New Delhi, Sep 14 (IANS) If only a hundred-odd spectators turn up at the Ambedkar Stadium to watch a semifinal league match in the world's third oldest tournament, the Durand Cup, there has to be something drastically wrong with Indian football.
There was a time when almost all the top clubs of the country used to play in the Durand Cup, which kicked off in 1883 and is now organised by the Indian Army, but today the tournament with a rich tradition has fallen on evil days.
Things have come to such a pass that one could count the heads at the stadium to witness ONGC play an I-League side Pune FC in the first match Friday afternoon.There were hardly 50 people, some diehard soccer fans, a couple of media persons and the rest the organisers! By the time the second match between Bhawanipur FC and Indian Navy started a few more evening walkers from the neighbourhood had strolled in.
The response was marginally better Saturday with Mohammedan Sporting first playing Kalighat and Sikkim United taking on Mumbai Tigers in the second game. Mohammedans have their support base and some of them turned up to cheer them.
The Durand Cup and the DCM tournament were the most popular tournaments till the All India Football Federation (AIFF) literally killed them 15 years ago in the name of making the sport more professional.
DCM used to invite top clubs from Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, South and North Korea, Croatia and Australia, to play in its tournament and one could see the top Indian clubs fighting it out even if they were on the losing side mostly. There was the house full board well before the referee's first whistle out in the middle at the good old Delhi Gate Stadium, later named after Ambedkar.
Today it's disheartening for the teams to be playing to empty stands, only the respective benches cheering them. During its hey days, fans watching a Test match at the adjacent Ferozeshah Kotla used to turn their backs to cricket to watch football at Ambedkar.
Gone are the days when football in the Capital used to cause traffic jams, today games like tennis and badminton are pulling more crowds. The recently concluded Indian Badminton League (IBL) saw upwards of a thousand fans for the inaugural match between Krish Delhi Smashers and Pune Pistons.
So where does this leave football? A good question for officials as well as the fans to ponder.