Football is one of the most loved sports across the globe. According to a survey conducted by FIFA published in 2001, over 240 million people from more than 200 countries play football regularly. Football has the highest global television audience in sport and India is one of them. Football in India has been among the most popular sports, nearing the popularity of the most popular sport in the country, cricket. The Indian national football team is the national football team of India and is governed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
Since 1948, the AIFF has been affiliated with FIFA, the international governing body for football. In 1954, AIFF became one of the founder members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). At the peak of its success during the 1950s and 60s, which was considered to be the golden era of Indian Football, the Indian Men’s Football Team automatically advanced to play in the 1950 FIFA World Cup, but ultimately did not go to the tournament in Brazil. They won gold medals at two Asian Games, and held the record for the best performance by an Asian football team at the Olympics.
The Indian football fans were mostly scattered, being widely based in West Bengal, North-East India, Goa, and Kerala. Other than matches in Asian Games, Nehru Cup, or SAFF Championship, the crowd showed up in small numbers when the team played, as the fans were not organized under any single banner as it happens in Europe or South America.
Fans of different clubs used to support the team in their respective local venues but were not grouped together to support a single cause – that of the national team – until 2017, when “Blue Pilgrims” was established as the first organized fan club for the national team.
Indian Women’s Football Team has not had the relative head start over the rest of the world that the Indian Men’s Football Team has had, and also has not had the chance to spread through the country like its male counterpart. The game was administered by the Women’s Football Federation of India (WFFI) from 1975 until the early 1990s when they were absorbed into the AIFF.
However, there are complaints that women’s football is treated as a poor relation to the men’s game leading to (unfulfilled) plans to de-merge the WFFI. The women’s game, like the men’s game, also has its early pioneers in the state of West Bengal. The poor support of the national team by the AIFF became evident when the team’s trip to Germany was only made possible by Non-Resident Indians in the country and by the support of the German Football Association. Furthermore, championships are held in remote locations and national media coverage is said to be restricted to state and local newspapers.
The women’s game reached a new low in June 2009 when FIFA delisted the side from its world rankings for being out of action for more than 18 months. This comes at a time when the game was gaining in popularity amongst the younger generation as evident by the local leagues conducted around the country.
The recently concluded Mumbai Women’s Football League 2009–10 organized by the MDFA (Mumbai District Football Association) was a major success and featured many talented players who had played for the national team. Furthermore, the popularity of the event gave hope that the women’s game could rise in India.