John Abraham, who is known to be an ardent football fan, feels that the popularity and the reach of the sport has grown immensely in just a year. In fact, he is of the opinion that football will be as big as cricket in the country in the near future.
“The sport is becoming popular in India. Revenues have grown, and more brands are coming in… everything is looking good. But ultimately, who are the heroes? The players and the audience. If your stands are empty, you know it’s not working. I have a team (the actor co-owns a franchise in an Indian football league) with players from all the states in the northeast. Yet, when my team plays, the stadium is packed to capacity,” John explains.
In the initial days, when the game was just picking up in India, the actor remembers an incident that took place when he went to Guwahati (Assam). John was asked what he had done at the grass-roots level for the sport in the northeast. “I said, ‘Why don’t you ask your federation members what they have done for the last 40 years? How do you expect me, to change football overnight when the government has done nothing for the sport’,” he says.
Today, football has become huge, according to the actor. “Give it seven to eight years. It is a three-month league today, but it will become a five-month one soon. In three years from now, it will be [big] like the Indian Premier League,” says John, adding that more teams will come in, club loyalties will play a big role in the future, and merchandising and business will grow.
John is quick to add that it is a matter of time before India makes it big in this sport, especially considering the passion with which the youth follows football. “Why do we support Manchester United or Liverpool? We don’t belong to that region. It’s because those clubs have history. Now, we will build our own history. And every neutral person will support these teams. The beauty about this league is that all our owners are cohesive — be it Ranbir (Kapoor), Abhishek (Bachchan) or me. We’re like five fingers of one hand.”