Monday, 3 June 2013

When Bangalore went football crazy

Over the last week, almost everybody that I met spoke about betting and match fixing in cricket. Many keenly followed the news being repeatedly out by television channels. While all talk turned to cricket, and the old gentlemen players, G.R. Vishvanath, B.S. Chandrashekar, E.A.S. Prasanna, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and many others, very few cared to remember that Bangalore was even a few decades ago more known for football than cricket.
Bangalore, till the 1970s, boasted of leading the nation in football and any were the stars who started their illustrious career in Bangalore and went on to wear the national colours. Almost a dozen of them represented India in Olympics and other international tournaments. Unfortunately, none seem to care for them or even remember their names.  Bangalore's earliest connection with football goes back to the matches in which Indians took on Italian prisoners of war during the second world war. A large number of Italians who were taken as prisoners of war by the British were shipped to India and thousands of them made their way to Bangalore.
The Italians stayed at prisoner camps in Jalahalli, Binamangala  and a few smaller places in Cantonment. It's been a long journey since then, with the city throwing up some great players and fighting teams. The Italians loved romancing the many European women , dancing and football, though not necessarily in that order.
Initially, the Italians played football against each other. Very soon, the British guards, particularly the members of the 26th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry raised at Belgaum on March 1, 1942, by Lieut.-Colonel H. S. I. Pearson, were exclusively tasked with the job to guard these prisoners from 1942 to 1944.
The guards were attracted by the Italian ball magic and naturally the next thing was matches between the guards and their prisoners. Later, there were matches between the Italians and locals and British and locals. The Sullivan police grounds, BRV grounds, Garrison grounds in Cantonment and Jalahalli were the places where the initial football matches were held.
The craze for football soon spread from the Civil and Military Station to the Pete municipality of Bangalore or the Bangalore which was administered by the Wodeyars. The YMCA grounds and Cottonpet hosted many matches even as other areas such as Austin Town, Murphy Town took to football like a duck to water.     
 By the time the second world war ended, Bangalore had become football crazy and there were clubs such as Mysore Rovers, Bangalore Sporting, Bangalore Blues and Bangalore Muslims.
These clubs clashed with each other frequently and their matches at Sullivan Grounds drew houseful crowds.
Many a player made a cut at the Austin Town football ground and the ground produced India’s greatest ever goalkeeper in P.K. Nandan. Today the football ground is known as Nandan Grounds.
Old timers fondly reminiscence that Austin Town was the place where football in Bangalore took its birth.  The first Olympians came from here and the likes of Sarangapani Raman, Kannaiah, Thulukhanamm Shanmugham, and  J. Anthony were part of the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. Shanmugham, who led India to our first victory in the Asian Games in 1951 in New Delhi.
Two other footballers , K.V. Varadarajan and Vajravelu, were from the Oklipuram, while SA Basheer, MA Sattar, P Venkatesh, KP Dhanraj, Ahmed Khan and M Kempaiah were from Ulsoor and Gowthampura areas of Cantonment area.
Ahmed Khan is still a legend in Bengal as he donned the cap for East Bengal for 13 years during which time he made his mark. He was part of the greatest line up in the 50s and it included the five pancha pandavas- Apparao, Dhanraj, Venkatesh, Saleh and Ahmed himself.
Players like Mewalal, Rahamat, Somanna, Lakshminarayana and Murugesh represented Bangalore Muslims and then went on to play for the Calcutta clubs. Bangalore Muslims became a formidable team in the 1940s and it won the Rovers Cup in 1948. Earlier, it had beaten British teams in 1937 and again in 1938 to win the Rovers Cup.
Local tournaments such as Stafford Cup and Ashgold Cup drew large crowds and football till the 1907s was the toast of Bangalore.
In the 1960s and 70s, public sector industries set up football clubs of their own and the most famous among them was ITI and HAL. The rivalry between the two on filed was legendary and their matches drew packed houses.
ITI was one of the strongest teams in India and it was founded in 1956. It went on to win the inaugural Federation Cup tournament in 1977.  
Football went into a decline from the 1980s even as the love of cricket grew. Today, many tournaments have either faded out or have lost their sheen. Football matches today barely draw crowds as opposed to huge turnouts during cricket matches.

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