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A Social History of Indian Football: Striving to Score (Review)

India is one of the brightest emerging markets in the beautiful game.  FIFA clearly was aware of this when they awarded the country the 2017 U-17 World Cup, ushering in a new era of prosperity and growth for the entire region.

A Social History of Indian Football: Striving to Score by Kausik Bandyopadhyay and Boria Majumdar is the definitive text for anyone looking to learn the history of Indian football.  Simply put, it is THE resource for Indian football. This is not an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one.  Sport in India is shown in a political, social, and historical context.  It is very academic, something you could use for research or (even better) your own enjoyment.

Key moments, events like the formation of the IFA and Mohun Bagan’s 1911 IFA Shield victory, are defining ones.  So are terrible tragedies.  16 fans died at an East Bengal/Mohun Bagan match in 1980.  This book shares them all in exquisite detail.

And you hear the unknown stories like that of Mohammed Salim, the first Indian footballer to ply his trade in Europe.  Yes, that’s right he played for the legendary Celtic FC decades before Baichung Bhutia played for Bury.

India does everything big.  And that is certainly the case when it comes to their footballing dreams. On one hand, the dreams seem closer to reality; the book suggests that India has the workings of something special.  India has the history, passion, and the low-cost infrastructure needed to grow the game in a country where there is a massive population and new wealth in an emerging middle class.

But there are also the facts.  India has never played in the World Cup finals. India struggles to progress in the FIFA World Rankings, the best coming in 1996 at #94.  India’s program for women’s soccer is literally a generation behind similar countries.  Simply put, there is a lot of work to do.

There is no question about the amount of information in this book. It is absolutely loaded with everything you would want to know about the game in India. It certainly will give you insight into the country’s direction moving forward.  India is at a crossroads. Which direction will they go?

Indian Football Star Re-Signs with Hurricanes FC

Photo Credit: Houston Hurricanes FC

Houston Hurricanes FC, a charter member of the Texas Premier Soccer League (TPSL), has signed Indian football prodigy Pratik Shinde to a three-year contract extension.

“I talked with our General Manager Roderick Lemond and we decided that we wanted to tie him down for the next three years,” Hurricanes President/Head Coach Brendan Keyes stated. “He deserves full credit for his recent performances, coming over to a foreign country with with his family back in India must be hard on anyone, never mind an 18-year-old.”

The Mumbai native has been impressive in his time in America, starring for the Galveston Pirate of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) in 2012 before signing with the Houston Hurricanes in 2013. He played in sixteen games for Galveston, registering four goals and five assists. He was highly regarded and was certainly rated as one of the top players in the NPSL’s South Central Conference.

“I am so proud to play for Houston Hurricanes with the history the club has, going back to the days of NASL and USL,” Shinde added. “It is an honor to play for Coach Keyes and the Hurricanes. I have great teammates who give everything on the field, a coach that has created a family within the team, and the spirit in the camp is something I have never experienced before.”

Photo Credit: Houston Hurricanes FC

The young midfielder has appeared in 16 games for the Hurricanes, scoring four goals and five assists in all competitions. Shinde was vital in the team advancing in the Admiral Texas Cup, even playing in the final with a difficult injury picked up in training.

“I do miss my family and friends back home, but I want them all to know I will do my best to represent our great country and carry our flag proudly,” Shinde added.

The Hurricanes are currently on winter break, but will return to action beginning February 1st with a series of warm-up matches to help prepare them for a run at the TPSL playoffs.

The Hope of a Nation: The Yan Dhanda Story Feature

He is barely 14 and stands at just 5 feet 6 inches, but his small stature is already making heads turn in English football circles.

Photo Credit: LFC India/Kickoff India

A recent winner of the Up and Coming Player prize at the 2013 Asian Football Awards held at Wembley, Yan Dhanda is already making a name for himself with football pundits rating him the next big prodigy from Asia.

The journey of a young Indian origin player is already underaway, with Dhanda being part of the prestigious Liverpool FC academy which he joined in July this summer. Before joining Liverpool, he spent time with clubs like Aston Villa (English Premier League), West Bromwich Albion (English Premier League), Birmingham (Championship), and Walsall (Football League 1).

The 14-year-old attacking midfielder is enjoying every minute of his time at the Liverpool academy.

“It’s really good. I’ve just got used to everything. I’ve made loads of friends. I’m learning a lot from the coaches and what the coaches expect from me. I’m learning lots of different things. I had a bit of a break between leaving West Brom and joining Liverpool. When I got to Liverpool my fitness wasn’t as good as it should have been.  The sports science team at Liverpool have been working with me and now I’ve got my fitness back up and I’m learning different roles: like playing on the left, playing on the right, playing as a number nine. I’m a creative midfielder, but I play on the wing at Liverpool, coming in off the left, or coming in off the right. Liverpool have played me as a nine as well, dropping down. And I like to score goals,” he recently told the Liverpool FC India community.

The Birmingham born youngster, who started his career with a small team called Tipton Town, now wants to focus his entire energy on achieving his dream. “Short-term is to keep getting fitter, work on both feet, keep developing as a player, keep listening to the coaches and learning from them. My long-term ambition would be to get in to the first team before I am 20. That is the dream, but I am a million miles away from that now so I just have to keep my head down and work as hard as I possibly can every day.”

The youngster hasn’t gotten the opportunity to meet the Merseyside stalwarts, but he is expecting the meeting to happen sooner or later.

“I grew up liking David Silva, but since I’ve moved to Liverpool, my favorite footballer has been Philippe Coutinho because he plays in a similar position and I try to play the same way as him. I really admire Steven Gerrard for all he’s done in the game and coming through the ranks. He started where I am now. Jamie Carragher has gone now, but he did it the same way. I really respect that.”

He concluded with a short message for all Indian fans by quoting, “I’d like to thank all the fans for the support they have shown me. The Indian Liverpool fans and the Liverpool fans in general have been brilliant. Even football fans who are not Liverpool fans, but are Indian, have really encouraged me and wished me well.”

Former MLS Star Making It Big in India Feature

Photo Credit: John Todd/San Jose Earthquakes

American soccer lovers know the name of Cornell Glen. The Trinidad & Tobago World Cupper made a name for himself during his four year stint with MLS clubs like the MetroStars, FC Dallas, Columbus Crew, Colorado Rapids, LA Galaxy, and the San Jose Earthquakes.

The 31-year-old striker set the field on fire with his sublime attacking skills and was regarded one of the best players from T & T to play in MLS. Since then he has moved on to greener pastures and is now plying his trade with I-League side Shillong Lajong.

Glen had a memorable debut as he scored a brace on debut in away match against former champions Dempo SC. Interestingly, this was also their first win against the Golden Eagles in I-League. caught up with the prolific striker to talk about his past experiences with MLS and his stay in India so far.

Photo Credit: Shillong Lajong FC

How has your time in India been so far? How has your experience been, training with Shillong Lajong?

My time in India has been great so far. I’m really enjoying playing in Shillong. The guys has been really kind and friendly to me, which made my transition a lot easier.

Having played in a World Cup for T&T, in MLS amongst many big stages, what brought you to India?

I wanted a new challenge and the offer came up just at the right time. My good friend Denzil Theobald, who played with Dempo last year, helped me a lot with making the move.

What are you expecting from your stint here in India and how different would it be?

Not really expecting anything. Just came to do what I know to do best, which is give my all and try and score goals to help Shillong Lajong win games. It’s football and once you work hard and give 100% everyday you will get good results. It’s the same anywhere you go in the world, nothing different.

Coming on the back stints with in MLS with various teams, how was your experience there?

Was a great experience. I learned a lot in my stint there. But was really difficult at times. Injuries hampered me from doing as well as I know I could. Traveling and the weather is also a major factor, but I was grateful for the opportunity.

Which MLS side you loved playing the most in and why?

I enjoyed playing with every club I was with but San Jose Earthquakes is where I felt more at home and relaxed. I had a fun two years there and would of love to have really stayed longer.

Who would you rate as your best team-mate and the best or most feared opponent in MLS?

Amado Guevara was probably one of the best technical players I’ve played with in the MLS. His vision, passing, and skill on the ball sometimes amazed me. I never feared any team, but teams like LA Galaxy and NY Red Bulls are always difficult to play against.

You had a very short stint with LA Galaxy as well, which recently had the likes of Beckham playing for them. How does it feel now? You also scored a late brace for them against rivals Chivas USA. Must have been special?

It’s always good to score in a derby game. I really enjoyed that game. It is one that will go down in my archives of special moments.

MLS in now staging players like Beckham, Henry amongst a few big names and getting a lot of attention. How would you rate the American league?

The MLS is definitely growing rapidly. Not only are they attracting high profile players, but the standard of football is also improving. Give it a few more years and it will be competing with some of the best leagues in the world.

Photo Credit: Shillong Lajong FC

Playing in the World Cup would certainly have been special and as you said in an interview, everybody from T&T wanted to play in that and you were amongst the few lucky ones to have been able to play. So could you elaborate a little on the experience?

It was a great experience. One that words are hard to find to describe. But one I was grateful to be able to experience. Hope to one day live to tell my grandchildren about this great accomplishment.

You have had a good scoring record wherever you have gone. Is that something on your mind or scoring goals comes naturally to you? Would you be looking to replicate that?

I just love to score goals. I don’t think about it. I just go out and play hard. Give my all every time and when the chances arrives I try to take them. Sometimes you get lucky sometimes you don’t. That’s just football.

The Pride of Indian Football

The return of Indian footballing phenom Pratik Shinde is big news in India and here in the Texas Premier Soccer League (TPSL).

Photo Credit: Houston Hurricanes FC

The attack-minded Shinde finds himself back in the United States, back where it all began in Texas. Less than two years ago Shinde became the youngest Indian player to play abroad when he signed with the NPSL’s Galveston Pirate.  Today he returns as a member of the Houston Hurricanes FC, a team that performed well in the NPSL and is a charter member of the all-new TPSL.

Shinde is a player weighted with expectations and pressure to represent his country on the pitch.  Every pass, every goal, every appearance will be closely watch as he is truly a pioneer for his country and his beloved sport.

“A lot of kids follow me back in India,” Shinde commented. “I want to inspire them.”

The young Shinde, who recently turned 18, has a lofty goal of playing professionally, either in MLS or overseas in Europe.  He readily admits he is a fan of Manchester United and the legendary Paul Scholes.  Not a bad choice as the Salford, England native went on to over 700 appearances and 150+ goals with the Red Devils, the only team he every played for.

It has certainly been a long journey and a lot of hard work for Shinde to get to this point.  A 28-hour plane ride got him back to the Lone Star State, but it was the two years of hard training that prepared him for the upcoming season with the Hurricanes.

None of which would even be possible without the generosity and support of Hurricanes Head Coach Brendan Keyes and his family.

“I would like to thank Coach Keyes for this opportunity,” Shinde added. “It’s a great feeling being here. I’m motivated. I’m excited. I’m really ready.”

Their relationship began with Keyes scouting the young Indian player dominate at Sweden’s Gothia Cup, one of the largest youth tournaments in the world. The rest is history.

He is expected to make an impact in Houston as either an attacking midfielder or a second striker.  Shinde admits that he can make moves and plays on his own, but his unselfish nature helps create opportunities and space for his teammates.  His ability is best described as gamechanging; he is a player to watch for.

Photo Credit: Houston Hurricanes FC

Shinde’s goals are simple and certainly attainable: make the starting XI and help his teammates win the inaugural TPSL title.  And hopefully that will take him to the next level.

His success will certainly make headlines in India, a nation that is an emerging soccer market.  Soccer has great potential there with a massive population and an ever-growing middle class.  Shinde knows the future is bright, but not without obstacles along the way.

“India has good players. I see a lot of good young players coming up through the U-15s and U-19s.”

Photo Credit: Houston Hurricanes FC

But he also admits that the senior national team and professional clubs need more support.  Shinde points to the development of soccer facilities and a larger fan base as two priorities moving forward in his home country.

But first he has to help his new team win hardware in the TPSL, hopefully earning a chance to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup. This would allow more American coaches and scouts to see the gifted young player that is the pride of Indian football.

Perhaps Shinde can follow legendary Indian striker Sunil Chhetri to MLS.  That would certainly be a huge step forward for the Indian game as a whole.