Parel (Advance), Santa Cruz (Elite), Mahalaxmi (Elite), Bandra 1 (Advance), Bandra 2 and Chembur.
- Tata Football Academy (TFA)
Located in: Jamshedpur, Jharkhand
Being a sports enthusiast, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata asked his son to thus promote sports in the Country. Thus, JRD Tata established Tata Football Academy – a renowned football training academy, spread across 25,000 sq. ft; large enough to accommodate up to 40 trainees. The Academy includes 2 full size training grass fields.
The academy provides:
- Intensive Training in football
- Facility for formal education
- Facility for Vocational training
- Modern Gymnasium with Instructor
- Interaction with prominent sports personalities
- 2/3 matches with local clubs
- Boarding and lodging facility
- Rooms for Physiotherapy
- Recreational rooms
- Monthly stipend
- Playing kits
- Summer & Winter clothing
- Ceremonial kits
- Comprehensive Medical care
- Holiday Camps
Four years residential training course with systematic pyramid load of training
The Academy also provides group Insurance scheme and various other benefits.
- Junior group 14 – 16 years
- Senior group 16 – 18 years
In addition to the above 3; All India Football Federation (AIFF), the govt body that manages the game of association football in India, also runs various academies in different parts of the Country. These include:
- Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS)
Location: Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, and Jammu
Being managed and run by Bhaichung Bhutia – the longest-serving football captain; this Academy is one of the most popular academies in the Country and has 27 training centers across 10 cities open for kids aged between 5 and 17.
The Institute aims to provide world-class training and offer a platform to the grassroots level and aspiring football players. The Academy believes in offering LIVE to players – Love for the game, Ideal Environment, Versatile Training, Experienced coaches.
- 135 Coaches
- Special Focus on diet
- 24*7 CCTV Surveillance
- Two 11 a side natural turf football grounds
- One 6 a side ground for focused training
- Fully equipped gym and full-time staff
- Modern & hygienic dining
- In-house tutors
- Recreation room includes TT, Carrom, badminton, chess, PlayStation etc.
Well-guarded and air-conditioned accommodation with modern facilities for academy members
Weekday boarding option for Delhi NCR based students.
Eligibility: Students from Class V to VIII and are seeking admission in class VI and IX
- Mumbai Regional Academy
Owners: AIFF and Fr. Agnel Charities
- Artificial football surface for matches & training
- Swimming Pool
- Dorm accommodation for players
- Single rooms for officials and Staff
- Treatment Rooms
- Classrooms for tuitions and study
Eligibility: Boys U-16
- Kolkata Regional Academy
Owners: Joint venture between AIFF and Pailan Group
- Gymnasium equipped with multipurpose instruments
- Swimming pool
- Aquatic Schedules fixed
- Rehabilitation facility for players
- Renowned Coaches & trainers
- Treatment rooms
- Classrooms for tuition and study
- Large 8-bed cottage rooms for players
- Single cottage rooms for players
- Duplex accommodation for officials/staff
Eligibility: Boys U-15
- Goa Regional Academy
- Four meals per day
- Special emphasis on player diet
- Academics time levied until 12 noon
- 2 Teachers for general subjects
- Evening study time 1.5hrs
Upto 35 persons
- Kolkata Football Academy (KFA)
Being one of the most premier football academies in India, KFA is equipped with:
- State of Art Institute
- Experienced national and International level Coaches
- In-house academic coaching
- In-house physiotherapist
- Medical facilities
- Swimming pool
- Transportation service
- 24*7 Surveillance
- Laundry services
- Purified drinking water
- Pick up and drop facilities
- Housekeeping services
The academy also offers its students the opportunity to play in All India tournaments and ISL.
Well-guarded hostel with air-conditioned rooms and provision for 24*7 hot and cold water.
Boys and Girls – U14, U 17, U 19