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Goalless is the first serious attempt to document the football history of India.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2006 13:27 IST

By Boria Majumdar and Kausik Bandyopadhyay
With a Foreword by David Washbrook
Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 595.00
ISBN: 0670058742

Was soccer the unique Indian answer to the imperial charge of effeminacy held against the educated Indian male in the late nineteenth century? Was Mohun Bagan’s victory in 1911 a triumph of Indian nationalism? Is there a significant relationship between football, politics and economics in colonial and post-colonial India? Cricket is undoubtedly what moves the majority of the subcontinent, but isn’t there a niche that tracks and lives football in ways that impact social attitudes and divisions even today?

These are some of the questions that the authors, avid football watchers and sports historians, set out to explore five years ago, and the result of their enquiries is this fascinating account of Indian football. Elegantly written and exhaustively researched, right down to obscure episodes and previously unavailable data on games long forgotten, Goalless constitutes the first serious attempt to document India’s football history. Its sweep is impressive: from the moment in 1877 when a young Bengali boy kicked a football back to a group of British soldiers at the Maidan in Calcutta, through the ups and downs of football administration and match management in the Santosh Trophy, to an analysis of the game as it is played in present-day Jammu and Kashmir in an atmosphere that screams violence.

There are stories here from the length and breadth of the footballing nation: of the first Indian footballer to play in Europe, Mohammed Salim, a Calcuttan who played for Celtic FC in 1936; the Ghati-Bangal conflict that found its echoes on the football field; and the pitched battles fought in the national league over the years. There is also a wry recognition of the lackadaisical attitude of both players and administrators, which has resulted in Indian football’s current status as a poor cousin of cricket and hockey, and an embedded hope that someday, motivated by market forces and political will, the situation might improve—at least enough to not have us cringing each time we watch India taking on the world.

Full of engaging anecdotes and provocative insights into the nature of the game as it is played in India, Goalless: The Story of a Unique Footballing Nation is a must-read for all those interested in Indian football.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 “From Recreation to Competition – Early History of Indian Football”:


To ascertain precisely who introduced the game in India and how it was first played and in what form is impossible. Records simply do not exist. It is reasonably clear, however, that soccer came to India with the East India Company. Football’s early pioneers were officers and men of Trading Farms and Regimental Battalions, who played at ports of call like Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Karachi. Available records indicate that one of the earliest football matches in the country was played in Calcutta in April 1854 between the ‘Calcutta Club of Civilians’ and the ‘Gentlemen of Barrackpore’. This match was followed by a hiatus of more than a decade, which was finally broken in 1868 when the Etonians played the Rest, and in 1870 when the public schools of Eton, Harrow and Winchester played the private schools, composed of Miss Tina’s pupils.

Football received institutional foundation in India in the 1870s when the Dalhousie Club (1878), acknowledged as the oldest football club in India, was established in Calcutta. Other important soccer creations of the time included the Naval Volunteers, the Howrah United Club and the Armenian Club, as well as the football teams of colleges like Presidency College, Sibpur Engineering College, Bishop’s College, Calcutta Medical College and La Martiniere. These colleges, from the 880s onwards, played a significant role in promoting the game among Calcutta youth. However, despite the important innovatory role of these middle-class seats of learning, the role of the ‘public schools’ towards the introduction and promotion of football in India was limited. Despite football’s inclusion and importance as a form of moral training in the public school curriculum at leading British educational institutions, football’s popularity in India cannot be solely attributed to this process. This is because the attitude and response of the public towards this mass spectator sport, especially in Bengal, was rather different. Football’s appropriation by the general public was a calculated and incidental process. This mirrors, of course, the situation in England itself – the have of association football. This is not to say that the inspirational early role of the Indian middle-class schools can be overlooked, nor indeed incorrectly minimized. But other key actors such as soldiers, businessmen and administrators might also have had an influence on the process.

First Published: Feb 10, 2006 19:35 IST