Indian Super League Game: Come on, let's football?

It’s too early to comment whether the ISL is likely to be a success, but this did not feel like the real deal.

 |  Humble Submissions  |  4-minute read |   15-10-2014
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Last night, I went to the Delhi-Pune Indian Super League Game, the first in Delhi and the third overall. I must confess that I went with some cynicism and suspicion. I was concerned that to sell India on Indian football, the very soul of football would have to suffer. Yet, I was outside Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the evening, ticket in hand, misgivings in tow.

For someone who follows football, I have always felt that there has been a yearning in a football fan in India to have a high quality local team which one could support wholeheartedly, where one could use the terms “us” and “them” without a sense of discomfort, stolen identity and masquerade. If only we had a hometown team, we could pour into it all the love we’ve been mailing overseas to Manchester United and Real Madrid. And it would have to be a good team.

Having a real club team in Delhi felt like a reward for so many evenings standing in Ambedkar Stadium watching the Indian National Team scrap draws and losses, for trying not to change the channel when JCT Phagwara play Dempo on a nightmare of a pitch.

Of course, if you come seeking disappointment, you’ll find it. The MC was persistently obnoxious, announcing no changes, no added time, but insisting we "Cheer up, Delhi!". The theme song was grammatically puzzling "Come on India, Let’s football?"). Fireworks went off before the game, at half-time, and at full-time. Some part of me wishes that there were fireworks at the end of every game in league football, irrespective of the result. There was a half-time bhangra performance and some light entertainment involving Sania Mirza, Lisa Hayden and a crossbar challenge (all taking place simultaneously). Music played at random intervals, with no relation to the action on the pitch. Deep into the second-half, a Mexican wave broke out and went around the stadium four times. This was ironic because for nearly the entirety of this celebration, an injured player was receiving medical attention on the pitch.

I won’t bother you by describing the game itself – that is the province of a sports journalist – only to say that it was of a far higher quality than we usually get to see in India. There were passages of lyrical play and flashes of real inspiration.

The selling point of the ISL, of course, is the strange afterlife of the legends of European football; for when you get too old to hack it in Europe, they will still love you in Asia. One last pay packet always awaits in Qatar, in China and now in India.

Alessandro Del Piero of Juventus, and now Delhi, seemed to represent to a younger me the boyish joy of football, a trickster spirit with his tongue stuck out to the world. His former teammate David Trezeguet, who turned out for Pune City FC, was once one of the most feared strikers in the world. While they are both past their prime, neither have lost their genius. Trezeguet found space at will; he deserved better service. Del Piero twisted and turned and flicked opportunities into existence. More than one defender brought him down out of frustration.  Of course, while Delhi is the city of Amir Khusrau and Ghalib, it is also the city of Akshay Kumar and Honey Singh. The official motto of the Delhi Dynamos is apparently (in the world where football chants are created by sponsors and production teams) “Thok Denge Goal”. It sounds like there’s a "behnc**d" waiting to be appended to it, and as Dilliwalas, I’m certain we’ll oblige.

On the advertising hoardings, on the thundersticks, the same motto appears without the benefit of the "goal"; it merely reads – "Thok denge".

It’s too early to comment whether the ISL is likely to be a success, but this did not feel like the real deal. I’ll definitely be back for more games, despite the window-dressing. But secretly, I hope the team that I can truly love as ours is not gifted to us by a cabal of sponsors and producers and TV channels; that it grows organically.

After the game, which ended in a goalless draw, the home team took a lap for the crowd, and Del Piero waved sheepishly to his newly acquired fans, and looked mostly at his boots. He may have wondered by what alchemy he gave two decades of his life to a team in Turin and earned the roar of a crowd in Delhi. He needn’t worry. The song the fans were singing outside the stadium went “Allez Allez Allez/ Alessandro Del Piero/ He’s Delhi’s No 10.” At least for right now, some version of him belongs to some version of us.


Satyajit Sarna Satyajit Sarna @satyajitsarna

The writer is a lawyer and writer based in Delhi. He is the author of The Angel's Share (HarperCollins, 2012). He blogs at

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