Prithwiraj Chatterjee, a 33-year-old techie has already bought a set of FIFA 2014 team jerseys of the Spanish and German teams. He also maintains detailed charts of the results of every Champions League, Euro Cup and football World Cup since 1990. But ask him about the Delhi Soccer Association Champions League and he is at a loss. “I do try to keep myself apprised of the results of a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal match, but I have no idea about local football in Delhi,” says the Kolkatan who now works in Delhi. Chatterjee would, no doubt, be astounded to know that apart from the state teams, Delhi has 78 football clubs affiliated to the Delhi Soccer Association (DSA) that was founded over a century ago to promote football in the capital. The association also has five women’s clubs affiliated to it. “Football events are organised at Dr Ambedkar Stadium, JNS Stadium, Lodhi Road and Thyagraj Sports Complex, among other places,” says NK Bhatia, DSA vice president. He reveals that, in Delhi, the clubs participate in the Durand Cup, the World's third oldest tournament, and in the 2nd Division I-League at the all-India level. The clubs also participate in Guwahati's Independent Cup, Mumbai's Rovers Cup, and the Sikkim Gold Cup.
The inter-state transfer of players starts in June, followed by the local, inter-club transfer of players. The Delhi Soccer Association League Championship begins at the end of September. But while more young people seem to be playing football, the game continues to struggle against certain odds. “Many playing fields in the city have disappeared. Existing grounds are difficult to avail of. Rents are high and the grounds are often used for non-sporting events,” says Bhatia. Even the top clubs often don’t have a designated practice ground. “We have to pay Rs. 3,000-5,000 per day to the authorities for the grounds,” says Rajiv Kumar Gupta, honorary secretary of the National United Sporting Club. Some of these problems are common across India. “The All India Football Federation has an ineffective marketing team. The National Football League A/B clubs have very little say in the running of the association,” says Tushar Dev of the Simla Youngs Football Club. Audience interest in football in the capital also continues to be poor. “The quality of local football today does not attract viewership. We have to focus at the grassroots and youth levels. Changes are being made, but the results will be visible in another five to seven years,” says Shaji Prabhakaran, regional development officer for FIFA in South and Central Asia. BS Mehra, chairman Delhi United Football Club, blames poor event planning and the failure of clubs to effectively use social networking for poor spectator turnout. So the next time you check the FIFA calendar, spare a thought for Delhi’s local players and turn up at the stadium to cheer them on.
Some of the city's senior division clubs
Originally called the Gorkha Heroes when it was set up in 1995, the club's name was changed to Delhi United in 2002. In September 2012, Delhi United won the 2011 Delhi Senior Division and qualified to participate in the 2012 Durand Cup, their first ever professional tournament. The club’s training ground is in Dwarka. At present, the club has 27 players in the senior team and 25 each in Under-19 and Under-14 Academy Teams. The club's three star players for the coming season include Rishi Kapur, (an ex-Mohan Bagan player, who is also the former Delhi captain and has represented three states at the Santosh Trophy), Harpreet Bedi, a promising young talent who joined Delhi United in 2012, has trained in the United Kingdom and has represented the Under-16 India camp, and Don Lepcha, a left winger from Gangtok. Sponsored by Colordesign India, the club pays an average of Rs. 8-12 lakh per month in total salaries to the 25 contracted players.
Hindustan Football Club
Established in 1984, club officials claim the Hindustan club has the distinction of being the only team to have won the State championship twice, consecutively. The club has also played the prestigious I league (II) and qualified to play in the final round of the I league (II). “Hindustan is the first club to have its own girls team. It also runs an academy to spot and groom footballers between the ages of 7 and 17 yrs,” says DK Bose, director and working president of the club. Currently, the club has 30 players, of which 20 are from Delhi. Some of the key players of the club are OO Sola, a Nigerian player, who scored 18 goals this session in the Delhi league and I league, midfielder Femi Joshua from Sierra Leone, defenders Harish Karki and Pushpender Kundu, and goalkeeper Amit Negi. Abhijoy Basu, Asian Football Confederation A license holder is the Chief Coach of the club. He has been instrumental in taking the team to the final round of I league (II) matches played at Silchar and Aizwal.
Simla Youngs Football Club
Founded in 1936 in Shimla, by a group of Englishmen and Indians to play the Durand Cup, the club shifted to Delhi in 1947. It has won the Delhi championship 10 times and since 2008, has been playing the I League II division. The club’s star players are Sandeep Rikhari, an 18-year-old goalkeeper, 19-year-old defensive midfielder Rohan Kunwar, who has been to Wales and Sweden seven times and is now a mainstay of the "A" team, and 22-year-old Prithviraj Dev, a right winger, who has recently come back from CD Mafra, a club in Portugal 2nd Division, where he trained for five months. The club has 12 coaches and practices at Vinay Marg Sports Complex near Nehru Park. Idea sponsored the club’s U-16 Inter School League in 2013-2014.
National United Sporting Club
Previously known as the Sahadra Football Club, it was founded in 1982 by Deshraj Rana, who is still its president. Founded by football players from Delhi such as Rana, Bhupinder Thakur and Surinder Rawat with the aim of promoting the game in Delhi, the club is coached by national-level player Dharmendra Kharola. Last year, the club made a departure from tradition by fielding mostly players aged under 19 for the major league matches. “We only had three senior foreign players to support them.The initiative will help groom future players,”feels Rajiv Kumar Gupta, honorary secretary of the club. The club enjoys no sponsorship.
City Football Club
Established in 1951, the golden era of the City Football Club was in the 1960s, when it thrice became league champions. Many players from the club have gone on to play for Delhi. “The present captain of the Indian football team, Sunil Chetri, started his football career with the City Football Club. In 2000, while playing for the club, he won the Best Emerging Player award in the Durand Cup in Delhi,” remembers Sharafatullah, president of the club. City Club was the first football club from Delhi to participate in 2nd division national league in 1998 at Guwahati. The same year, the club played the Federation Cup in Chandigarh. The current coach of the club is Manoj Chaudhary. The club does not yet have any sponsors.