Indian football seems to have touched the nadir with JCT Mills disbanding their team that at one time was among the premier sides in the country. I vividly recall covering many a JCT game back in the 1980s when they were frequent visitors to Bangalore and very popular with the local fans. Indeed, the shock news of the team's expiry touched a chord in me.
Although the legendary Inder Singh was before my time, I have fond memories of his successors like Kuldip Singh, Parminder Singh and Sukhwinder Singh followed by the likes of IM Vijayan and Carlton Chapman. Even during my school days, I was aware of Leaders Club whose players subsequently joined JCT, for such was the popularity of football in India.
JCT decides to disband football club, AIFF shocked
It is a far cry now from those days of innocence when players from Bangalore, Hyderabad and even Tamil Nadu enjoyed the kind of following that our present day cricketers would be proud of.
JCT were regulars in the Stafford Challenge Cup tournament in Bangalore during the 1980s and the other teams, including those from Kolkata were in awe of the Phagwara boys whose rugged and aggressive style of play injected fear and awe in the opposition.
In fact, JCT were a typical Punjab side with their forthright football that had little place for elaborate patterns of passing in the name of ball possession. Rather, they would fire the ball to the wings to stretch the rival defence before zeroing on the goal.
The exit of JCT from the sport is undoubtedly a huge blow for Indian football that in the past decade has slid from bad to worse given the myopic administration, poor grounds and of course, all but non-existent media exposure.
From what little I know of Samir Thapar, the JCT boss, he is an ardent sports lover. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times during motor sports events and his passion for sports was very much evident. Thus, Thapar must have been frightfully disillusioned to take such an extreme step of disbanding his team.
In many ways, JCT's exit reflects the sorry state of Indian football that has sunk to such depths that I doubt if it will ever rise to the heights that had seen the country win the gold medal at the Asian Games and even was considered good enough to be invited to the 1948 Olympics.
Those were the hoary days of barefoot football that the Indians were known for until FIFA regulations forced them to wear shoes and other accessories to play at the international level. Despite the absence of infrastructure and incentives, the quality of football was quite appreciable.
In fact, there is this famous story of the legendary striker Raman whose performance in the 1948 Olympics earned him the nickname "Puskas of India", after the great Hungarian legend. He was even invited to play for Manchester United, but declined since the very thought of living abroad was a no-no for this Bangalorean, besides having to wear shoes!
These might sound like fairytales to the new generation, but football was thriving in India those days when players were idols and even worshipped. I remember my days as a cub reporter when I along with other young reporters used to fight with our seniors just to get an opportunity to cover a football game.
Of course, all this is history and might even sound irrelevant, but it puts into perspective the state of affairs in Indian football today. We can endlessly talk about the Bhutias and Chetris, but the irrefutable fact is that the Indian football federation has failed us all. Last year, the AIFF trumpeted their long term programme of qualifying for the World Cup in the distant future, but they knew not what they were talking, nor did they have a viable plan in place.
The end result is that the much-hyped I-League has fallen flat on its face while the quality of Indian football has been cruelly exposed thanks to all the live telecasts of European matches and of course, the World Cup. Although the Kolkata clubs continue to buy and sell players for crores of rupees, such spending can hardly be justified as the investments have not translated into corresponding improvement in the playing standards.
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I am sure, Thapar and his management team would have reviewed their investments in JCT with a business eye and found that pumping in more money would be a colossal waste given the poor Return on Investment (RoI). It is a moot point whether our football administrators have even begun to fathom the enormity of JCT's exit, much less plug the leak.
Last year, the Mahindra United team was disbanded and this week, the JCT. Clearly, the writing is on the wall, but are our administrators good enough to read the signs? I doubt it.